An hour of free time in school set Virgil Ross on a career in animation art. As a sixteen year old high school sophomore, Virgil found himself one class short and decided to study cartooning. Sensing it was the ideal career for him, Virgil pursued his craft after graduating, taking a job as a commercial artist, hand-lettering movie titles for silent films.
In the late 1920's, Ross made some samples of characters and brought them to the Walt Disney Company, whom he heard was hiring artists for their animated productions. Although not hired to Disney he was hired by Winkler Studios, and was immediately put to work as an in-betweener for the popular Krazy Kat cartoons.
When fellow in-betweener Chuck Jones left Winkler to work with Ub Iwerks (the creator of Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), Ross followed, but the two men were laid off after only three months. Luckily, Virgil was able to quickly get a job with Walter Lantz, creator of the Woody Woadpecker cartoon, and while there, rose up through the ranks - from an in-betweener to a full-fledged animator, and met the man who would change the
course of his future, Tex Avery.
Tex Avery was Virgil's mentor and catalyst for this later success in animation. The pair of Avery and Ross was hired by Warner Bros. in 1935 and made cartoon history! In 1340, the pair collaborated in "A Wild Hare," which brought Bugs his first Oscar nomination. In 1942, Virgil moved to Friz Freleng’s animation unit, and went on to create over 230 of the most memorable Warner Bros. cartoons, which received numerous Oscar nominations and
won four Oscars, for "Tweety Pie" (1947), "Speedy Gonzales" (1955), "Bird’s Anonymous" (1957), and "Knighty Knight Bugs" (1958), Bugs Bunny's only oscar winning "performance."
During Virgil's 30 years at Warner Bros., he was responsible for animating 25-3- feet of film each week, on time and under budget! At his desk in the infamous Termite Terrace, Virgil cavorted with many of the most respected American animators, including Bob Ciampett, Friz Freleng, and Chuck Jones. Although each animator has his signature strength, Virgil's contribution to the characters was expression — and his animation is said to be among the
finest personality animation in the world, evident in his characterizations of Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Tweety and Sylvester, and many, many more.
When asked tc name his favorite production, "Rhapsody Rabbit" comes to Virgil's mind. The musical cartoon displays Virgil's own musical talents, he plays the piano by ear and uses his favorite classical and honky-tonk tunes. Virgil says he tried to capture the piano-playing Bugs’ and motions with accuracy, although for comic reasons, Bugs locks more like he’s playing a typewriter!
Virgil Ross went on to have a long and successful career in animation art, leaving Warner Bros. in 1964. At the age of 85, Virgil Ross has showed no signs of slowing down. His drawings are still as exuberant and energetic as there ever were. As one of the last surviving "old time" animators, Virgil Ross is a constant reminder of the golden age of animation!