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?


Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation by John Canemaker. 2001, 308 pages.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation is the first book to take an in-depth look at the artists that shaped the Walt Disney Studios before and after Walt’s passing. The Nine Old Men reference relates to Franklin Roosevelt’s description of the Supreme Court Justices—Walt used it as a joke and it stuck (the name came from a 1937 book called Nine Old Men). The Nine Old Men would become the most creative and powerful people at the Studios. The litany of characters that they have brought to life is simply astounding.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

John Canemaker is an animation historian, animator and professor of film animation at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is a very successful author with seven books (three just about Disney animation) and 100’s of essays and articles to his name. Mr. Canemaker is also noted for several award-winning short films.

Mr. Canemaker begins the book with a look at the Nine Old Men’s formative years: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Most of the Nine Old Men were hired at the Studios in the mid-1930’s. Before them, were legendary men that were mentors and friends to the new artists. Vladmir Tytla, Grim Natwick, Norman Ferguson, Hamilton Luske and Fred Moore were put in charge of various departments and sections of Snow White. As time progressed, many of the Nine Old Men were mentored by these animation pioneers. For many reasons, the previously mentioned animators left Disney or found they could not keep up with the younger crowd. Mr. Canemaker touches on the influential animator’s lives throughout the chapters on the Nine Old Men.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men:

  • Les Clark,
  • Wolfgang Reitherman,
  • Eric Larson,
  • Ward Kimbal,
  • Milt Kahl,
  • Frank Thomas,
  • Ollie Johnston
  • John Lounsberry, and
  • Marc Davis.
Table of Contents for Walt Disney’s Nine Old men by John Canemaker

Mr. Canemaker devotes a chapter to each animator and takes you from their birth to the present day (in 2001) or their passing–he has created a condensed biography and Mr. Canemaker successfully brings the important details to the top that seem relevant to the creation of the animators. You follow each artist from their birth, early family life, school, travels and eventual beginnings at Disney. All of the Nine Old Men stayed with the Disney organization until their retirement They were also faithful to the Studio during the Strike. Undoubtedly, this cemented Walt’s opinion of them. Family photographs, animated film stills and corporate images fill the volume. Mr. Canemaker shares a lot of great anecdotes about the artists. Did you know that Ward Kimball attended over 22 schools growing up and that Marc Davis’ family traveled the country, rarely settling in one place for more than a few months? Wolfgang Reitherman was a pilot in World War II and claims that he was only a director because Walt told him to be one.

Throughout each chapter, Mr. Canemaker shares what makes each animator so important to the Disney Studios and animation. As you go through the chapters, you see each animator as a different personality to the whole. Each one distinct and filling a specific role within the Studios. After the Animation Strike, the Nine Old Men were charged with being the review committee for the Studios. A film couldn’t be made without their direct involvement and an artist could be fired at their whim. After Walt’s passing, the Nine Old Men were the creative force and were often left stumbling as to the direction to be taken at the Studio.

As expected, a majority of the book does focus on animation. Marc Davis was really the only one of the Nine Old Men asked to work on the Disneyland Project. The book does cover that section of Marc’s career; starting with the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland in 1962, the World’s Fair attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Ward Kimball is mentioned in conjunction with Disneyland through his shared loved of trains with Walt. This book truly shines as a mini-biography of the Nine Old Men and how they moved the art of animation forward.

Bottom Line: This is a book that I highly recommend for animation enthusiasts and people interested in the Disney Studios formative years. It brings together information about the early years of the Studio and the roles of the Nine Old Men in animation, the Studio and the Company–unlike any other resource. Most of the book does deal with animation and the classic characters that were created but it does focus on the theme parks with Marc Davis and Ward Kimball’s contributions.

You want this book if you have any interest in learning more about Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and their art.