Ray Aragon was born January 12th, 1926 in Boyle Heights, CA. He passed away March 15th, 2009 at the age of 83. He is survived by his wife Lena, daughters Victoria and Lorena and two grandchildren.
There were many job titles listed for Ray Aragon: His first was working as a Layout artist for Disney in the creation of Snow White. He is also listed as an Art Director, Production Designer, an animator, and storyboard artist artist. He designed costumes, helped build a theme park ride for Disney’s Epcot Center. Overall Ray was very well versed in all aspects of production and art making. In addition, he worked in both the film industry and on various television series.
Early Life/Family: Ray was the second oldest of five children. He served in the military for WWII and fought overseas in France and Germany for 18 months in 1945.
Utilizing funds supplied via the GI BIll, Ray studied illustration at Chouinard Art Institute, a small school founded by artist and educator Nelbert Murphy Chouinard in Downtown Los Angeles. This school later became known as The California Institute for the Arts (CalArts), which is currently one of the top schools for animation.
Ray Aragon was listed with 70 film and television credits over his long and productive career. His first real job in the field of animation was in the layout department for Disney. This opportunity came about in 1959 after meeting Marc Davis while taking night classes at Chouinard Art Institute. Ray enrolled in night classes as he was unhappy with the direction advertising and illustration was taking him. Marc Davis in turn put him in contact with Disney’s Ken Peterson and from there he was hired as a layout artist for Disney. One of his first big projects was working in the layout department for Disney’s Snow White.
Throughout the years Ray had many different and ambitious career aspirations and titles. Hie worked for many Los Angeles based studios such as, UPA, Fred Calvert Productions, Hanna-Barbera, TMS, Sanrio, Tom Carter Productions, Filmation and Warer Bros. His credits both lie in the arena of television and film.
One of his more ambitious projects, a feature film called “Don Quixote created while he worked for Fred Calvert Productions never made it to production. It seems, his career revolved more around television animation and series shows, like Spiderman and Emergency +4. His work as a layout artist for Spider Man and Emergency +4, kept him busy from 1967-1973.
In the later part of his career, 1989-1999, he worked as a background and sketch artist for Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. He also worked as a layout artist for Tom and Jerry: The Movie and as a character designer/ visual development artist for the Iron Giant.
His career even ventured out into non- animation film work as he helped storyboarded Norman Jewison’s 1967 film, “In the Heat of the Night.” This film was incredibly different for Aragon as is dealt with extremely charged issues pertaining to race and racism in the south. This film went on to win best picture in the 1968 Oscars, best actor, best writing, screenplay, best sound, and film editing. In addition it won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture- Drama and a slew of other awards.
In addition, Aragon was also involved in every aspect of Disney’s Epcot Center Mexican Pavilion ride “El Rio del Tiempo,” design. which ran from October of 1982 to January of 2007.
Ray also taught life drawing at Cal Arts in Valencia from 1980-1983. Former students stated he was an amazing teacher that really tired to push the idea of forming shape using line and expressed regret that he did not specially teach classes related to layout.
Comments on Style:
Early in his career Ray’s work was precise, tight and he had excellent draftsmanship skills. As he became a more seasoned animator and artist, Ray’s work shifted and he didn’t rely on formulas to construct tight “nailed down” drawings. He utilized a classic drawing technique of direct observation to explain forms and put down ideas. His style was vigorous and informative. His marks were precise and informed, but not too tight or overly rendered. He did not use shadow and value to describe a form or when creating an environment. He simplified mark making and relied on line to not only inform the viewer but himself as well.
I did not find any information on who his direct influences were, although I did notice that throughout his career he liked working with younger animators and as a team. It seems highly probable that working with other artists kept his skills sharp and constantly served as a springboard for new ideas with regards to drawing. In addition, working from direct observation, which he particularly enjoyed, can be seen as a major influence to his style. Working from life requires keen observational skills, as well as the use of precise informative marks. As he progressed as an animator, his focus was really on minimizing traditional drawing techniques such as the use of shading to create form. This type of work requires decisive observational skills and forces one one to really “look” at what is important in relaying an idea. Given this was his preferred method for working, one could say that Ray was directly influenced by what is around him.
Amid Amidi, a writer for Cartoon Brew put together a very nice obituary piece which posted March 25, 2009. He interviewed many people who know Ray Aragon. Here are a few snipers to sum up his personality. Director Brad Bird stated “Ray was a great guy, very vigorous. Brad also stated, Ray had the draftsmanship chops to do really precise, nailed down work. HIs joy was from really vigorous rough exploration.” Later in life his priorities changed and he had no desire to nail down tight drawings. In various sources cited below, Ray was depicted as being funny, energetic, and passionate about his work. All sources stated, he loved working with other animators and was easy to get along with. In terms of his teaching experience and interaction with students, students recounted he was a very inspirational teacher. His primary focus was on trying to get students to unlearn how to draw and/or lose bad daring habits. As to be expected his emphasis in the classroom aligned with his own personal drawing style and revolved around observational techniques and line work. In terms of his overall personality, in an interview posted on Cartoon Brew, his daughter Victoria shared that her dad was always upbeat guy who loved life. She stated that at parties everyone gravitated towards him. She also stated that he was always encouraging her and her sister and encouraged them to investigate any opportunity that presented itself.
Two of my favorite quotes from the Cartoon Brew article that I feel really sum up Ray’s spirit are “have an open eye for everything” and “take the brass ring if it’s there: take the ride.”
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color 1954-1992
Sleeping Beauty 1959
Mr. Digit and the Battle of Bubbling Brook (Short 1961)
The Alvin Show 1961-62
101 Dalmations 1961
Gay Purr-ee 1962
Freewayohobia #1 (Short 1965)
Goofy’s Freeway Troubles (Short 1965)
Spiderman (Television Series 15-30 minutes each -31 episodes 1967-1970)
Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color (Television Series - Man of Wheels 1954-1992)
Jack and the Beanstalk (Television Movie 1967)
The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Television Series - 1 episode 1968-69)
Yellow Submarine 1968
ABC Afterschool Television Specials 1972-1997 (The Last of the Curlews 1972)
ABC Afterschool Television Specials 1972-1997
Emergency +4 (Television Series -12 episodes 1973-1976)
Charlotte’ Web (Movie 1973)
These are the Days (Television Show 1974)
Raggedy Ann and Andy in The Great Santa Claus Caper (Television Movie 1978)
Metamorphoses (Television Show-1978)
The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner (Movie 1979)
Wildfire (Television Series 2 episodes 1986)
Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night 1987
Little Nemo:Adventures in Slumberland 1989
Happily Ever After 1990
Tom and Jerry: The Movie 1992
The Iron Giant 1999
Ray helped Norman Jewison create the storyboards for the Film In the Heat of the Night which won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe for Best Picture. This film won countless other awards in 1968. In terms of other awards and nominations, in my research I could not find any listings for awards or nominations specifically tied to his name.
Contributors To This Listing:
Animators Hall of Fame