Who Were Disney's Nine Old Men?
We have a lot to thank Walt Disney for. He created the first cartoon with sound and the first animated musical, and spearheaded Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, Disney World, EPCOT, the California Institute of the Arts1, and more. We still enjoy the fruits of Disney's labor in the form of numerous animated movies and loveable characters. Walt Disney's long-term success in animation did not occur without the assistance of others, however. A group of nine men, to which Disney referred to as the "Nine Old Men" (the same moniker Franklin D. Roosevelt gave to the nine justices of the US Supreme Court in the 1930s)2, were integral to the successful production and creation of many animated movies at Disney's studio. These men have, in fact, been attributed with being "personally responsible for changing animation forever."3 This blog will briefly describe these key animators in terms of their contributions to Disney and any specific achievements they were known for.
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Nine Old Men
Nine Old Men
- Les Clark - As one of the main animators of Mickey Mouse, Les contributed to Fantasia and Dumbo and was a directing animator for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. He was the longest continuously employed member of Walt Disney Productions4.
- Marc Davis - Marc started on Snow White, developed and animated Bambi and Thumper from Bambi, Aurora and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians. He designed characters for the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion attractions at Disneyland5 and spent 43 years with Disney6.
- Ollie Johnston - Ollie first worked on Snow White. His work includes Mr. Smee from Peter Pan, the stepsisters from Cinderella, and Prince John from Robin Hood. He co-authored one of the most important resources for animators, The Illusion of Life7with Frank Thomas. Ollie's lifelong hobby was live steam trains8.
- Milt Kahl - Milt animated the forest animals from Snow White and was considered the best of all the Disney animators at drawing human figures9. He developed and animated villains such as Shere Khan from the Jungle Book and the Sheriff of Nottingham from Robin Hood10.
- Ward Kimball - Ward designed and animated Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio and was the directing animator of the Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. He formed the Firehouse Five Plus Two, a jazz band consisting of other Disney employees11. His work was considered more outside the norm than other Disney animators12.
- Eric Larson - Eric assisted Marc Davis in creating the character of Cinderella and designed Figaro the cat from Pinocchio. His most famous sequence is the flight to Neverland from Peter Pan. He was placed in charge of talent acquisition13 and trained many of the top animators at Disney today14.
- John Lounsbery - John first worked on Snow White as an assistant animator and worked on numerous short films for military morale15. His animation is known for a squashy, stretchy feel. He co-directed Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, and his last film was The Rescuers16.
- Woolie Reitherman - Woolie was known for action scenes, such as the dinosaur battle in Fantasia and the fight between Prince Phillip and the dragon in Sleeping Beauty. He directed The Jungle Book and The Rescuers and produced The AristoCats and The Fox and the Hound17. Woolie directed all the animated films after Disney's death.
- Frank Thomas - Frank contributed to Dumbo, Bambi, and Cinderella, animated all seven dwarves in Snow White, and played piano in the Firehouse Five Plus Two band 18. He animated the Wicked Stepmother from Cinderella and Captain Hook from Peter Pan and coauthored the animator's bible The Illusion of Life with Ollie Johnston19.
Without these Nine Old Men, our understanding and appreciation of animated movies would not be the same. For their contributions to Disney and the field of animation, all nine men were named Disney Legends in 198920. These individuals were just as responsible as Walt Disney himself for our love of animation and Disney as a brand and entity. These individuals also developed the 12 basic principles of animation, which will be the next subject of EduMind's 3D Animation blog. The next time you're watching a classic Disney movie like Cinderella, Peter Pan, or Snow White, remember these nine men and their significant contributions to the field of animation and design.
Want to learn more about storyboarding and designing animation? EduMind's 3D Animation course will prepare you for a career in 3D animation in less than a year! Contact us to learn more.
1 "About Walt Disney." D23: The Official Disney Fan Club. Accessed May 19, 2021. https://d23.com/about-walt-disney/.
2 "Disney's Nine Old Men." Disney Wiki. Accessed May 19, 2021. https://disney.fandom.com/wiki/Disney%27s_Nine_Old_Men.
3 Greene, Jamie. "Take a Visual Journey Through the Genius of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men." The Roarbots, December 6, 2018. https://theroarbots.com/disney-nine-old-men/.
4 "Walt's Nine Old Men." This Day in Disney History. Accessed May 19, 2021. http://www.thisdayindisneyhistory.com/nineoldmen.html.
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