LOS ANGELES -- Frederic Back, who won two Oscars for his poignant animated short films, died Tuesday morning at home in Montreal, his daughter, Suzel Back-Drapeau said. He was 89 and had cancer.
A beloved figure in the world of animation, Back was nominated for four Oscars over the course of his career. He was also a prolific artist and illustrator, getting his start in the graphics department of Radio-Canada's first-ever television station.
Back made his first animation short, "Abracadabra" in 1970. Over the next decade he directed five more shorts before making "Tout Rien," which was nominated for an Oscar for best animated short in 1981.
The film didn't win, but a year later his short, "Crac," got the award. The inventive film, with stylized, painterly animation, looked at the industrialization of Montreal over decades from the point of view of a simple rocking chair.
After that film's success, he was able to do more ambitious projects and in 1988 won a second Oscar for "L'homme qui Plantait des Arbres" ("The Man Who Planted Trees"). It was about a shepherd's quest to reforest a barren valley, and was the first of his films to use speaking roles to further the plot.
Topics such as human disregard for the natural world and the havoc caused by pollution dominated his work. His Oscar-nominated 1994 short, "Le Fleuve aux Grandes Eaux" ("The Mighty River"), was about the impact of pollution on the St. Lawrence River.
"My films have become 'classics,' studied in universities and animation schools for their technical, artistic and cultural content," Back wrote in the detailed autobiography on his personal website. "That goes beyond anything I might have hoped for and still surprises me. It shows that politically engaged art is both possible and worthwhile."
Back was born April 8, 1924, in St. Arnuald, in what was then France but is now part of Germany, according to his website. His father was the head of a wind band and his mother worked for a blind brush maker. The family settled in Strasbourg in France, where the young Back began drawing ambitious comics on his slate at a young age.
As a child he brought home stray cats, dogs and birds, and his family did their best to take care of them. He became a vegetarian and a vocal animal rights activist.
The family moved to Paris when Back was a teen, giving him the opportunity to study drawing and lithography. Life was difficult in the city during World War II, but he was still able to take some classes at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Rennes.
At the end of the war Back moved to Canada, which he admired because of Jack London's writing and Clarence Gagnon's paintings.
He married Ghylaine Paquin and was hired by Radio-Canada to create illustrations for its first television network. He remained with the company throughout his career.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by two sons, Christian and Francis, and two grandchildren.