Disney's Nine Old Men

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Disney's Nine Old Men were Walt Disney Productions' core animators,[1] some of whom later became directors, who created some of Disney's most famous animated cartoons, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs onward to The Rescuers, and were referred to as such by Walt Disney himself.[Note 1] All members of the group are now dead. John Lounsbery was the first to die, in 1976 from heart failure, and the last survivor was Ollie Johnston, who died in 2008 from natural causes. All have been acknowledged as Disney Legends.


  • Les Clark (November 17, 1907 – September 12, 1979), who joined Disney in 1927. His specialty was animating Mickey Mouse as he was the only one of the Nine Old Men to work on that character from its origins with Ub Iwerks. Les did many scenes throughout the years, animating up until Lady and the Tramp. He moved into directing and made many animated featurettes and shorts.
  • Marc Davis (March 30, 1913 – January 12, 2000) started in 1935 on Snow White, and later he went on to develop/animate the characters of Bambi and Thumper (in Bambi), Tinker Bell (in Peter Pan), Maleficent, Aurora and the raven (in Sleeping Beauty), and Cruella de Vil (in One Hundred and One Dalmatians). Davis was responsible for character design for both the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion attractions at Disneyland.
  • Frank Thomas (center) with best friend Ollie Johnston and their wives in 1985
    Ollie Johnston (October 31, 1912 – April 14, 2008), who joined Disney in 1935, first worked on Snow White. He went on to author the animator's bible The Illusion of Life with Frank Thomas. His work includes Mr. Smee (in Peter Pan), the Stepsisters (in Cinderella), the District Attorney (in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad), and Prince John (in Robin Hood). According to the book The Disney Villain, written by Johnston and Frank Thomas, Johnston also partnered with Thomas on creating characters such as Ichabod Crane (in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) and Sir Hiss (in Robin Hood).
  • Milt Kahl (March 22, 1909 – April 19, 1987) started in 1934 working on Snow White. His work included heroes such as Pinocchio (in Pinocchio), Tigger (in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh), Peter Pan (in Peter Pan), and Slue-Foot Sue (in Melody Time) and villains such as Madam Mim (in The Sword in the Stone), Shere Khan (in The Jungle Book), Edgar the butler (in The Aristocats), the Sheriff of Nottingham (in Robin Hood), and Madame Medusa (in The Rescuers).
  • Ward Kimball (March 4, 1914 – July 8, 2002) joined Disney in 1934. His work includes Jiminy Cricket (in Pinocchio), Lucifer, Jaq and Gus (in Cinderella), and the Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat (in Alice in Wonderland). His work was often more 'wild' than the other Disney animators and was unique. In 1968 he created and released a non-Disney anti-Vietnam War animated short, Escalation.
  • Eric Larson (September 3, 1905 – October 25, 1988) joined in 1933. One of the top animators at Disney, he animated notable characters such as Peg in Lady and the Tramp; the Vultures in The Jungle Book; Peter Pan's flight over London to Neverland (in Peter Pan); and Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear (in Song of the South). Because of Larson's demeanor and ability to train new talent, Larson was given the task to spot and train new animators at Disney in the 1970s. Many of the top talents at Disney today were trained by Eric in the '70s and '80s.
  • John Lounsbery (March 9, 1911 – February 13, 1976) started in 1935 and, working under Norm 'Fergy' Ferguson, quickly became a star animator. Lounsbery, affectionately known as 'Louns' by his fellow animators, was an incredibly strong draftsman who inspired many animators over the years. His animation was noted for its squashy, stretchy feel. Lounsbery animated J. Worthington Foulfellow and Gideon in Pinocchio; Ben Ali Gator in Fantasia; George Darling in Peter Pan; Tony, Joe, and some of the dogs in Lady and the Tramp; Kings Stefan and Hubert in Sleeping Beauty; The Elephants in The Jungle Book; and many others. In the 1970s, Louns was promoted to Director and co-directed Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too and his last film, The Rescuers.
  • Wolfgang Reitherman (June 26, 1909 – May 22, 1985) joined Disney in 1935 as an animator and director. He produced all the animated Disney films after Walt's death until his retirement; In the 1950s, Reitherman was promoted as a director. He also directed a sequence in Sleeping Beauty which featured Prince Phillip's escape from Maleficent's castle and his eventual battle against her as a terrible fire-breathing dragon. Some of his work includes Monstro (in Pinocchio), The Headless Horseman (in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad), the Crocodile (in Peter Pan), and the Rat (in Lady and the Tramp).
  • Frank Thomas (September 5, 1912 – September 8, 2004) joined Disney in 1934. He went on to author the animator's bible The Illusion of Life with Ollie Johnston. His work included the wicked Stepmother (in Cinderella), the Queen of Hearts (in Alice in Wonderland), and Captain Hook (in Peter Pan). Frank also was responsible for the iconic spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp.


By the time Robin Hood was released, only four of the Nine Old Men (Kahl, Lounsbery, Thomas, and Johnston) were still animating at Disney, although Eric Larson was still working for Disney as a talent scout and trainer, Wolfgang Reitherman was by then directing and producing films, and Marc Davis was helping to create Disney theme park attractions. Lounsbery died in 1976, Kahl retired the same year and died in 1987. Thomas, Johnston and Davis retired in 1978, and Thomas and Johnston later enjoyed cameos in the Brad Bird-directed films The Iron Giant (Warner Bros., 1999) and The Incredibles (Pixar, 2004). Thomas died shortly afterwards in 2004, and Johnston, who was by then the last surviving "Old Man", died in 2008.

As well as being honored as Disney Legends in 1989, all of the Nine Old Men were separately honored with the Winsor McCay Award (the lifetime achievement award for animators) during the 1970s and 1980s.

As part of their work for Disney, the Nine Old Men refined the 12 basic principles of animation:

  1. Squash and stretch
  2. Anticipation
  3. Staging
  4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
  5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action
  6. Slow In and Slow Out
  7. Arcs
  8. Secondary Action
  9. Timing
  10. Exaggeration
  11. Solid Drawing
  12. Appeal

Another important component of the Nine Old Men's legacy are the many animators in the contemporary animation industry who can directly or indirectly trace their training to someone who was either their apprentice at Disney Animation or their student at CalArts. For example, Wayne Unten, the supervising animator for Elsa in Disney's Frozen, has noted that he apprenticed with John Ripa, who in turn apprenticed with Glen Keane, who in turn apprenticed with Johnston.[2]


  1. ^ Walt Disney was jokingly referring to the then-famous 1936 bestselling book The Nine Old Men written by Robert S. Allen and Drew Pearson about the nine justices of the Supreme Court of the United States, most of whom were over the age of 70 at the time; meanwhile, the Disney nine were all in their twenties. (In turn, the U.S. Supreme Court was targeted as dominated by very old men by the proposed Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, whose enactment was allegedly averted by the switch in time that saved nine.)


  1. ^ Canemaker, John (2001). Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation. New York, New York: Disney Editions. ISBN 0-7868-6496-6.
  2. ^ Reyes, Robert (16 October 2013). "CSUF alum turned Disney animation artist sneak peaks [sic] latest film". The Daily Titan. CSU Fullerton. Retrieved 2 May 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Canemaker, John (2001). Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation. New York, New York: Disney Editions. ISBN 0-7868-6496-6.
  • Deja, Andreas (2015). The Nine Old Men: Lessons, Techniques, and Inspiration from Disney's Great Animators. CRC Press. ISBN 1-1350-1585-6.
  • Larson, Eric et al. (2014). 50 Years in the Mouse House: The Lost Memoir of One of Disney's Nine Old Men. Theme Park Press. ISBN 1-9415-0047-1.
  • Mason, Fergus (2014). Disney’s Nine Old Men: A History of the Animators Who Defined Disney Animation. BookCaps Study Guides. ISBN 1-6291-7259-6.
  • Peri, Don (2008). Working with Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists. Univ. Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-9341-1067-1.