Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who were Walt’s Nine Old Men?

Who were Walt’s Nine Old Men?
Disney's Nine Old Men - copyright Walt Disney Company
       After Walt lost Oswald and his animation team in 1928 he went looking for new animators to take their place. Even Ub left in 1930 (to return in 1940) leaving Walt in great need of help.
       Walt found 9 young animators willing to learn and grow along with him and the Disney Studio. These men became his core animation team and many later became directors and helped in the design of Disneyland.  Many of these men have been overlooked in the history of animation except by other animators and film historians. They deserve to be remembered and have their contributions to Disney, film, animation, theme park development and general contributions to our society passed on to the next generation.
The group’s name, “The Nine Old Men” was a joke started by Walt Disney. He jokingly called this group of animators his "Nine Old Men," referring to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dismissive description of the nine justices of the US Supreme Court. The name stuck! The entire group was in their 20’s - 40’s and not one was old at the time.
Les Clark was the only animator to have been there before the creation of Mickey Mouse. Les Clark started as an apprentice animator in 1927. The rest of the Nine Old Men started working for Disney between 1933-1935.
Some or all of these men worked an all the Disney animated movies from Snow White to The Rescuers. They were credited with creating many new animation techniques and styles. Each one strived to improve his ability and the art form in general.
Here is a list of the Nine Old Men and their major accomplishments. Over the next nine weeks I will dedicate a Bio Wednesday blog to each one of these talented men.
  • 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.
  • Mark 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), Maleficent and the raven (in Sleeping Beauty), and Cruella de Vil (in One Hundred and One Dalmations). 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 villains such as 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 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.
  • 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; 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 Ben Ali Gator in Fantasia; George Darling in Peter Pan; Tony, Joe, and some of the dogs in Lady And The Tramp; The Kings in Sleeping Beauty; The Elephants in The Jungle Book; and many, 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 1933 as an animator and director. He directed all the animated Disney films after Walt's death until his retirement. Some of his work includes Monstro in Pinocchio, the Crocodile (in Peter Pan), the Dragon (in Sleeping Beauty), 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).

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