Disney's Nine Old Men
Disney's Nine Old Men were Walt Disney Productions' core animators, some of whom later became directors, who created some of Disney's most famous animated cartoons, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) onward to The Rescuers (1977), and were referred to as such by Walt Disney himself.[Note 1] They worked in both short films and feature films. Disney delegated more and more tasks to them in the animation department in the early 1950s when their interests expanded and diversified their scope. Eric Larson was the last to retire from Disney, after his role as animation consultant on The Great Mouse Detective in 1986. All members of the group are deceased, and are acknowledged as Disney Legends.
The nine were all hired by Disney in the 1920s and 1930s, working initially on Disney's shorter productions, and later on theatrical projects. All nine were present by the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). According to researcher Neal Gabler and animator Frank Thomas, a board was formed to study all possible problems affecting the company in relation to its work between 1945 and 1947. One day in the early 1950s, Disney named the nine members on the board "Nine Old Men". Disney delegated more and more tasks to them in the field of animation as the work of the company diversified. 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.
They began to retire one by one from the 1970s, with Eric Larson's 1986 animation consultancy for The Great Mouse Detective being the group's last animation work at Disney. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in particular continued on outside of Disney for some time, and were credited on several films in the 1980s and 1990s, including The Chipmunk Adventure (1987), Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1992) and The Iron Giant (1999). A documentary which interviewed the duo, entitled Frank and Ollie was released by Disney in 1995. They were honoured with a final voiced cameo in The Incredibles in 2004, which was produced by Disney but animated by a then-independent Pixar. Ollie Johnston, the last surviving member of the group, died in 2008.
- Les Clark (November 17, 1907 – September 12, 1979), "The Mickey Mouse Master", who joined Disney in 1927. Although Clark started his career at Disney working on the Alice comedies' shorts, 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, although since 1964 almost all the films in which Clark worked are short films.
- 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). From 1961 Davis restricted his duties to his work at Disneyland. Davis was responsible for character design for both the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion attractions at Disneyland.
- 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 and retired in 1974. His work includes Jiminy Cricket (in Pinocchio), Lucifer, Jaq and Gus (in Cinderella), and the Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat (in Alice in Wonderland). Specialized in drawing comic characters, his work was often more "wild" than the other Disney animators. 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 in later years were trained by Eric in the 1970s and 1980s.
- 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.
- Woolie Reitherman (June 26, 1909 – May 22, 1985) joined Disney in 1933 as an animator. In the late 1950s, Reitherman was promoted to director. He produced all the animated Disney films after Walt's death until his retirement. 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 Lady Tremaine (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.
In 2012, Frank Thomas' son, Theodore Thomas, produced a documentary featuring the children of the animators remembering their fathers, Growing up with Nine Old Men (included in the Diamond edition of the Peter Pan DVD).
Books and influence
In 1982, after retiring, Johnston and Thomas published the book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, which sets out the 12 basic principles of animation and helps to preserve the animation techniques that the Disney company created.
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.
Basic principles of animation
As part of their work for Disney, the Nine Old Men refined the 12 basic principles of animation:
- Squash and stretch
- Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose
- Follow Through and Overlapping Action
- Slow In and Slow Out
- Secondary Action
- Solid Drawing
|Title||Year||Les Clark||Marc Davis||Ollie Johnston||Milt Kahl||Ward Kimball||Eric Larson||John Lounsbery||Woolie Reitherman||Frank Thomas|
|Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs||1937||Animator||Animator and designer for Snow White||Assistant animator||Animator for The Prince, the Forest Animals||Animator||Animator for Forest Animals, Dwarfs on deer||Assistant animator||Animator for the Slave in the Magic Mirror||Animator for The Dwarfs|
|Pinocchio||1940||Animator||Animator||Animator for Pinocchio||Animation director/animator for Pinocchio and some scenes of Jiminy Cricket||Animation Director/Designer and animator for Jiminy Cricket||Animation Director for Figaro, Cleo, Marionettes, Donkeys||Animator||Animation Director for Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket and Monstro||Animator for Pinocchio|
|Fantasia||1940||Animator||Animator||Animator for Centaurettes and Cupids in "Pastoral Symphony" Segment||Animator||Animation Supervisor for the segment "The Pastoral Symphony"||Animation Supervisor for the segment "The Pastoral Symphony"||Animator for the Segment "Dance of the Hours"||Animation Supervisor for the segment "The Rite of Spring||Animator|
|The Reluctant Dragon||1941||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator and Cameo appearance||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator|
|Dumbo||1941||Animator||Animation Director for Crows||Animation Director||Animation Director|
|Bambi||1942||Animator||Animator and designer for Bambi, Faline, female rabbit, Flower and female skunk||Animator for Bambi's mother's death, Thumper reciting his father's lesson||Supervising animator for Bambi, Thumper, Deer||Animator||Supervising Animator for Thumper, Friend Owl||Supervising animator||Supervising animator||Animator for Bambi and Thumper ice-skating|
|Saludos Amigos||1942||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator for the rides a Llama sequence||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator|
|The Three Caballeros||1944||Animator||Animator||Animator for Donald Duck and "The Flying Gauchito" segment||Animator||Animator||Animator for "The Flying Gauchito", Donald Duck, Jose Carioca, Panchito and Aracuan segments||Animator for Donald Duck||Animator for "The Flying Gauchito" segment|
|Make Mine Music||1946||Animator||Animator||Animator for "Peter and the Wolf" and "Casey at the Bat" segments||Animator for "The Martins and the Coys", "All the Cats Join In"||Animator||Animator for "Casey at the Bat" "Peter and the Wolf"||Animator for "Peter and the Wolf"||Animator|
|Song of the South||1946||Directing Animator||Directing Animator, animator and designer for Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear||Animator for Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, Br'er Bear||Directing animator for Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox, and Br'er Bear (The Tar Baby sequence)||Animator||Directing Animator||Directing Animator||Animator|
|Fun and Fancy Free||1947||Directing Animator||Animator and designer for Bongo, butterfly, and yawning trees||Animator for Jiminy Cricket||Animator for Lulubelle, Lumpjaw, bears (uncredited)||Directing Animator||Animator||Directing Animator for Jiminy Cricket, Willie the Giant||Directing Animator||Animator|
|Melody Time||1948||Directing Animator||Animator||Animator for Johnny Appleseed, Johnny's Guardian Angel, Johnny's Ghost, Little Toot||Directing animator for the Johnny Appleseed, Johnny's Guardian Angel, Pecos Bill, Widowmaker and Slue Foot Sue segments||Directing Animator for Pecos Bill y his sequences||Directing Animator for "Once Upon A Wintertime", "Johnny Appleseed" and "Little Toot" segments||Directing Animator for "Once Upon A Wintertime", "Blame it on the Samba" and "Pecos Bill"||Animator||Animator|
|So Dear to My Heart||1948||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator||Animator|
|The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad||1949||Animator||Animator and designer for Mr. Toad, Cyril Proudbottom, Rat, Mole, Angus MacBadger, Mr. Winkie and the weasels||Directing animator/Animator for J.Thaddeus Toad, Ratty, Moley, Angus Macbadger, The Prosecutor, The Judge, Ichabod Crane, Katrina Von Tassel, Baltus Von Tassel, Brom Bones||Directing animator for Angus MacBadger, Rat, Mole, angry mob and Brom Bones||Directing Animator and character animator of both shorts||Animator||Directing Animator||Directing Animator||Directing animator/Animator for Mr. Toad, Cyril Proudbottom, Rat, Mole, Ichabod Crane and his horse, Katrina Von Tassel, Brom Bones, laughing fat lady|
|Cinderella||1950||Directing Animator||Animator and designer for Cinderella, Stepsisters (tearing Cinderella's dress apart), Prince Charming, the King (close up of hands and bookends) and the Grand Duke (close up of hands and bookends)||Directing animator/Animator for Stepsisters, Lackey||Directing animator for Fairy Godmother, Prince Charming, the King and the Grand Duke||Directing Animator for Jaq and Gus and Lucifer the Cat||Directing Animator for Cinderella, Prince Charming||Directing Animator for Jaq||Directing Animator||Directing animator/Animator for Lady Tremaine, Grand Duke|
|Alice in Wonderland||1951||Directing Animator||Animator and designer for Alice and the eyeglasses creature||Directing animator/Animator for Alice, King of Hearts||Directing animator for Alice, the White Rabbit (one scene), the Dodo, Flamingo and Hedgehog||Directing Animator/Designer and animator for Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Walrus and the Carpenter, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter and Tea Party sequence||Directing Animator for Alice, Dinah, Caterpillar, Queen Of Hearts||Directing Animator||Directing Animator||Directing animator/Animator for Queen of Hearts, Doorknob, strange creatures, a few scenes of the King of Hearts, Cheshire Cat (trial scene)|
|Peter Pan||1953||Directing Animator||Animator and designer for Tinker Bell and Mrs. Darling||Directing animator/Animator for Mr. Smee, a few scenes of Captain Hook||Directing animator for Peter Pan, Wendy Darling, John Darling, Michael Darling, Mr. Darling, Mrs. Darling, Nana||Directing Animator||Directing Animator for Peter Pan, Wendy, Captain Hook||Directing Animator||Directing Animator||Directing animator/Animator for Captain Hook and a few scenes of Mr. Smee|
|Lady and the Tramp||1955||Directing Animator||Animator||Directing animator/Animator for Lady, Jock and Trusty||Directing animator for Lady, Tramp, Mr. Busy the Beaver, Trusty||Directing animator for Lady, Tramp, Beaver, Peg||Directing Animator for The Tramp||Directing Animator||Directing animator/Animator for Lady, Tramp and Jock|
|Sleeping Beauty||1959||Sequence Director||Animator and designer for Aurora, Maleficent, Diablo the Raven, Prince Phillip (a few scenes), King Stefan, and Queen Leah||Directing animator/Animator for Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather||Directing animator for Prince Phillip, King Hubert, King Stefan, Maitre D', animals, Samson||Sequence Director||Directing Animator for King Hubert and King Stefan||Sequence Director||Directing animator/Animator for Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather|
|One Hundred and One Dalmatians||1961||Character Animator||Directing Animator for Cruella De Vil and Anita||Directing animator for Perdita||Directing animator for Roger and Anita, Pongo, Perdita, Labrador||Directing animator for Pongo, Perdita, Puppies, Colonel, Tibbs||Directing Animator for Pongo||Sequence Director||Directing animator for Pongo|
|The Sword in the Stone||1963||Animator (uncredited)||Directing animator/Animator for Merlin, Wart, Archimedes, Sugar Bowl||Character designer/directing animator for Wart (a.k.a. King Arthur), Merlin, Sir Ector, Kay, Archimedes, Kitchen Woman, Madame Mim, Dogs||Animator for Wart, Merlin, Archimedes, Sir Ector, Madam Mim||Directing Animator||Director||Directing animator/Animator for Wart, Merlin, Squirrel Scene, Madam Mim|
|Mary Poppins||1964||Animator for the Penguins||Animator for the Master of hounds, hounds, fox, stewards||Animator||Animator for Forest animals, Racers||Animator||Animator for the Penguins|
|The Jungle Book||1967||Directing animator for Mowgli, Bagheera, Baloo, the Girl||Directing animator for Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Shere Khan, King Louie, monkeys, Kaa, the Vultures||Animator for Mowgli, Bagheera, Vultures||Directing Animator for Colonel Haiti, Elephants, Shere Khan||Director||Directing animator for Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Kaa, King Louie, Flunkey Monkey|
|The Aristocats||1970||Directing animator for Duchess, Thomas O' Malley, Marie, Berlioz, Toulouse, Amelia and Abigail Gabble, Uncle Waldo||Directing animator for Thomas O'Malley, Duchess, Madame Bonfamille, Edgar and George||Animator for Roquefort, Kittens, Scat Cat||Directing Animator||Producer and Director||Directing animator for Duchess, Thomas O' Malley, Edgar, Napoleon, Lafayette|
|Bedknobs and Broomsticks||1971||Animator||Animator for King Leonidas, Secretary Bird and the animals||Animation Director||Animator||Animator||Animator|
|Robin Hood||1973||Directing animator for Prince John, Sir Hiss, Robin Hood and Little John disguised as fortune tellers, Maid Marian, Lady Cluck||Directing animator for Robin Hood, The Sheriff of Nottingham, Little John, Allan-a-Dale (the rooster), Maid Marian, Lady Kluck, Friar Tuck, Skippy, King Richard||Character Animator for Robin Hood, Little John, Vultures||Directing Animator for Robin Hood||Producer and Director||Directing animator for Robin Hood disguised as stork, Sheriff of Nottingham, Maid Marian and Skippy|
|The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh||1977||Animator for Winnie the Pooh, Piglet||Animator for Tigger, Winnie the Pooh (scenes with Tigger) and a few scenes of Roo||Animator for Kanga, Roo, Winnie The Pooh||Animator for Owl, Eeyore, Gopher/ Director||Producer and Director||Animator for Winnie the Pooh, Piglet|
|The Rescuers||1977||Directing animator for Bernard, Bianca, Penny, Rufus, Orville||Directing animator for Madame Medusa, Mr. Snoops, Penny, Brutus and Nero, a few scenes of Bernard and Bianca||Animator||Director||Producer and Director||Directing Animator for Bernard, Miss Bianca, The Chairman, Orville, Brutus, Nero, Ellie Mae, Luke and The Swamp Folk|
|The Fox and the Hound||1981||Supervising Animator for Young Tod, Young Copper||Animation Consultant||Co-Producer||Supervising animator for Young Tod, Young Copper|
|The Black Cauldron||1985||Character Designer||Animation Consultant|
|The Great Mouse Detective||1986||Animation Consultant|
- According to Frank Thomas, they formed a board that studied all the possible problems affecting the company in relation to its works, but the number of members varied regularly. One day, when Walt Disney learned that there were nine people on the board at the time, he named the group "Nine Old Men". 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 thirties. (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.) According to investigator Neal Gabler, the board was created between 1945 and 1947 as part of the reorganization that the study had to reduce company expenses.
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