Lasting effects: A Disney legend in animation, a Columbus son, is honored

October 3, 2009 7:36:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


On the gray, weathered boards of a modest, one-car garage on Columbus'' north side, Josh Meador left a telltale sign. Eighty years later, it remains: "Joshua Meador March 12, 1929," roughly scribed in white paint on an interior wall. Facing it, from the opposite side, is an impromptu painting of mountains and clouds, in the same pigment. 


Meador would have been a teenager at the time, a personable junior at Stephen D. Lee High School.  


The former Commercial Dispatch newspaper carrier and avid Boy Scout who had moved to Columbus at age 7 may have absently daydreamed that day ... perhaps about a classmate, Elizabeth Alston, the local girl he would later marry. Or he might have pondered the odds of a boy from Mississippi turning a passion for art into a career. 


But, whatever his thoughts, it''s safe to say even the imaginative Meador could not have foreseen the fantastical world of witches, fairies, puppets and princesses that lay ahead. 


On Oct. 16-17, the man who became one of the most influential figures in the world of animation and special effects -- a giant in the Golden Age of Disney -- will be honored in the hometown of youth. 


As an animator and, later, an Oscar-winning director of special effects for Walt Disney Studios, Meador helped breathe life into classics including "Bambi," "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Sleeping Beauty," "Pinochhio," "Fantasia," "Cinderella," "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and many other celluloid landmarks of childhood. 


Billups-Garth Foundation chair and historian Rufus Ward of Columbus said, "It''s amazing how significant he was -- and very few people here realize who he was." 


The Foundation, the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, Mississippi University for Women, the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library''s Billups-Garth Archives and the Columbus Arts Council are presenting the tribute for Meador, who passed away in 1965, at age 55, of a heart attack at his home in Caspar, Calif., and lies buried in Columbus'' Friendship Cemetery. 




Presentation, exhibit 


On Friday, Oct. 16, the public is encouraged to attend a 7 p.m. visual presentation by Phil Meador, Josh''s son, at the Nissan Auditorium on the Mississippi University for Women campus.  


(Phil is retired, after following his father into the special effects field. His credits include "Splash," "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Return to Oz.") 


On Saturday, Oct. 17, the community is invited to join Meador''s relatives at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library at 10 a.m. for an exhibit highlighting the artist''s personal artwork as well as his work at Disney Studios.  


"We''ll have about 50 drawings, some animation cells and about five of his landscapes," said Ward. A personal easel and paintbox combination used by Meador is a prized piece in the exhibit. The artist''s dramatic landscapes were greatly admired by Walt Disney, who collected 50 of them, including one very special painting that has recently assumed a new purpose. 




''Once in a lifetime'' 


Phil Meador has generously donated a 24-inch-by-34-inch oil painting titled "Cloud Patterns" to be used as a fundraiser to support the preservation of the Meador garage and a hoped-for art park in downtown Columbus. 


The original artwork by his father depicts Disney''s winter home among the mountains at Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, Calif. "Cloud Patterns" was owned by Walt and his wife, Lillian, until their deaths. It was later gifted to the Meador family from the Disney family. 


"Phil wanted to make a statement about what is happening here," Ward said of the piece reminiscent of that earlier image in the garage. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a painting that was once part of Walt Disney''s personal collection." 


Tickets for a drawing to own "Cloud Patterns" are $50 at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center, 300 Main St. Only 290 tickets will be sold. The drawing will take place during the Decorative Arts and Preservation Forum Nov. 5-8. 




Fanciful favorites 


From the shimmering spider web and dew Meador animated for "The Old Mill" not long after joining Disney in 1936, to his last major projects for 1961''s "The Absent Minded Professor," followed by special effects in "Flubber," Meador''s contributions were too many to count. But a few shared by family and colleagues stand out. 


For the soapy, reflective bubbles in "Cinderella," the Mississippi native carefully studied bubbles he asked his wife to blow using a children''s plastic bubble bottle. .  


Meador was also especially proud of his water effects around the whale in "Pinocchio," in the Sorcerer''s Apprentice segment of "Fantasia" and in the storm scenes in "Bambi." 


But one of his favorites, from multiple accounts, was the bubbling volcanic mud produced for the Rite of Spring segment of "Fantasia." The next time you watch the film, imagine Meador using an air hose to blow bubbles through a mixture of oatmeal, mud and coffee. The effect was then photographed with a high-speed camera. 


For these and many more iconic craftsman''s touches -- adding the slashing Z in "Zorro," creating fairy dust for "Sleeping Beauty" or rendering some of the earliest images of Smokey the Bear -- Josh Meador''s towering talent earned him a permanent place of respect in the industry. 




Remembering Columbus 


Meador never forgot his childhood home and friends. His mother lived in the north side home until her death in 1985, and Josh returned almost every year for lengthy visits. He remembered his friends, too.  


During war time, T.C. Billups, Ward''s grandfather, had a serviceman''s "hang-out" in the basement of his Columbus home, Whitehall. Josh worked on the feature "Victory Through Air Power," one of the Disney Studio''s animations to assist in the war effort. For decoration, Meador sent five animation cells to Billups, including two from "Victory through Air Power," autographed by Walt Disney. One portraying the delivery of the Army Air Corps first airplane reads, "Happy landings at Whitehall, Walt Disney." 


As Billup''s grandson, Ward has been aware of Meador most of his life. 


"What I''ve enjoyed about this more than almost anything is I''m glad to see Columbus honor Josh Meador and give him the recognition he deserves," he said. 


Renowned industry animator Floyd Norman may have summed it up best when he said, "Meador was quite a character as well as a talented artist, and his work is evident in so many Disney features ... Walt sure knew how to pick ''em, didn''t he?" 


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.