If you go

What: "The art of Willis Pyle," an exhibit at CU's Heritage Center

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

Where: Third floor of Old Main at the University of Colorado

More info: The exhibit is free and open to the public

Before the creation of Pinocchio, Mr. Magoo and Raggedy Ann, illustrator Willis Pyle was art editor of a monthly humor magazine called the "Colorado Dodo" at the University of Colorado.

CU was the launching pad for Pyle, 96, who has drawn popular Disney characters such as Pinocchio, Bambi and dwarfs from the fairy tale "Snow White."

His early illustrations -- including his characters that lived on the big screen -- are featured in a new display at CU's Heritage Center.


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Pyle was born in Lebanon, Kan., and grew up on Colorado's eastern plains before coming to Boulder and receiving formal art instruction. He graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1937, and a recruitment poster seeking animators for the expanding Disney Studios lured him from his fine arts studio in Boulder to animation training at Disney.

"He came from humble beginnings -- growing up in a sod house, and then going on to Hollywood," said Patty Kuster, museum assistant for the Heritage Center.

While at Disney, Pyle was in charge of turning rough character sketches into fine line drawings and dressing them up with details. His first assignment was Pinocchio, the puppet whose nose grows when he fibs. Then came classical mythological characters in "Fantasia" and the beloved white-tailed deer Bambi and his girlfriend.

On display at the Heritage Center are some of the sketches of Bambi's girlfriend as well as Goofy, "Snow White" characters and Raggedy Ann.

As World War II escalated, Pyle enlisted in the Army Air Corps to learn navigation, Kuster said. But his superiors recognized him as an animator and sent him back to Hollywood to create short films for training purposes, she said. Sketches of "Trigger Joe" are also on display at the Heritage Center.

An animators' strike at Disney prompted a group of former employees to form United Productions of America, which Pyle joined in 1947. He played a key role in developing the nearsighted Mr. Magoo character while there.

He was also principal animator for the adaptation of the Dr. Seuss book "Gerald McBoing Boing," which is about a boy who talks in sound effects instead of words. The "Gerald McBoing Boing" film won the 1950 Academy Award for the Best Animated Short.

The Pyle exhibit at the Heritage Center runs through Dec. 17. The museum obtained the professional sketches from The Lilly Library, which is part of the Indiana University Libraries.

Sesillyne Locke, 18, of Buena Vista, is considering attending CU and visited the Boulder campus Tuesday. Locke wants to go into graphic design and was inspired by the drawings.

She stood in awe of the sketch of a centaur from "Fantasia" -- one of her favorite Disney productions -- that Pyle drew.

"These are some of the most famous cartoons," she said while walking through the exhibit. "I think it's amazing that he's from Colorado and went to CU."

Then she paused.

"Maybe someday I'll be working at Disney," Locke said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.