FRANK ARMITAGE, ACCLAIMED DISNEY LAYOUT/BACKGROUND ARTIST ON SUCH CLASSIC FILMS AS "SLEEPING BEAUTY" AND "THE JUNGLE BOOK," AND VETERAN IMAGINEER ON NUMEROUS THEME PARK PROJECTS, DIES AT AGE 91
BURBANK, Ca., January 6, 2016 - Frank Armitage , renowned Disney layout and background artist on such classic Disney films as "Sleeping Beauty," "Mary Poppins," and "The Jungle Book," and a longtime Disney Imagineer who contributed murals and designs to a wide range of theme parks all over the world, passed away on Monday (1/4/16) at his home in Paso Robles, California, from age-related causes. He was 91 years old. In addition to his accomplishments with Disney, he served as a production illustrator on the 1966 Academy Award® -winning Fox film, "Fantastic Voyage," and was an expert medical illustrator.
Commenting on Armitage's passing, Marty Sklar, former Walt Disney Imagineering creative executive and Disney Legend, said, "Frank's artistic skills were excellent -- but I loved having him on our Imagineering team because he knew so much about art and life. At one point in his career, he left studio work, took medical courses at UCLA and became just about the best medical illustrator in the country. There's still a program named for Frank at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School. This led him to the design assignment for the classic film, 'Fantastic Voyage,' and, of course, he was the standard bearer when we did the health-related 'Wonders of Life' for the Epcot Park at Walt Disney World. What great experiences he brought to mentoring our young artists, working as a young man with the great Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and at Disney with the brilliant Eyvind Earl on 'Sleeping Beauty.'"
Veteran Disney Imagineer and Disney's Animal Kingdom creative executive Joe Rohde, added, "Frank was a great artist and a nurturing leader. I learned a lot at his side, but my greatest honor was watching him create the murals at Disney's Animal Kingdom. I would visit him in his studio just watch how he laid down paint. He was always a gentle and patient teacher."
Reflecting on Armitage's legacy in the world of animation, Fraser MacLean, animation production veteran, instructor, and author of Setting the Scene: The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout,observed, "As a layout and background artist at Disney starting in 1952, Frank did some amazing work and contributed to many of the Studio's most successful animated films, from 'Peter Pan' and 'Sleeping Beauty' to 'Mary Poppins' and 'The Jungle Book.' And as Disney expanded and diversified in the late 50s and early 60s, he was able to draw upon his distinct skills as an artist (ranging from award-winning mural designs to minutely detailed medical illustrations), and was ideally suited to apply his extraordinary knowledge, energy and imagination not only to Disney's features but also a wide range of challenging educational projects like 'Donald's Fire Survival' and 'Steps Towards Maturity and Health.' Frank went on to have a whole other career at Disney Imagineering creating murals for theme parks all over the world up until his 'retirement' in 1989. Odd to think how precious a legacy has been left to the present generation of animation designers and artists by this one man -- who left his native Australia back in the early 50s with only “$84 in his pocket."
Muralist, portrait artist, medical illustrator, practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncturist, globetrotter, volunteer and Good Samaritan; Roblan Frank Armitage was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1924. At the age of 22, while studying at a Melbourne art institute, he became involved in the mural-painting movement, and in 1949, he won an international mural contest sponsored by world-renowned Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and became his assistant on several murals in public buildings in Mexico.
Armitage moved to Los Angeles in 1952 and worked at the Walt Disney Studios on backgrounds and layout for such feature films as "Peter Pan," "Sleeping Beauty" (where he worked with Walt Peregoy under the direction of Eyvind Earle), "Mary Poppins," and "The Jungle Book." Like most animation artists at the time, he was also involved in many tasks in the creation of Disneyland, including working with Ken Anderson to create Story Book Land.
After leaving the Studio, Armitage found enormous renown combining cinematic color and lighting techniques with human anatomical subject matter. In 1966, he did the production illustration for Academy Award® winning film, Fantastic Voyage for 20th Century-Fox. Some of his most prominent work in that regard, partnering with the extraordinary photographic work of Lennart Nilsson, includes illustrating the function of the brain, a project for a Life Magazine in 1971.
In 1977, Armitage came to Walt Disney Imagineering, where his artwork of anatomical subject matter paved the way for the Wonders of Life Pavilion at Epcot. He created a famed concept painting for Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris, in the style of the original Eyvind Earle production designs.
He painted a 5,500-square-foot of mural for the Safari Fare Restaurant Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and several murals in Tokyo DisneySea—for the American Waterfront, Hotel MiraCosta, the Broadway Bar, and four pieces for the Tokyo DisneySea City Hall.
After retiring from Disney in 1989, Armitage completed a course in Oriental Medicine and pursued postgraduate work in Acupuncture in China. He volunteered in rural Mexico with the Flying Doctors, and produced oil paintings and murals for private homes in Woodside, Saratoga, Los Angeles, and Paso Robles.
In 2006, Armitage donated much of his medical art collection to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). That same year, that organization's Biomedical Visualization graduate program (BVIS) established the Frank Armitage Lecture to honor his generosity and to recognize his legacy in the field of medical illustration. For the past ten years, this event has highlighted "visual geniuses" who translate complex biomedical information into visual form and has brought together experts from various disciplines to explore new opportunities for science visualization in the 21st Century.
He lived in rural Paso Robles with his wife of 33 years, Karen Connolly Armitage, a retired Imagineer who worked for Disney over a 26 year period, and has contributed her skills as a designer and architectural concept artist to many theme park projects.In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children from a previous marriage -- Nicole Armitage Doolittle (who works at Walt Disney Imagineering), Michelle Armitage (a scenic artist in the entertainment industry), and Wes Armitage.a LAGeneral Contractor. He also leaves behind two stepchildren -- Tracy Montee and Cecil Beatty, and a sister Margaret Parfett in Australia. Plans for a Life Celebration in Paso Robles will be announced at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to the Ryman Arts Foundation (www.rymanarts.org) , Liga International (www.ligainternational.org), or the UIC BVIS program to support students pursuing Master's degrees in Biomedical Visualization (UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, 800 S. Wood St., CMET 169, Chicago, IL 60612).