Beloved Character Animation instructor E. Michael Mitchell passed away Sunday September 6th, 2009, at the age of 89. A cherished member of the CalArts community, he had a profound and lasting impact on students, faculty and staff.
President Steven Lavine commented, “Mike was a brilliant and much loved drawing teacher who, with great dedication, helped our animation students refine their art. He will be sorely missed.”
“Mike was loved and admired throughout the entire school,” said Dean of the School of Film/Video Steve Anker. “He was a role model who will never be surpassed, an artist whose integrity and devotion to artistic independence and the creative act never wavered. Mike set standards that we will always learn from, and his inexhaustible energy and passion will always be remembered.”
Maija Burnett, Associate Program Director for Character Animation, recalled Mike’s legacy. “We mourn the loss of an individual who helped define the field of animation, and redefine the art of life drawing. His emphasis on radical reframing and wild juxtaposition opened up many exciting creative avenues for students and colleagues alike. He was honest and gutsy in his approach, set high standards for all to aspire to, and brought verve and vitality to his classes.”
Former student Spencer Ockwell  observed, Mike taught students to not only “illustrate words, [but to] capture thoughts.”
Despite having made significant contributions to the contemporary artistic and cultural landscape, Mike was modest about his successes. In his blog, former student Chris Wilson , described several of Mike’s accomplishments: overseeing the art direction for major magazines in New York City (while sharing a studio with Francis Bacon), creating original cover art for his good friend J. D. Salinger’s book The Catcher in the Rye, creating innovative concept art for Ray Bradbury and Stanley Kubrick, and originating the story and concept art for Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. Michael also had a major hand in layout, artwork and animation for television shows featuring Daffy Duck, Flash Gordon and Mighty Mouse among others.
Mike attended the Ontario College of Art in Toronto, Canada, and was a veteran of the Second World War. He taught at the Royal College of Art in London, England, Parson’s School of Design in New York City and at CalArts from 1994 until spring of this year.
“He was a tremendous individual who will be missed by all,” said Maija Burnett.