Milton Quon: The Career of a Golden Age Animator

Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia was heralded as a triumph in the field of animation. An ambitious alloy of classical music and sequential imagery, the film encapsulates the magic of Disney’s Golden Age of Animation. Artist and animator Milton Quon, credited among those who ushered in the era, lent his talents to Fantasia’s “Waltz of the Flowers” segment, during which lithe twirling fairies change an enchanted forest’s seasons as Tschaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” plays. 

Quon, whose prolific works range from exquisitely hand-drawn animation sequences to charmingly vibrant watercolor works, passed away on June 18 in his Torrance, Calif. home. He was 105. He leaves a rich legacy of one who, as his son Mike reported to The Wrap, “lived the full artist life.”

Quon was born the eldest child of immigrants who had come to the U.S. from Canton, China. Encouraged by an uncle to pursue a career in the arts, he received a scholarship to study at the Chouinard Art Institute (which would eventually merge with the Los Angeles Conservancy to form CalArts). Shortly after graduating, he joined Walt Disney Studios in 1939, the third Chinese American to ever be hired. It was there that Quon got his start in animation while working on Fantasia, for which he also animated the “Arabian Dance” scene. 

After serving as first assistant animator on Dumbo (1941), Quon left Disney to illustrate aircraft repair manuals for the U.S. army upon the nation’s entrance into WWII. He later returned to the studio as the head of its publicity department, creating promotional work for Song of the South (1946) and other films. The experience earned him a position at BBDO in 1951, making him the first Chinese American art director at a national advertising agency.

From 1974 to 1989, Quon served as an instructor at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, where he taught painting, drawing and advertising classes. In the 90s and early 2000s, Quon appeared as an actor in films and TV shows like Chill Factor (1989), Sweet Jane (1998), Speed (1994), The Cat Killers (2000) and ABC’s NYPD Blue

Quon’s work has been featured in multiple venues, including Inspiring Lines: Chinese American Pioneers in the Commercial Arts, a traveling exhibition sponsored by the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles. Quon was the recipient of the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California’s Golden Spike Award in 2013, and the Chinese American Museum’s Historymakers Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2017.

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