Frank Armitage, Famed Disney Artist and 'Fantastic Voyage' Illustrator, Dies at 91

Frank Armitage - H 2016
Courtesy of Disney Animation

The Imagineer contributed murals and designs to many theme parks around the world and was an expert in the field of medical drawings.

Frank Armitage, the acclaimed artist and production illustrator who contributed to such Disney classics as Sleeping Beauty and Mary Poppins and to the Fox visual-effects standout Fantastic Voyage, has died. He was 91.

Armitage, a longtime Walt Disney Imagineer who contributed murals and designs to theme parks around the world, died Monday of age-related causes at his home in Paso Robles, Calif., Disney Animation Studios vp communications Howard Green announced.

Survivors include his daughters Nicole Armitage Doolittle, who works at Disney Imagineering, and Michelle Armitage, a scenic artist in the entertainment industry.

A native of Melbourne, Australia, Armitage moved to Los Angeles in 1952 with $84 in his pocket and landed a job at Walt Disney Studios, where he contributed to backgrounds and layouts for such features as Peter Pan (1953), Sleeping Beauty (1959), Mary Poppins (1964) and The Jungle Book (1967).

After leaving the company, Armitage found fame combining cinematic color and lighting techniques with human anatomical subject matter. He did the production illustration for Fantastic Voyage, the 1966 sci-fi classic about a submarine crew who shrink to microscopic size to enter the body of a scientist to repair his brain. The film won Oscars for visual effects and best art direction-set decoration, color.

In 1977, Armitage returned to Disney to become an Imagineer, and his artwork of anatomical subject matter paved the way for the Wonders of Life Pavilion at the Epcot park in Orlando. He created a concept painting for Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant (The Castle of the Sleeping Beauty) at Disneyland Paris, in the style of the original Eyvind Earle designs.

He also painted a 5,500-square-foot mural for the Safari Fare Restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida as well as several murals for Tokyo DisneySea.

“Frank’s artistic skills were excellent — but I loved having him on our Imagineering team because he knew so much about art and life,” Marty Sklar, former Disney Imagineering creative executive, said in a statement.

After retiring from Disney in 1989, Armitage completed a course in medicine and pursued postgraduate work in acupuncture in China. He produced oil paintings and murals for California homes in Woodside, Saratoga, Los Angeles and Paso Robles.

In 2006, Armitage donated much of his medical art collection to the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the school’s biomedical visualization graduate program established the Frank Armitage Lecture to honor his generosity and to recognize his legacy in the field of medical illustration.

Born Roblan Frank Armitage, he became involved in the mural-painting movement while studying at a Melbourne art institute. In 1949, he won an international mural contest sponsored by world-renowned Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros and became his assistant on several projects in public buildings in Mexico.

In the 1950sArmitage also was involved in the creation of Disneyland, including working on the park’s Storybook Land.

In addition to his daughters, survivors include his wife of 33 years, Karen Connolly Armitage, a retired Imagineer; son Wes; stepchildren Tracy and Cecil; and sister Margaret.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to the Ryman Arts Foundation, Liga International or the University of Illinois at Chicago BVIS program to support students pursuing masters degrees in biomedical visualization (UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, 800 S. Wood St., CMET 169, Chicago, IL 60612).

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