“I still have a dream of what if Rodin was alive today or Michelangelo, and you gave them the art form of animation, but did not show them anything that had been done before. Where would they take it?”- Glen Keane
We at Business of Animation (BOA) have a lot of favorites when it comes to famous animators and we’d most definitely have different opinions about who makes it into this list of those we know you’ll love. With so many brilliant but varied contributors to animation history, an agreed-upon hierarchy is something not likely to happen.
But these chosen famous animators will undoubtedly make you fall in love with them for, at minimum, what they have contributed to animation. And hopefully, even more: to invite you to walk through their explored and carefully constructed gateway into the magic of animation and create new paths into this wondrous world.
Famous Animators Every Animator will Love & Learn From
1. Chuck Jones - First-Timer
Are we starting with a famous animator that is famous mainly because he has a LOT of firsts for a famous animator? Yes. Yes, we are. Chuck Jones contributed many new ideas to the gateway of animation.
Image via Achievement
He is credited as the first to develop smear techniques in animation. His film, “What’s Opera, Doc?”, is the first animated film ever inducted into the National Film Registry as one of America’s most culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant films of our time. And at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, he was the first animator to have a retrospective.
And those are not the only “because” that he is a famous animator for. The following awards point to a little bit more than a whole collection of “firsts” - nine of his films were nominated for Academy Awards three of which actually won - another of his firsts.
He’s a famous animator that has a number of honorary doctorates as well as many other prestigious awards. And out of all the animators in history, Jones is one of two animators to be on the Director’s Guild of America Honorary Lifetime Member Recipients.
Leaving his awards out of this, this first-timer and famous animator is loved for the characters he brought to life in the developing animation world. Bugs Bunny, Road Runner & Wile E. Coyote, and dozens more are classic favorites. Very few people don’t have “What’s up, Doc?” close to the tip of their tongues.
Not only did he animate, and bring laughter and inspiration in a timeless manner to span generations, but he also brought the rights of animators and co-workers into the limelight as he led in the creative, social, and business industries. So that’s why he’s first on our must-love list.
2. Aaron Blaise - All-Rounder
Director, writer, and animator, Aaron Blaise has been rightfully added to our to-be-loved famous animators and I’m sure you won’t argue this when you discover that his list of experience features:
- Animator supervisor
- Animation director
- Animating assistant
- Creature design
- Game animator
- Concept artist
- Visual developer
And the list continues to roll on including an Oscar nomination.
Blaise grew up poor, barefoot, and shirtless when he roamed his wild paradises, during which he was always drawing and painting. By 17 his father convinced him to follow his gift and so graduated with a certificate in illustration from Ringling College of Art.
Blaise might not have stepped straight into fame after graduating but his first job found him as an intern at Disney. He worked there for twenty-one years rising through the ranks right up to co-director of “Brother Bear” - the Disney film that earned him that nomination for an Oscar.
He has worked on many of our favorite films including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and Mulan. He was the actual animator of the characters Beast, Jasmine and Rajah, young Nala, and Pocahontas!
Talk about a legend in animation never mind just “a famous animator". Loving any of these films and characters is pretty much synonymous with loving Blaise.
In order to really capture a character he was responsible for, he required knowing the full script, and by “knowing it” we mean comprehensively understanding the story, characters, reality of the movement, texture of surfaces, and their surroundings or culture.
Aiming to get it as realistic as possible (which Disney did well) he took his inspiration from studying and understanding the subject in real life. Even today he travels the world to capture references before going to canvas and then onto digitals.
But let’s back up a bit, Blaise didn’t come into Disney as an animator - he was an illustrator, an artist. There was no doubting his skills but he couldn’t animate no matter how hard he tried.
He was ready to admit defeat before his mentor, Glen Keane (whom you’ll soon meet ) told him not to give up because he would get it. And three weeks later he did, allowing his skills to become all-rounded. And if he can do it, you can keep up with the tech too!
3. Max and Dave Fleischer - Rivals to Disney
Okay, so these two famous animators are not squeezed in to put a pause on famous Disney animators, they are genuinely considered Walt Disney’s main rivals in the early stages of the animation and motion graphics film industry.
Max and Dave Fleischer are key contributors to the development of animation and its tools, pushing different boundaries in animated character creation with well-known characters Popeye and Betty Boop in their repertoire.
Completing their first cartoon film in 1915, the Flesischers attempted to blend live-action and animation during The Silent Age of the film industry. Their “Out of the Inkwell” series, starring Koko The Clown made them pioneers in the animation field.
Max invented the rotoscope - a tool that allowed for tracing of live-action film frames into animation guides, therefore, saving both time and labor in the animating process. Famous animators in those days were inventors as well as artists.
Image by Shamus Culhane via comics.ha
Their art started with newspaper-comic-like illustrations which incorporated rotoscoping and surreal gags and although they later had to adapt to the rubber hose style of characters, they still brought their style with them strongly.
Their characters and scenes bent towards the rough, dark, and grotesque - sex and death-obsessed and filled with torture. However after the Production Code was established, most of their work had to change to be deemed “appropriate".
To keep up with the popularity of Disney, the Fleischers’ Studio took on a style more like Disney’s. Between losing their uniqueness, the brothers’ constant quarreling, and some very poor business choices they eventually lost their company altogether.
But despite their rather sad ending, it must be pointed out that these famous animators’ inventions and styles are still in use today, influencing almost everything animated we see.
4. Glen Keane - Magic Maker
Our next famous animator to be loved is none other than Glen Keane (who definitely ranks fairly high on the must-be loved ) and we’ll start off with this:
In 2013, he was actually inducted as a Disney Legend. As in given the literal title. And if that’s not enough, he had an exhibit about him in The Walt Disney Family Museum for six months.
A little boy born inspired by his father, Bill Keane, who was a cartoonist by trade, he carried that inspiration into studying Film Graphics. For the sake of all aspiring brilliant animators, it must be added that he was only accepted after the second application to work at Walt Disney.
And that after only receiving and applying advice on how to improve his portfolio - meaning this famous animator kept working on his trade and keeping his mentors close (How to Find an Outstanding Mentor is a good read if you want to find a mentor too).
And that paid off - he spent thirty-eight years working at Walt Disney Animation Studios! During that time he worked on some of these well-loved films: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Tangled.
Many of which he was personally involved with in designing the main character and/or supervising or directing that character’s animation including Ariel, Beast, Tarzan, Aladdin, and Rapunzel.
Illustration by James Bareham via Polygon
Nine award wins and thirteen nominations plus various other awards on his list - we consider his work to be pure magic! But What is this famous animator’s secret?
Could it be Kean’s love for the mixture of art and entertainment backed by all the possibilities he sees in animation and what would happen if someone like Michelangelo was alive and working with it today?
He doesn’t get stuck at the milestones he’s hit but pushes forwards into what the art form could hold.
Our famous animator keeps a few things as his guiding force - one being the advice of his mentor, Ollie Johnston, that encouraged him to capture and create from what a character is feeling rather than doing.
5. John Lasseter - Pixar/Disney Genius
Pixar Animation Studios is known for its moving, entertaining and beautiful animated films. It’s also known to be the studio that produced the first fully computer-animated film - Toy Story which was directed by famous animator, John Lasseter.
What you might not have known is that Pixar, co-founded by Steve Jobs, was originally focused on the development of animation software and of course the sales thereof which ironically had Disney as their main client.
The relationship with Disney began to develop for whom they started to produce movies. Both this relationship and the computer-animated films generated by Pixar are accredited mostly to Lasseter.
Lasseter saw the potential of and introduced the concept of three-dimensional animation to be used as backgrounds and then went on to explore those possibilities with anything animated. The addition of depth in an animation created a wondrous result and changed how animations would be done moving forwards.
Lasseter went on to direct or produce many well-loved films including the Toy Story series, A Bug’s Life, Cars, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo.
He was later named chief creative officer of both Disney and Pixar’s animation operations. The films that were produced by him during that time period include the fantastic adventures in Up and the creative insight of emotions in Inside-Out.
Image via movies.disney
His famous animator’s role doesn’t end there - he also started creating spaces for upcoming animators, directors, producers, etc. by introducing the animated short films shown before a new animated movie. Do you know those quirky short films before a full-length animation? They were his idea!
He allowed an exploration of different kinds of animation in these short films which created a testing ground for new creators as well as for new concepts. And he was rightly awarded an Honorary Doctorate for his influence in moving animation forwards.
Sadly, according to colleagues, the wealth and fame seemed to change him, resulting in actions that eventually led to his leaving Disney.
Regardless of what actually happened, Lasseter, famous animator and co-founder of Pixar, breathed fresh oxygen into Disney and introduced animation to computers which pushed animation into a new era.
6. Eric Goldberg - Traditional & Digital Master
Director of Pocahontas, Supervising animator of the Genie in Aladdin, Phil in Hercules, Louis in The Princess and the Frog, Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh plus Hand-Drawn Animation Supervisor in Moana are on the list of Eric Goldberg’s Disney contributions.
Image by Eric Goldberg via Animatedviews
He’s contributed to Warner Bros. as the voice of many characters from Looney Tunes Media. Voice actor, animator, and director, Goldberg has an extensive list of works behind his name with his fingers dipped in a few creative pots.
Born in 1995, Goldberg began creating flip books at six years old and by thirteen he was working on Super-8 films, winning prizes in the Kodak Teenage Movie Awards one of which won 1974’s Grand Prize of summer film courses at the University of Southern California.
He has since become comfortable with both traditional, hand-drawn animation as well as the latest animation software, creating many brilliant new techniques for both animation styles.
What we love about this famous animator is that he doesn’t limit himself and is considered to be a modern master of animation.
He hasn’t just animated films, he’s animated for a number of Disney’s theme parks including 2D animation of Donald Duck, Jose Carioca, and Panchito for Epcot's Gran Fiesta Tour and CGI version of Genie for Tokyo DisneySea's Magic Lamp Theater.
From commercials to feature films, he’s done it all. Although his section may be short and to the point, his list of contributions and his exploration of various mediums has been so sharp and clear it leaves us pretty breathless.
Director of Pocahontas! What’s not to love about this hand-drawn and technological animator?
7. Walt Disney - The Revolutionist
Whether you’re a fan or not (how can you not be?) Walter Disney simply has to be on this list!
Being the only other animator included in the Director’s Guild of America Honorary Lifetime Member Recipients, it makes perfect sense to not only include him but to finish our famous animator's blog post with someone whom many might call the greatest and most beloved of animators.
Disney has won the hearts of humanity for years now, his legacy living strongly on four decades after his death.
Image via The Walt Disney Company
Disney grew up showing an interest and talent in drawing and painting and by his teens was studying cartooning hoping to work as a newspaper cartoonist. But as he grew, his fascination with moving pictures grew too.
And despite various setbacks, Disney eventually created a studio named after himself (at his brother’s, Roy, suggestion - who remained Walt’s lifelong business partner and advisor).
Starting with advertisements and Laugh-O-Grams (animated cartoon sketches) working his way to his famous Mickey Mouse, Disney eventually produced more than a hundred feature films including Snow White, his first full-length animated film
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made $1.49 million in the middle of the Great Depression and won eight Oscars.
Image by Disney/Allstar via The Guardian
48 Academy Awards, 7 Emmys, and more than 950 global honors and citations were awarded to Disney and his staff during his lifetime.
This famous animator holds the record for most Academy Awards won - individual Oscar Wins at 22 and nominations at 59. His movies and short films are still being enjoyed today, eighty years later, and even contain secrets for your animation.
You have to look at this list of content that Disney’s studio released before his death:
- 21 full-length animated films
- 493 short subjects
- 47 live-action films
- 7 True-Life Adventure features
- 330 hours of Mickey Mouse Club television programs
- 78 half-hour Zorro television adventures
- 280 other television shows
Something not often pointed out is that the studio survived due to Disney’s brilliant management skills and Roy’s financial skills - the studio pulled through long, hard years that many other studios didn’t.
Just pointing out that it's not just about the animating, it’s also about how smart you are working with your business, of animation, and about letting trusted people help you in the process.
Disney revolutionized the art and entertainment industry and sought to create spaces and places that were wondrous and magical.
As we know, he didn’t just stop at animating films, he went on to envision and create Disneyland and almost finished Disney World before passing away.
He also brought the California Institute of the Arts into existence, wanting a place of education that could bring different people, different dreams, different ideas, and different skills together - creating art that the future needed.
Lessons from Famous Animators that You’ll Love
We’re finishing our “Top 8 Famous Animators that You’ll Love” with one of Walt Disney’s most famous quotes: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” Like trying to present more insight on any of the above-mentioned famous animators.
Only scratching the surface of their insight, creativity, management skills, and their lives in general, the glimpses of these incredible and famous animators barely does them credit. But the impossible task sure was fun!
Fingers crossed that you’ve fallen as hard for these animators as we have. We’re wishing on stars that love turns to lessons after reading this and that you in turn find the impossible fun.
Animation has certainly pushed the impossible and can sometimes leave us overwhelmed with what has become possible.
“How do I become the Michelangelo of animation?”, never mind the costs, programs, employees, and the never-ending yet constantly growing list of things I need to know and do as an animation business owner?
That is exactly what the Business of Animation is for, cheesy as it might sound, we really want to be a part of helping you and your business have a happy ever after.
We have a brilliant blog with a range of topics. Even better than that we offer programs, masterclasses, and other resources like this handbook on marketing. You can start your journey with us by reading this blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio."