Lars Erik Calonius

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Lars Erik Calonius

Birthplace: Finland
Death: June 23, 1995 (78)
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, CA, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John Matias Calonius and Lydia Calonius
Brother of Dagmar Elisabeth Fladborg; Mathias Sigwald Calonius; Maria Dolly Calonius and Elsa Margaretha Clark

Occupation: Artist, Art director
Managed by: Kim Mathias Calonius
Last Updated:

About Lars Erik Calonius

Chatting with Lars Calonius and Ken O’Brien

Lars Erik Calonius and Kenneth John O’Brien both started out at Disney’s around the same time, though their career paths diverged in significant ways. While O’Brien basically stayed at the Mouse House to become a master animator, Calonius went off to New York and helped create one of the most iconic Cold War films ever made. However, like many animation veterans of their generation, they both ended up becoming journeymen animators working on TV shows and commercials.

Calonius was, as he noted in his 1986 Golden Awards Banquet interview with Dan McLaughlin, “born in Finland and [moved to] San Francisco…. I had a friend who had contact with Norman Smith, who was the dean of the political cartoonists for the San Francisco Examiner. I got to show him some of my drawings, which he thought were rather amateurish, but had some promise. And he wrote to [Disney director] Ben Sharpsteen, who then got in touch with me and they hired me for $15.00 a week as an animation trainee” in October 1935. He eventually became an assistant to Frank Thomas on such films as Pinocchio.

He was drafted into the Army during the war and ended up, he recalled, at “the Signal Corps Photographic Center in New York, which gave me the opportunity to know New York in a geographic sense, as well as in other respects.” He returned there after the war determined to open up his own studio, which he did after two-and-a-half to three years. Lars Calonius Productions, Inc. became a top commercial house, whose clients included Kent cigarettes, General Foods, Gulf Oil Corp., T.J. Lipton, Inc., and Stephen F. Whitman Candy. The company specialized in spots using cartoon, cutout and stop-motion animation, and also did some live action work.

Early on, he was involved with Archer Productions, Inc., whose vice president, Leo M. Langlois, was his brother-in-law. It is said Archer was initially a sales front for Lars Calonius Productions, but on its own also wanted to get into training films. This led it to make Duck and Cover, the famed nine-minute live-action/animated instructional film for the Federal Civil Defense Administration; Calonius was its art director and helped create the character of Bert the Turtle. The film was part of the government’s larger “Duck and Cover” campaign, but it remains its most memorable manifestation; as such, it was put on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.

In 1966, Calonius sold his company to Jack Zander’s Pelican Films, Inc. and became its director of animation. By 1971, he was back on the West Coast, and went “into semi-retirement,” working as an animator for several studios, including Hanna-Barbera (The New Scooby-Doo Movies, Charlotte’s Web and The New Tom & Jerry Show) and Ralph Bakshi (Coonskin). He also headed the L.A. unit for Zander’s TV movie, Gnomes, for which he got co-director credit. He officially retired in 1980, though he apparently came back in 1989 to work on Bill Melendez’s mini-series This Is America, Charlie Brown.

When asked about his fondest memories of working in animation, Calonius said, “Well, working at Disney’s was really a privilege and a tremendous break for me, and for many others as well, because the insistence on quality, and the character of the people too. It was probably the best grouping of skilled and dedicated and intelligent people I’ve ever met. So, in that respect, I learned a great deal and I feel that I was very privileged to have the opportunity to work there.”

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Lars Erik Calonius's Timeline

September 8, 1916
June 23, 1995
Age 78
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, CA, United States