The New Nine Old Artists: The Original Nine Old Men

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You can’t do much in the animation business without inevitably hearing about the original Walt Disney “Nine Old Men.”

A term that would have been jokingly borrowed by Walt himself after it was given by Franklin D. Roosevelt to nine out of reach Supreme Court justices in the mid-1930s.

Although (at the time) not old or “out of touch,” Walt’s nine animators employ almost all of them, but have created and mastered the art form. Together, they innovated new ways of telling stories using animation. They had previously stood on the shoulders of self-taught artists like Ub Iwerks and Art Babbitt, but had also received an education from some of the largest art schools in the country.

Calling Eric Larson, Frank Thomas, John Lounsberry, Les Clark, Marc Davis, Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball and Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman the “Nine Old Men” somehow implies that they’ve worked together the entire time, always . However, this was not the case. They were always individual artists with their own styles, aesthetics and approaches as unique as their own signatures. Walt would also use them as he sees fit depending on the project. Marc Davis, for example, was heavily involved in the production of Bambi and as such had little or no involvement in Fancy. Eventually, some would continue to work on the animated films while others would continue to work on Disneyland.

Have you ever seen Eleven from the ocean? This film where a motley group of thieves tries to carry out a major heist in the casinos of Las Vegas? Remember, how even in this collective group, there are still almost sub-groups, closer friends and even couples who don’t necessarily get along? Although the film I’m referring to is fictional, it still captures that group dynamic pretty well. The Nine Elders also had these situations. Usually, you won’t hear of Frank Thomas without hearing Ollie’s name as well, as the two often worked together and were great friends. Less publicized but still a great duo were Marc Davis and Milt Kahl, who were inseparable on the contrary. Davis would take a sketchbook wherever he went while Kahl dropped his pencils and returned to a chessboard or fishing rod as soon as the day’s work was over.

Keep with the Eleven from the ocean analogy, throughout the trilogy, yes we focus on these 11 guys, but they also have many supportive allies that help them achieve their flight goals. In this case, it would be the inkers and painters, storytellers and hundreds, if not thousands of artists whose names we may not have heard over and over again who have walked through the hallowed halls of the studio. original. Together, they made the Walt Disney studio the icon it has become. Produce masterpiece after masterpiece like Fancy, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland.

To ensure the legacy of the art of animation, we realized that there would be a new generation of animators and artists behind this group. At one point in the 1930s, Walt Disney sent several of his animators to study at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. He wants artists to be classically trained and build a relationship with the institution. When he found out the school was in financial difficulty, he kept it afloat. The Chouinard Art Institute and the relationship with Walt, as well as his participation in a possible “City of the Arts” (think of a EPCOT style project) might be the subject of a whole different story (maybe another time) but the end result became a single school integrating the Chouinard Institute as well as the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. This school was the California Institute of the Arts, or “CalArts”.

CalArts, another household name with animation fans, opened several years after Walt’s death in 1970, and it spawned a legendary class of animators (which you can read more about in this series) from the innovative character animation program that was in school. Students were taught by Walt’s artists in school, and many got jobs at Walt Disney Studio where they worked under the mentorship of seasoned entertainers, most notably Eric Larson. Some members of the new generation, like Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), were able to work with some of the more elusive of the Nine, including Milt Kahl.

Just as Walt’s Nine Old Men were a second generation of artists from the studio who helped innovate and develop the craft, they continued to inspire and, in some cases, literally teach a new generation of animators afterwards. them. Together, they collaborated on a series of feature films where they honed their craft and honed their skills and took the art form even further, leading to an era known as the Disney Renaissance. Although this period began in the 80s and continued into the 90s, it is hard to believe that this period itself dates back over 30 years. Now, another generation of animators and artists have a generation to admire and look to as their inspiration or role models.

The title of Nine Old Men has always made and always will refer to these artists of this collective, but someone recently asked me who would have this title now. Who are the masters that students and leaders today consider to be the pinnacle of form? Some names came to mind immediately and without a second thought. Others have taken a little while to familiarize myself with their work again, as it may not have been popularized in DVD bonuses or as heavily marketed by the Walt Disney Company as others. I treat this series like a sort of nominating list as to who I would choose if there was any new title recognizing this particular generation of inspiring artists and I was asked for my opinion.

Next time around, we’ll jump into the real meat of the show and take a look at an admittedly easy top pick if you’re familiar with the art of animation, and take a look at an artist who seems to always be overseeing and animating. characters who have hair problems….

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