If you’re a Disney fan, you know the name Ub Iwerks. You know that he’s responsible for the earliest designs of Mickey Mouse and helped Walt Disney create the first Mickey Mouse shorts in secrecy. And you know that he was an innovator in the studio’s special effects department. But that’s really only scratching the surface of who Ub Iwerks was, as made evident in the new book Walt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks, written by his son, Don Iwerks.
A brief prologue provides an overview of who Ubbe Iwerks was before meeting Walt Disney in Kansas City, MO, and modifying the spelling of his name. “A Couple of Kids” chronicles their first meeting and first business together, Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. After its failure, they started Laugh-O-Grams, which also failed, prompting Walt Disney to move West and start a new company with his brother Roy, which is what we know today as The Walt Disney Company. This section also covers Ub’s eventual move, which included his mother, all paid for by Walt to get his best collaborator back with his company. This section also includes some of Ub’s earliest animation innovations.
The next part, “Ub on His Own,” finds Ub venturing out on his own after one too many disagreements with Walt and the creation of The Ub Iwerks Studio. It goes into detail on several of the short series that Ub created, which ultimately led to his studio becoming a contractor for other studios before eventually folding. This section also introduces readers to Ub as a person through his many hobbies. It paints a picture of a crafty problem solver who loved taking things apart to learn how they work.
“Studio Sorcery” covers how Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney put the past behind them with Ub’s return to the studio. This section gets highly technical and fans less interested in the specifics of how cameras work may begin to feel like they’re reading a textbook, but it’s easy to skim over if those details aren’t for you. There are, however, some interesting anecdotes from the making of films like Mary Poppins, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, That Darn Cat, and The Gnome Mobile, some of which I’d never read before in other Disney history books. It also covers animated classics like the wide format production of Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty, as well as the adoption of the Xerox process on films like 101 Dalmatians.
Did you know Ub Iwerks worked for WED Enterprises? “In-Person Innovation” covers all of his work on Disney Parks and beyond. Pretty much any type of projected screen in the parks from before Disneyland opened to the opening of Walt Disney World had Ub’s personal touch. This even includes projected effects in The Haunted Mansion, such as the singing busts and Madam Leota. It also includes his CircleVision films, which far outnumbered my knowledge of the format, which had international locations and worldwide tours beyond the shows that played at Disneyland and still play at EPCOT.
“A Trip to A New York World’s Fair” covers Ub Iwerks’ involvement with it’s a small world, The Carousel of Progress, and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and by extension, The Hall of Presidents. “A Whole New Disney World” covers Ub’s final projects at Walt Disney World before his sudden passing.
Written by Ub Iwerks’ son, Disney Legend Don Iwerks, Walt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks not only paints a picture of Ub Iwerks as a man, but also a detailed deep-dive into his technical innovations. It pleases all readers, from the casual fans to experts in the field who want to better understand the progress made thanks to one man’s brilliance.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.