Preston Blair is one of the most talented people behind animation’s Golden Age, responsible for creating some of the most memorable characters and some of the most memorable scenes, most famously in the animated films of Disney and MGM. After studying art at Otis Art Institute, he started working for Walter Lantz at Universal in the 1930s (alongside his future boss Tex Avery) and was there for about a year before moving to Screen Gems at Columbia from 1931 to 1937. That’s when he started looking at animation as a serious career, and after the experience he gained working at Screen Gems on the Krazy Kat series, he went to work for Disney (1937-41) where he animated on a few of their feature films as well as some Mickey, Donald and Pluto cartoons, and later MGM (1941-50) where he animated in Tex Avery’s unit and later directed a few Barney Bear cartoons with Michael Lah. After that he worked a little bit with Hanna-Barbera on The Flintstones and animated for a few television projects here and there until he died in 1995 at the age of 86.
Here is some of his best work:
The entire 30-second bird’s-eye view shot of Pinocchio, Honest John and Gideon marching during the “Hi Diddle Dee Dee” number in Pinocchio (1940).
Mickey Mouse after waking up from his dream in Fantasia (1940) and trying to break the broom’s spell.
Preston Blair designed Hyacinth Hippo for the “Dance of the Hours” segment in Fantasia and animated her solo ballet step, as well as her final shot with Ben Ali Gator.
The scene in Bambi (1942) when Friend Owl is woken up and ultimately flies away in revulsion at the lovestruck birds during the “Gay Little Spring Song” number. Blair also did a lot of great animation when Friend Owl is explaining the concept of being twitterpated to Bambi, Thumper and Flower.
Preston Blair’s biggest claim to fame was Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), a fairy tale parody which introduced the nightclub singer known as Red who would become a recurring character in the Tex Avery world and whose singing and dancing was expertly handled by Blair.
Preston Blair would continue to do excellent Red animation in the films The Shooting of Dan McGoo, Swing Shift Cinderella and Wild and Woolfy, all released in 1945. By that point he had perfected her, and the way she stands out from the rest of Avery’s typically wacky cast of characters added to the humor and made her particularly memorable.
Screwy Squirrel meets Sammy Squirrel in Tex Avery’s Screwball Squirrel (1944). When Avery famously hired an actual Disney animator to animate a gag that takes a shot at Disney.
Blair would also do impressive animation in such Tex Avery films as Blitz Wolf (1942), Who Killed Who? (1943), Jerky Turkey (1945) and many more. But aside from his work with Disney and Tex Avery, Preston Blair is also well known in the animation community for his books. His first book Animation was released in 1948 and it contained many basic drawing principles and taught readers how to animate cartoon characters themselves. He would continue writing about animation for decades afterwards and compile many of these thoughts into his 1994 book Cartoon Animation as well.
I know Cartoon Animation is at least still in circulation, with the latest edition of that book released in 2020. So you could probably still find it if you wanted to. Even if you don’t want to animate and only want to draw, and even if you prefer drawing realistic humans over cartoony animals, Blair teaches some valuable lessons for beginning artists in these books. There’s a reason why both Walt Disney and Tex Avery (two of the most different but also two of the most influential people in American animation) saw value in his talents.