Blaine Gibson, who began working at the Walt Disney Studios animation department in 1939 and later directed the sculpture of every U.S. president, up to George W. Bush, in “The Hall of Fame of Presidents” at the Walt Disney World Resort, died on July 5 from an age-related illness. He was 97.
Bob Iger, Disney chairman and chief executive officer, commented on Gibson’s passing. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of such an incredibly talented artist and Disney Legend, yet we are very fortunate that his amazing work will continue to live on in our animated films and theme parks,” said Iger.
Gibson was born on a farm in Rocky Ford, Colorado, and attended Colorado University, but left school early to join the Walt Disney Studios. While working as an assistant animator on Disney features “Fantasia,” Sleeping Beauty,” and “Alice in Wonderland,” Gibson learned his hobby of sculpting by taking evening classes at Pasadena City College.
In 1954, Walt Disney saw Gibson’s creations and invited him to work on his big, upcoming project, Disneyland. After devoting his time to both animation and sculpture, Gibson transferred to sculpting in 1961 when he started working full-time at WED Enterprises, which later became Walt Disney Imagineering.
Gibson eventually became the chief sculptor for all the Disney parks, from Disneyland to Epcot, before his retirement in 1983. His creations included sculptures from which Audio-Animatronics figures were produced for the Haunted Mansion,It’s a Small World, the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
He is survived by his son Wes, and his grandson, Blaine. A celebration of Gibson’s life is tentatively scheduled for late summer.
Donations may be made to the Ryman Arts Foundation or the Casa Dorinda Staff Scholarship Fund.