Information regarding John Brandt’s background and education that led to positions with Walt Disney, Warner Brothers and the Ray Patin Studio is non-existent, hard to believe in the internet age where information about everyone is a mouse click away. Evidently he ended his career as a highly regarded artist in Ward Kimball’s unit at Disney. The following excerpt mentions Brandt in the last paragraph.
It was the early seventies at the Walt Disney studios in Burbank, California. A group of aspiring artists eager to begin their careers were gathered together for their orientation into Disney’s Animation Department. As the young artists talked amongst themselves, they were caught off guard when Ward Kimball poked his head in the door’s entrance and shouted to the fledgling animators, “Walt’s dead and you missed it!”
I was in awe of Ward Kimball long before coming to the Disney studio. I was a fan who loved his drawings, animation, and the music of the Firehouse Five plus Two. I was familiar with Ward as an artist and musician because I grew up in Santa Barbara where the old timers were continually telling me stories about the kid who led the band at the Saturday afternoon matinees. By the time I was hoping for a career in animation, Ward Kimball had already become somewhat of a legend at the Disney studio. During those wonderful fifties days, being an animator at the Walt Disney studio was fun. Ward Kimball certainly added to the wild and crazy pranks often played at the studio. Who can forget Ward coming to work in a gorilla suit, or the afternoon Kimball played music so loud it rattled the windows. Stuff like that would get us fired today. However, Walt Disney took it in stride. This was the cartoon business after all, and cartoonists were supposed to be “crazy.”
Kimball’s office was in D-Wing, on the first floor of the Animation Building. If you were not sure how to find the office of the famous animator, you need only listen for the music. I think Kimball was the only artist at Disney where a piano was considered a necessary piece of equipment. As you can imagine, The Firehouse Five plus Two rehearsed at lunchtime, and if you didn’t care for Dixieland jazz, you had best eat your lunch outside. In time, Kimball moved upstairs to direct two wonderful cartoon shorts. The series was called “Adventures in Music,” and the first film, “Melody,” was a humorous depiction of a man’s life, from birth to death. The film was a departure from the Disney “house style,” utilizing bold graphic design and stylized animation. The second film, “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” won Walt Disney an Academy Award for best animated short of 1955.
Now it was 1958, and Kimball was producing and directing those wonderful science factual programs for the Disneyland television show. I remember a dubbing session where the film was “wrapped,” and Ward leapt from his chair and danced a jig on the floor of the recording studio. Such was the man’s enthusiasm for his work. Kimball’s unit had already produced, “Man in Space,” Man and the Moon,” and “Man and Mars,” Yet, Walt Disney was not always pleased with the work Kimball’s unit was producing. I remember the aftermath of a late afternoon screening back in the fifties. Walt and Ward were in the lobby as we filed out of the theater. The Old Maestro was reading Ward the riot act because of the film he had just seen. As usual, Ward stood his ground. He even refused to use Donald Duck in a show even though Walt had requested it. Taking a dig at the boss, Ward even included the famous duck quacking through a scene in one of his space films. Some at the studio saw this irreverent behavior as a sign that Kimball was getting “too big for his breeches.” The unit was gearing up to produce another film based on NASA’s Vanguard rocket. This was the United States’ hope to catch up with the Soviets who had already launched “Sputnik” into space. Our hopes were dashed when Vanguard blew up on the launch pad. When I arrived at Kimball’s office that morning I noticed Ward had hung a huge black wreath on the “Vanguard” storyboards.
Undaunted, Ward went on to produce and direct another show entitled, “Magic Highway,” but Ward’s unit was beginning to fragment. One of his best artists, John Brandt died of heart problems, and conceptualist, Con Pederson left to work in London with Stanley Kubrick on his new film, “2001.” In spite of these changes, the unit began gearing up for a major new project. Ward was going to produce and direct a live-action musical feature entitled, “Babes in Toyland.” It was exciting to watch sets being designed, and Ward was shooting tests with the actors out on stage two. However, there was a misunderstanding with Walt, and suddenly, things turned for the worse. Ward Kimball was removed from “Babes in Toyland’ and replaced by a new director, Jack Donahue.
© Floyd Norman (Ward Kimball: Animation’s Renaissance Man)
Prior to joining Kimball at Disney, Brandt was one of the many artists employed in the Ray Patin Studio. The following introductory page is from Amid Amidi’s CARTOON MODERN, © 2006, Amid Amidi.
John Brandt did freelance album cover design for several emerging jazz labels in Los Angeles, among them Trend, Gene Norman Presents, Nocturne and Pacific Jazz. Brandt also created covers for several issues of Jimmy Valentine’s THEME magazine.
TREND RECORDS 10″ LP COVERS
The last two 10″ LP covers from Trend Records in this gallery were designed by Lee Friedlander and Stuart Fox.
TREND RECORDS 7″ EP COVERS
GENE NORMAN PRESENTS LP COVERS
GENE NORMAN PRESENTS EP COVERS
THEME MAGAZINE COVERS
PACIFIC JAZZ RECORDS
Books devoted to album cover art have proliferated in the publishing world with new tomes appearing every year. Many of these books recycle the same covers over and over. John Brandt is one of the many deserving artists who have been neglected in these collections. Future posts will highlight other artists who have not achieved recognition in album cover art collections.
Great article, its always fun to see these obscure items from the past
Fantastic Read…I like Brandt's style. I appreciate your research.
Seb Palmer says
Great work. I love these obscure yet talented jazz-age designers. Thanks for the work and sharing the knowledge/inspiration.