Nine Old Men by Andreas Deja

The Nine Old Men: Lessons, Techniques, and Inspiration from Disney’s Great Animators by Andreas Deja.

Andreas Deja, Disney Legend and famed animator, has just released The Nine Old Men, a look at the key artists that shaped the animated features of the Disney Studios and all other animation.

About Disney’s Nine Old Men

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men were the veteran animators that led the animation department of the Disney Studios through every animated feature until The Fox and the Hound. Most of them cut their teeth on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and quickly found themselves as directing animators and directors. During most of the 1950s and 1960s, the Nine Old Men were seen as the power at the studio and still remain some of the most influential and respected animators of all time. (The Nine Old Men refers to a term Walt Disney used that is from the 1936 book, The Nine Old Men, about the Supreme Court Justices.)

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men:

  • Les Clark
  • Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman
  • Eric Larson
  • Ward Kimball
  • Milt Kahl
  • Frank Thomas
  • Ollie Johnston
  • John Lounsberry
  • Marc Davis

Just a little about Andreas Deja: apparently, he was ten years old when he first applied for a job as a Disney animator but he wasn’t hired until he was 20. He worked on: The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He’s also known for animating some of Disney’s most evil villains and memorable characters: Gaston, Jafar, Scar, King Triton, Mickey Mouse, Hercules, Lilo, Goofy, Tigger, Mama Odie, and Juju. In 2006, at the 35th Annie Awards, Deja was awarded the Winsor McCay Award for outstanding contribution to the art of animation and he was named a Disney Legend by the Walt Disney Company in 2015. Presently, Deja is working on his own independent animated short films and is actively involved in his animation-related blog, Deja View.

The Nine Old Men, the book

I reviewed Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation by John Canemaker. It’s more of a biographical look at the artists that shaped animation. This new book by Deja looks more at the artistry. Deja offers some minor biographical information about the artist but quickly jumps into looking at the animation that they did throughout their career. Each animator is given a full chapter and follows the same path: how they came to the studio, how they started in animation and then a very detailed look at their major contributions.

What makes Deja’s book so fascinating is that he’s one of the few people in the world that can look at the drawings made by the Nine Old Men and can get into their heads; he can posit what they might have been thinking about. Deja picks apart their greatest scenes and characters while offering insight into the design of the character and the animation. He can look at the slight differences between the individual drawings of a character and explain the nuances. Specifically, he looks at how the artists breathes life into the key drawings.

I’ve read plenty about the Nine Old Men and what their strengths were at the Studios. In this book, Deja really goes deep into how Walt Disney pushed them to help them find their true calling, so to speak. Deja also discusses what types of animating the animators loved doing and which assignments were particularly difficult. It’s simply more than just a look at the key drawings; Oftentimes, Deja has brought up points about the Nine Old Men that I’d never run into before. Especially concerning styles.

The book is full of drawings by the animators. For the most part, Deja shares the rough animation that was done before it was sent to clean-up. It’s jaw-dropping to see how these simple and not-so-simple lines brought characters to life. As much as I loved Canemaker’s look at the Nine Old Men, I’m equally excited about Deja’s book because it expands what we know and think about the animators. Deja applies his unique knowledge of animation to the drawings and offers insight that no one else can. He truly adds to the literature on Disney’s Nine Old Men. 

Anyone who is a fan of animation is going to love this book. Animators, students, enthusiasts and wanna-be-animators need to buy this book now!

Do you have a favorite of the Nine Old Men?


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