BooksJason's Thoughts & Observations

Book Review: Walt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks

Walt Disney's Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub IwerksWalt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks chronicles the career of a Disney Legend who was responsible for many technical innovations that set the Walt Disney Studios apart over the decades.   This book is written by Don Iwerks, Ub’s son, who also has a long history working for Disney in the machine shop and on technical innovations.  Don brings a unique perspective as a co-worker and son of Ub to his writings.

The book details many of the innovations and the necessity or creative reasons for them.  The title really gives a glimpse of the level of confidence Walt Disney had in Ub.  The two of them would discuss a challenge and Ub was given the freedom and resources to work on solutions whether it was for an animated film, live action film, Disneyland, Walt Disney World or some other special project.

The book is more a chronicling of these projects than a traditional biography.   The opening does have many elements of a traditional biography with pages talking about Ub growing up and him meeting Walt Disney in Kansas City and their first partnership in the 1920s.  It touches on his animation work but moves on quickly from this to when Ub left Disney and struck out on his own in the 1930s.    In 1940 Ub return to the Walt Disney Studios and the remaining three quarters of the book detail his work there.  These chapters are organized around the type of projects. These include Studio Sorcery, “In Person” Innovation, A Trip to a New York World’s Fair and a Whole New Disney World.

Many disneygeek’s know the name Ub Iwerks and associate early Disney animation with him or with camera developments at the studio but few know the scope of work that Ub performed for the company.    Most of what people know about Ub came from the 1999 documentary, “The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story”  by his granddaughter Leslie Iwerks.  (Yes the same Leslie Iwerks that created the Imagineering Story that is streaming on Disney+).

In this book Don takes you on a detail oriented tour of many of Ub’s inventions and accomplishments.   He provides insight into the background/need for the invention and then talks at length about them.  These discussions include a large number of never published photos too.   The level of detail he provides in many cases is exceptional and in some cases very technical.    Don balances a high level description of the problem and solution with the details to showcase the work his father did.   The book includes numerous illustrations and photos to aid in these explanations.

A pattern emerged throughout Ub’s body of work.  He found solutions that worked and in many cases the elegance of the solution was the simplicity of it.  He did not over engineer or think a problem.  He worked on practical solutions that could be implemented quickly and maintained.   Being an engineer myself I really appreciated this and it is something I try to apply to my team’s projects.. albeit in the field of computer programming, but the underlying principles are the same.

Walt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor: The Genius of Ub Iwerks will make a great addition to any disneygeeks library that really wants to learn the details of Ub’s work.   It may be a little too “in the weeds” for some with the level of detail that is provided.    Reading the book and the details of the inventions really give you appreciation for the talent and ingenuity of Ub and the large impact he had on the Walt Disney Company and the history of cinema (and theme parks).


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