Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hal Ambro

I never met Hal Ambro, but I sure know his work, and I ilke it a lot.
He started to work for Disney in 1946. Even though he never reached the status of supervising animator there, his animation can often be found in sequences that were lead by such animators like Ollie Johnston (the opening section of Johnny Appleseed) and Milt Kahl (Ambro animated almost half of the footage of The Fairy Godmother in Cinderella).

I am quoting John Canemaker from his book "The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy" from 1977:
Hal Ambro, in his early sixties, stops by the studio to pick up and deliver some Babette scenes. Ambro, a gentle Santa Claus look-alike, started at Disney and remained there until 1966. He decided to free-lance because "there is only so much room at the top of the ladder at Disney", and he wasn't going to reach those rarefied heights occupied by a select corps of Disney animators.
"I've had a lot of training in the human area in Disney films. Humans are most difficult in the sense that you have to elaborate- exaggerate is a better word- in their actions. But not too much. You don't make a face look like Jell-O, but you can do an action that reflects a stretch in the whole posture."

Ambro animated the character of Babette in that film, which was directed by Richard Williams.
During the years past Disney he also worked for Hanna Barbera and Chuck Jones.
He passed away in 1990.

Hal Ambro could draw. Look at this gorgeous drawing from one of his scenes in Lady and the Tramp. You can tell, this was drawn by somebody who loved what he was doing.


  1. Ambro is too underrated! I'm glad you're mentioning him. He drew some really cute-looking scenes of Alice and Briar Rose.

  2. Does an artist really need a big studio considering there's so much freedom on youtube?

    Hisvcomment, "there is only so much room at the top of the ladder at Disney", really makes one think.

    Thanks for posting Andreas. And thank you for the Masterclasses. Animation schools are just beginning to grow here in Texas. Would you ever consider teaching a masterclass in the lone star state?

  3. That Lady drawing is magnificent! I'm so thankful for this blog, you know, because I get to see the work of many artists I'm totally unfamiliar with. Brightened my day :D

  4. Thank you for posting about Hal Ambro. He was a very strong draftsman, could get very subtle expressions in drawing, and had a knack for getting that refined but simple pose that says it all. I also feel a connection to Hal because two of the men who've taught me the most and have helped shape my animation journey learned from Hal: Duncan Marjoribanks(worked under Ambro at Hanna-Barbara on Heidi's Song in the late 70s) and Russ Edmonds(who took classes with him at Calarts in the mid 80s.) Particularly in Russ's words of wisdom and work I see a lot of the man's influence and impact. It's very self-motivating and inspirational to think many of the things these two gentlemen have taught me were handed down from that first generation.
    You should do something on Hal King, Hugh Fraser, Jerry Hathcock, John Sibley, Phil Duncan, Judge Whitaker, Harvey Toombs, Don Lusk, and many other of these guys.
    All the best,

    1. Need to find some of their original art first, to show how they drew and animated.

    2. Do you have any originals from those guys?

    3. Did you try to get to meet the second-tier guys or were you many just interested in learning from the top guys? Do you wish you had pursued meeting them more?

    4. I do not (yet) own any of their art.
      When I started at Disney, some of these artists had already passed away or I didn't have any contact infos for them.

    5. Understood. Are you ever going to do a post on Art Babbitt? Did you ever get to meet him?
      Also are you inspired by the Looney Tunes guys and have some of their artwork or is it too much out of your sensibilities?

  5. Hal Ambro looks like a cool guy. I don't know what it is about the picture, but he just looks cool.

  6. I own a Hal Ambro Peter Pan animation rough. Its from when he is looking for Tink in the rubble after the bomb blast. It looks beautiful, just like this Lady sketch you posted. I always heard great things about him when I went to CalArts (he had just left the year or two before me and Tony go there!) Thanks again Andreas!

  7. Happy April Fool's! And Happy Birthday, I think? :D

  8. I'll bet there are many top talents who slipped through the cracks due to the spotlight being so focused on "The Nine Old Men". My vote for unsung hero goes to Cliff Nordberg, who seems to have animated so much topnotch stuff in most of the features that sadly seems to go unheralded.

  9. Man, Hal Ambro WAS cool!! He LOVED to help us out at CalArts, always offering to improve our animation so we could learn. I remember working on the design of a character I was going to have for my student film, and the next day Hal brought in 2 model sheets full of poses for the character! I remember checking out many scenes of his in the morgue. I was so happy to see some great Peter Pans and Br'er Rabbits, as well as Lady scenes (and more). Like Andreas pointed out, there are a whole slew of lesser known Animators who helped make the Disney Classics! (Another of my old favorites was John Sibley!)

  10. This is great. Really a shame that the other fantastic animators didn't get nearly the attention the the Nine Old Men got. No slight whatsoever on the 9, but I would have given my left arm to have been able to study under the other guys too. I've always been fascinated with what the other guys like Sibley, Cleworth, Nordberg and Hal King - Much like zoograyson mentioned. I hope you find work to talk about with them...

  11. Thanks for mentioning Hal Ambro! I've tried with not much success to find more about him and his work. Every drawing I see from him is incredible. I would love to see more posts about him and drawings/animation by him.

  12. Hal's son, Ron Ambro, was my plastics teacher in 7th grade. Being a Disney fanatic, it was so exciting for me to know somebody who knew somebody who actually did that for a living.

    I've been an animator for 21 years now, and I wonder if that happenstance in some way contributed to considering animation as a career choice.

    -Ron Friedman

  13. Thank you so much for this post on Hal. He was my grandfather and I can still remember sitting on his lap in his home studio and teaching me how to draw. It is great to see what affect he had on others in the animation world.

    John Ambro