During a chance meeting some years ago, I asked this talented gentleman for a phone number and the address of his animation studio. With characteristic flair, he reached down, snatched a scrap of paper off the sidewalk, and promptly wrote down his address. Yeah, I know. Most studio bosses would likely have a business card - but not Cornelius Cole. Corny Cole did things his own way. That “way” has enriched animated motion pictures over the past fifty years. Maybe that’s what made Cornelius Cole so special. I suppose you could call him a production designer. Yet, even that term is somewhat incomplete because Corny could do anything, and usually did. He wrote, animated, painted backgrounds, and even inked his own cels. He was the renaissance man of animation. If you’re an animation producer, you would have wanted Corny on your film. His extraordinary detailed sketches and graphic style could enrich any motion picture. On top of that, Corny was prolific and he could crank out an amazing number of sketches. In the time most artists are still thinking about what they are going to draw, Corny would have filled a storyboard. Though it’s a reality that the best part of a designer’s work seldom ends up on the screen, animation artists are always in need of inspiration. Corny definitely provided that. His work showed what an animated film could be but seldom is. After seeing what Corny had done, any layout artist or animator couldn’t help but be enthusiastic about their contribution to a picture. Corny Cole’s sketches will inspire you to work just a little bit harder.
Corny Cole was born in Santa Monica, California. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute before going to work for the Walt Disney Studio in 1954. Adapting to the Disney style was not easy. Corny has an extraordinary drawing style. His sketches remind one of Daumier or Kley. Hardly what was needed to draw the mongrel dog in “Lady and the Tramp.” While working at Disney, Corny would never could use a light board, and preferred to “flip” or “roll” his drawings to check their movement. An animated scene with ragged, worn and crumpled edges was a sure sign that it had come from Corny. Though Corny was an enormous talent, there was little opportunity for him at the Walt Disney studio. Once the feature film was completed, he moved on to Warner Brothers where he did animation, layout, and storyboards. During the sixties and seventies, Corny Cole seemed to be everywhere. He did educational films, worked for UPA, and strangely enough even spent some time at Hanna–Barbera working on the animated “Laurel and Hardy” series. At the time, Iwao Takamoto, a talented artist who was known for being a tough taskmaster, was the guy who set Hanna–Barbera’s art style. Corny’s drawings were still not consistent with Hanna–Barbera’s house style, and were sometimes corrected by the talented, rather easy going artist named, Willie Ito. This treatment led Corny to remark, “Gosh! Willie’s even tougher than Iwao.”
When UPA produce its feature film, “Gay Puree,” the film was enhanced by Corny’s brilliant design. The sequences featuring the styles of the great masters were designed by Corny Cole. Later, he went to MGM where he art directed the cartoon feature “The Phantom Tollbooth.” Animator–Director, Richard Williams was visiting the studio and saw Corny’s work. He knew immediately that this was the man he wanted on his forthcoming animated feature. “Raggedy Ann & Andy.” Corny Cole designed the characters, did layouts, created story boards and color keyed the entire picture. His preliminary drawings were awesome. They were full of charm and invention. It’s regrettable that the film was not as good as its graphic style. Some years ago, I visited an odd little Santa Monica company called Optical Systems. I was never quite sure what they did, but apparently they had plans for an animated cartoon on the power and fall of then President Richard Nixon. In one of the rooms I found the walls lined with storyboard sketches and they were brilliant. Of course they had to be inspired work of Corny Cole. The film was never produced, but I did find out some time later that the small ball point drawings were exhibited in one of Corny’s one man shows. The man who did everything continued to work in the animation business. Corny spent some time at Depatie–Freleng, where he art directed an animated special based on Flip Wilson the NBC’s hot star at the time. Eventually, he formed his own company to produced television commercials. It was appropriately called, “Corny Films.” Corny also took his artistic expertise to the kids of the Watts area of Los Angeles, where he taught classes in animation. If you glance at the kiddie fare on Saturday morning television you can still see some of Corny’s work. He designed and animated the delightful title sequence for “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and continued to work on the Bagdasarian Ruby–Spears show for a time, quality controlling the show’s level of cuteness. Corny Cole also worked at Marvel Productions, doing show presentations. Corny shuttled back and forth between Japan and Los Angeles in the nineties when he worked on the animated feature, “Little Nemo.” Tokyo Movie Sinsha produced this ambitious film and they knew that having Corny Cole as a part of their design team was a definite asset. Returning to teaching once again, Corny Cole and a group of his students visited the Walt Disney Studio and the Feature Animation department. Although he had not worked for Disney for years, Corny wanted his young charges to see where some of the best work in animation is still being done. He expects the best from his students as well as himself. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to work with Corny you know you’ve worked with one very talented and special individual.
Some years ago, a group of artists headed out to lunch on the Walt Disney Studio lot. Corny chose to drive, but as the group approached Corny’s battered vehicle he could not find his car keys. The group of Disney animators stood around patiently as the befuddled artist searched every pocket in his shirt, jacket and trousers. Then, Corny suddenly remembered. He took off his shoe and the car keys tumbled out. As I said earlier, Corny Cole did things his own way.