Walt Disney's Nine Old Men
Celebrate some of the most legendary artists behind classic Disney animated films with this year’s D23 Member Gift. Enjoy this one-of-a-kind collection featuring 23 artful artifacts reproduced from the Walt Disney Archives and Animation Research Library— from rare animation drawings to ephemera reflecting their unique personalities and contributions.
Animating an Original: Snow White and the Nine Old Men
Meet the Nine Old Men before they were the Nine Old Men! Explore how these artists got their start at Disney animation and how they helped bring Walt Disney's first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, to life.
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1 - Mickey Mouse Animation Drawing by Les Clark (ca. 1937)
The first of the Nine to sign on at Disney, Les Clark started just in time to contribute to Steamboat Willie. Les became the Mouse maestro, establishing Mickey as a cinematic superstar in such shorts as Mickey’s Kangaroo and Magician Mickey (seen here).
2 - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Premiere Police Pass (1937)
After years of intensive creativity, Walt’s first animated feature was given a glamorous Hollywood premiere on December 21, 1937. The Nine Old Men never forgot the impact of their animation on the big screen, which moved sophisticated Tinseltown audiences to both tears and cheers.
3 - Dopey “Fan Card” (ca. 1937)
Drawn by Ollie Johnston, this irresistible portrait of the breakout star of Snow White was sent by the studio in reply to fan mail—while also signifying the Nine Old Men’s talent for creating unforgettable characters for each new Disney film.
4 - Walt Disney Inter-Office Memo to Milt Kahl (1939)
Walt sent this signed memo in warm recognition of Milt’s contribution to the phenomenally popular and praised Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—and by extension to all of the Nine. Walt’s inclusive message belied the skeptical claims that he never extended credit to his artists.
5 - Walt Disney Studios “Season’s Greetings” Card (1939)
The elaborate Disney studio card created for Christmas 1939 commemorate Pinocchio, due to be released in February 1940. The card was signed by Walt and his main artists, including all but one (Marc Davis) of the Nine Old Men.
6 - Jiminy Cricket Animation Drawing by Ward Kimball (ca. 1939)
Designed and animated by Ward Kimball, wisecracking, warmhearted Jiminy Cricket was a lively and late-in-production addition to Pinocchio. The conscientious cricket instantly became a Disney icon, hopping across other productions through the years, including the Mickey Mouse Club TV series.
7 - Ben Ali Gator Animation Drawing by John Lounsbery (ca. 1940)
The fun and entertainment value John Lounsbery consistently imparted to his characters are evident in this pencil drawing for “The Dance of the Hours” segment of Fantasia, portraying the animator’s own favorite character in flamboyant action.
8 - Dinosaur Animation Drawing by Woolie Reitherman (ca. 1940)
Acclaimed for his powerful animation, Woolie Reitherman conveyed dynamic strength in his penciled performances, evident in this animation drawing of the battling dinosaurs—later the inspiration for attractions at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair and at Disney theme parks—for “The Rite of Spring” sequence in Fantasia.
9 - Cinderella Ball Gown Preliminary Designs (1948)
Marc Davis brought more to Disney animated films than superb character animation. This versatile artist also created costumes for the characters, including Cinderella’s ball gown—a fitting task considering Marc animated Cinderella’s magical rags-to-riches transformation, Walt’s favorite piece of animation in any of his films.
10 - Captain Hook Animation Drawing by Frank Thomas (ca. 1952)
Whether animating a villain or a hero, Frank Thomas was the master of emotion. The sensitive animator drew a superlative portrayal of the self-centered, self-pitying Captain Hook, making the iconic pirate at once elegant and menacing—while also bringing new dimensions of humor to the Disney villain.
11 - Peter Pan “Fan Card” (1953)
Beautifully illustrated for the Disney Studio’s Fan Mail Department, this postcard-like fan card artfully evokes the enchantment of Walt Disney’s Peter Pan—one of the few features on which each of the Nine Old Men worked. So dynamic were their contributions that this outstanding achievement in the art of feature animation is pure pixie dust.
12 - The Disneyland Story Production Report (1954)
For Disney’s groundbreaking entry into weekly television, Walt made sure animation was well represented by four of the Nine as indicated by the names on this in-house filming report. At one time or another, Walt featured all of the Nine Old Men on camera during the run of his TV series.
13 - Script Page for Disneyland TV Episode Tricks of Our Trade (1956)
Tricks of Our Trade offered a fun and informative look at the techniques used in the art of animation. As seen in this excerpt from the show’s shooting script, written by animation veteran Dick Huemer, Walt showcased four of his “key animators”—complete with close-ups—as the true stars of the show.
14 - The Art of Animation Book Spread (1958)
Walt commissioned this book, written by journalist Bob Thomas—who later would write the first major biography of Walt—to celebrate his animation staff. This spread features an iconic photo of the Nine Old Men surrounded by their autographs. Reproduced from a unique copy in the Walt Disney Archives, this piece makes for an impressive memento representing the group.
15 - Pongo and Puppy Animation Drawing by Eric Larson (ca. 1960)
With his affinity for animals, Eric Larson graphically portrays a Dalmatian father caring for his canine child. One Hundred and One Dalmatians introduced a revolutionary Xerography process, through which animators’ original drawings were directly transferred to cel, a look that the Nine Old Men particularly liked.
16 - Disneyland Postcard (1967)
Disneyland showcased Marc Davis’ concept art—a brilliant combination of story, characterization, and design—on postcards celebrating Pirates of the Caribbean. After transferring to WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) in 1961, Marc was a major creative force behind one of the most elaborate—and most beloved—Disneyland attractions ever created.
17 - Shere Khan Character Sketch by Milt Kahl (ca. 1967)
In these sketches, Milt Kahl—master of both animation and character design—explores the contemptuous character of Shere Khan from The Jungle Book. Arrogant but still appealing, the disdainful tiger’s personality is conveyed through a few deft pencil strokes.
18 - The Aristocats Promotional Handbill (1970)
This promotional handbill from the initial release of the film shines the spotlight on the new cast of characters for The Aristocats, created by several of the Nine Old Men. The reference to box office was prescient; the film was a big hit, ensuring the continuation of Disney animation without Walt.
19 - Disney Studio Photograph (ca. 1972)
With artwork from Robin Hood as a backdrop, the Nine Old Men gathered for a rare group photo as the Disney company approached its 50th anniversary in 1973. This is one of only a few known photos of all of the Nine—and was taken approximately four years before John Lounsbery’s death in 1976.
20 - Alice in Wonderland Preview Invitation (1974)
A new generation re-discovered Alice in Wonderland, especially at the sold-out screenings at the 1973 Walt Disney Productions 50th Anniversary Film Retrospective at Lincoln Center. This invitation invited fat cats of every stripe to a preview during the film’s first reissue in 1974 and was a vindication of the unbridled “mad” creativity of the Nine Old Men, all of whom worked on this classic.
21 - Disney Animation Recruitment Brochure (1977)
As the Nine Old Men began to retire, Disney sought to ensure the legacy of the art of animation by instituting Disney’s Animation Training Program. Using artwork from then-current projects, this brochure detailed the animation process of the studio, as well as how to submit portfolio work for consideration.
22 - Eric Larson’s 50th Anniversary Pinback Button (1983)
With a caricature drawn by legendary Disney animator and director John Musker, one of the many artists mentored by Eric Larson in Disney’s Animation Training Program, this button celebrates Eric Larson’s 50th year with Disney animation. The last of the Nine Old Men to leave the studio, Eric retired in 1986—but thanks in large part to his guidance, their legacy lives on today.
23 - Disney Legends Award Ceremony Program (1989)
Disney celebrated the art of animation, the very foundation for every Disney success, by inducting the Nine Old Men, along with Disney animator Ub Iwerks, as Disney Legends—the Company’s highest honor. The July 19, 1989, ceremony was attended by the four surviving Nine Old Men: Marc Davis, Ward Kimball, Ollie Johnston, and Frank Thomas.