From the days of flipbooks to the advent of computer-generated animation, animators have turned drawn still picture into moving image. It’s safe to say that these artists don’t just create a picture that physically moves. They create pictures that move us emotionally. In the process, the most notable of them have gone down in history as some of the greatest artists in cinema history. From the namesake of Disney, Walt, himself, to the head of Skydance Animation, John Lasseter, here’s a look at three prominent animators who made their mark on animated cinema.
1. Walt Disney
As the spiritual granddad of animation, Walt Disney — aka Uncle Walt — not only forged the foundations of the animation industry in Hollywood, he has become the poster child for tenacity and perseverance in the process. Disney got his start when he, along with another noteworthy animator, Ub Iwerks, created a company in the 1920s that made short animated films for a local theater chain.
Eventually, that business went broke, but it didn’t break Disney’s spirit. Success in the animation field finally caught up with Uncle Walt when, in 1928, he created the first iterations of Mickey Mouse, including creating Mickey’s voice in Steamboat Willie. Other animated successes followed, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland.
Eventually, Uncle Walt’s influence moved beyond the pencil-drawn page to include live-action films, TV shows, and the theme parks that bear his name.
2. John Lasseter
If Walt Disney was the face of animation’s past, it’s fair to say that John Lasseter is one of the faces of animation’s future. Like any modern animator worth his salt, John Lasseter did a stint at Disney. He was the chief creative officer (CCO) at Walt Disney Animation Studios before he eventually moved on to Pixar, the home of the first fully-animated film in cinema history, Toy Story.
In fact, it was John Lasseter who played the key role in getting Toy Story on the big screen. These days, he spends his days spearheading new animation projects as the Head of Animation at Skydance Animation.
Like most animators, John Lasseter grew up following his passion for drawing. On the advice of Disney Studios, he went on to study art at the California Institute of the Arts before moving on to his animation career.
3. Tim Burton
Like fellow CalArts graduate, John Lasseter, Tim Burton has spent his career making memorable animated flicks, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, and Frankenweenie. As an animator, he’s known for his goth-inspired style and his quirky characters.
But Tim Burton isn’t just an animator. His distinct visual style has shown up in many live-action feature films, too. He’s also known for his spin on Alice in Wonderland, Batman, and more. Tim Burton almost single-handedly revived and changed the superhero movie genre forever with his rendition of the caped crusader. In his deft hands, superhero movies went from Spandex camp to blockbuster box office draws.
The addition of elements like armor versus tights, psychological thrill rides, quirky character casting, and faithfulness to the original comics set him apart as a superhero director. Legions of comics-based movies are in his debt, a fact that seems rather fitting, given that both animated movies and comic books began with rough pencil sketches.
Final Thoughts on Notable Animators in Film History
Animators like Walt Disney, John Lasseter, and Tim Burton became notable in the history of cinema and animation, due in large part to their tenacity and their willingness to stick to their vision for what animation could be. Each of these animators has helped to advance the art form to where it is today. It’s fair to say that their influence will continue to be felt in the animation industry for decades to come.