Animation Artist Autobiographies

Animation Artist Autobiographies

Inspired by Michael Sporn’s recent series of posts about his favorite animation books, I wanted to share this list I’d compiled a while back of autobiographies written by animation artists. The list is depressingly short considering how many hundreds of great artists worked during animation’s Golden Age. It amazes, and saddens, me that none of the A-list animators at Warner Bros. or MGM ever bothered to record their memories or offer insights into how they worked. Imagine how much richer the art form would be today if we could refer back to the thoughts of animators like Ken Harris, Ben Washam, Bill Melendez, Irv Spence, Rod Scribner, Emery Hawkins, Bobe Cannon and Ray Patterson. The one cartoon animator who did produce a couple of books, Preston Blair, is evidence of how much these artists had to offer to future generations; Blair’s book is to this day one of the most widely admired animation texts around

To be fair, there are many more biographies about animation artists, like Joe Adamson’s books on Tex Avery and Walter Lantz, John Canemaker’s volumes on Mary Blair, Winsor McCay and the Nine Old Men, and various bios of Friz Freleng, Max Fleischer, Charlie Thorson and Ub Iwerks, among others. But as far as artists writing about their experiences in their own words, it’s a meager library. That’s a shame too because as necessary and valuable as bios are, they are rarely (if ever) as entertaining or enlightening as the best of the autobiographies, like those of Shamus Culhane, Jack Kinney and Chuck Jones. If you can think of any other titles that should be added to the list, please mention them in the comments.


  • http://www.nancybeiman.com nancy beiman

    Dave Hand’s autobiography is out of print but worth a look. I have an interview with Emery Hawkins and one with Isadore Klein. I just wish someone had published books on Selby Kelly, Retta Scott and LaVerne Harding before they passed on.

  • http://wardomatic.blogspot.com Ward

    I loved reading Jack Kinney’s account of working at Disney, Walt Disney and Other Assorted Characters. It’s out of print, but worth it if you can find a copy.

  • http://segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    And you can read accounts in the artists own words in the recent series Walt’s People containing enlightening interviews with a variety of artists. And of course Frank and Ollie wrote a series of book, though not autobiographies, they contain a wealth of memories of the classical era.

    Hi Nancy, It would be cool to read Hand’s book. According to one interview (sorry I can’t remember who) in Walt’s People he felt he was unappreciated by Disney which was why he went to England.

  • http://winged-elf-girl.deviantart.com Lauren

    i know it isn’t an autobiography per se, and he wasn’t an animator during the golden age, but Richard Williams’s “The Animator’s Survival Kit” has a ton of good stuff in it, straight from the author (a good portion of the book is hand-written), tons of tips and tricks, and in the introduction he talks of his experiences with and what he learned from people like Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnson, Ken Anderson, Frank Thomas, Grim Natwick and many others. even just in the introduction, textbook-wise all of the essentials are there. (i was told about this book from a friend who studied animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design.) his ‘lessons’ he backs up with examples and stories of working with the masters of the medium. it’s great to just flip through and find all these tidbits of wisdom from the masters and from Williams himself.

  • LNG

    Dr. Roy P. Madsen’s “Animated Film: Its Concepts, Methods and Uses” contains arguably the cleanest explanation of exposure sheets yet put on paper. It moves from rudimentary data up through the complexity of bi-pack shooting and clear core and black core matte work. It also boasts a chapter illustrated with photos taken at the Hanna-Barbera studio in the late 1960′s which today are of archival interest. One is of animator Carlo Vinci working on an action/adventure cartoon. Another chapter covers the Film Board of Canada’s work with Norman McLaren. This hardcover book is long out of print but may still be found in some larger libraries. It’s true that in our digital age such a volume centered on film mechanics may be outdated, but everyone in animation should know what their craft evolved from, if they are serious.

  • http://mayersononanimation.blogspot.com Mark Mayerson

    I have Dave Hand’s autobiography and it is one of the biggest disappointments on my bookshelf. The Hand interview in Walt’s People is far superior and detailed than Hand’s own book.

    I really wish that Frank Tashlin had written an autobiography.