Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” as he called them, were a core group of animators who worked with Walt to create many classic Disney films. The name Nine Old Men was a reference to a book about the U.S. Supreme Court Justices entitled The Nine Old Men. Walt himself began referring to his animators by this phrase, and obviously, it stuck.
Les Clark was the first of this group to join The Walt Disney Company. He became the second animator to draw Mickey Mouse. He even worked on Steamboat Willie. Mickey was Les’ specialty. He also worked on classic films including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Cinderella. After Lady & The Tramp, Les went on to direct animated features including Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan.
In 1933, Wolfgang Reitherman began working for Disney as an animator and director. He directed all Disney animated films after Walt’s death in 1966 until his retirement. His animation work includes characters such as Monstro the whale from Pinocchio and the crocodile from Peter Pan.
Ward Kimball joined Disney in 1934. He was known for creating unique and wild characters including the Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Tweedledee, and Tweedledum. He also designed Jiminy Cricket. Ward also had a full sized steam locomotive at his home. He is credited with helping to inspire Walt Disney to built the Disneyland Railroad.
Marc Davis was hired by Disney in 1935 when the company was working on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He worked on the character design of Bambi, Cruella de Vil, and Maleficent. Not only did Marc contribute to Disney animation, but he also made great contributions to Disney imagineering. Marc worked on attractions including Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion.
John Lounsbery also joined Disney in 1935. Pluto shorts were one of his specialties. John’s animation was known for being loose and organic. Some of his most noteable characters include Tony from Lady & The Tramp and the elephants from The Jungle Book.
Frank Thomas and friend Ollie Johnston also began working for Disney in 1935. The two worked together on many projects over the years. They were responsible for creating characters including Pinocchio, Mr. Smee, and Cinderella’s stepsisters. Interestingly enough, Frank and Ollie can be seen making a cameo in The Incredibles.
Animator Milt Kahl‘s specialty was Disney villians. He was responsible for creating characters such as the evil Sher Kahn fron The Jungle Book and the Sherrif of Nottingham from Robin Hood. Milt’s animation was not just limited to villians, though. He also created Tigger and both Lady and Tramp.
Eric Lawson created many characters including Peg from Lady & The Tramp, the vultures from The Jungle Book, and Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, & Brer Bear from Song of the South. His most famous animated scene is Peter Pan’s flight over London as he travels to Neverland. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Eric trained many animators for The Walt Disney Company.
Each of these Nine Old Men brought something unique to the art of animation. They were instrumental in creating so many of our favorite Disney classics. Walt’s Nine Old Men helped make Disney animation what it is today. Each of the Nine Old Men have been named Disney Legends for their contributions to The Walt Disney Company.