How Old Were These Animation Directors When They Made Their First Film?

“Animation is a young man’s game,” Chuck Jones once said. There’s no question that animation is a labor-intensive art that requires mass quantities of energy and time. While it’s true that the majority of animation directors have directed a film by the age of 30, there are also a number of well known directors who started their careers later.

Directors like Pete Docter, John Kricfalusi and Bill Plympton didn’t begin directing films until they were in their 30s. Don Bluth, Winsor McCay and Frederic Back were late bloomers who embarked on directorial careers while in their 40s. Pioneering animator Emile Cohl didn’t make his first animated film, Fantasmagorie (1908), until he was 51 years old. Of course, that wasn’t just Cohl’s first film, but it is also considered by most historians to be the first true animated cartoon that anyone ever made.

Here is a cross-selection of 31 animation directors, past and present, and the age they were when their first professional film was released to the public.

  1. Don Hertzfeldt (19 years old)
    Ah, L’Amour
  2. Lotte Reiniger (20)
    The Ornament of the Lovestruck Heart
  3. Bruno Bozzetto (20)
    Tapum! The History of Weapons
  4. Frank Tashlin (20)
    Hook & Ladder Hokum
  5. Walt Disney (20)
    Little Red Riding Hood
  6. Friz Freleng (22)
    Fiery Fireman
  7. Seth MacFarlane (23)
    Larry & Steve
  8. Genndy Tartakovsky (23)
    2 Stupid Dogs (TV)
  9. Bob Clampett (24)
    Porky’s Badtime Story (or 23 if you count When’s Your Birthday)
  10. Pen Ward (25)
    Adventure Time (TV)
  11. Rebecca Sugar (25)
    Steven Universe (TV)
  12. Joanna Quinn (25)
    Girl’s Night Out
  13. Ralph Bakshi (25)
    Gadmouse the Apprentice Good Fairy
  14. Chuck Jones (26)
    The Night Watchman
  15. Richard Williams (26)
    The Little Island
  16. Tex Avery (27)
    Gold Diggers of ’49
  17. Bill Hanna (27)
    Blue Monday
  18. Joe Barbera (28)
    Puss Gets the Boot
  19. John Hubley (28)
    Old Blackout Joe
  20. John Lasseter (29)
    Luxo Jr.
  21. Brad Bird (29)
    Amazing Stories: “Family Dog” (TV)
  22. Hayao Miyazaki (30)
    Rupan Sansei (TV)
  23. Nick Park (30)
    A Grand Day Out
  24. John Kricfalusi (32)
    Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures (TV)
  25. Pete Docter (33)
    Monsters Inc.
  26. Ward Kimball (39)
    Adventures in Music: Melody
  27. Bill Plympton (39)
  28. Winsor McCay (40)
    How a Mosquito Operates
  29. Don Bluth (41)
    The Small One
  30. Frederic Back (46)
  31. Emile Cohl (51)