Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Eric Larson - Disney's Nine Old Men

Eric Larson (September 3, 1905 - October 25, 1988) started drawing for Disney in June of 1933. After only a few weeks, he was chosen to be an assistant to Hamilton Luske, from whom Larson would learn much. In less than a year, Eric was promoted to junior animator. When it came time to begin work on Snow White, he was ready for the assignment. Larson, along with Milt Kahl, James Alga, and Louis Schmidt, would be responsible for animating the princess's myriad animal friends found throughout the movie.

Drawing so many critters moving within the shot was a daunting task. Some scenes had up to 23 different animals to coordinate! Throw in those sequences that also included interaction with the princess or the dwarfs, and the result could have been an animation quagmire. But Eric had a plan.

Rather than drawing the animals individually on separate pages, Larson animated them altogether on one. He spoke about this challenge in an interview with Michael Barrier...
I've got to see everything down there. It's the only way to keep things fluid--part of them moving, part of them coming to a stop. [Larson used thumbnail sketches every two feet to] try and feel my composition. For example, when a whole bunch of them are creeping up to Snow White, how are you going to control them unless you take it about every foot and work out your drawings, and then just work straight ahead. With a little inspiration, a little luck, you come into your patterns. But you'd better kind of know where you're going.  Source: John Canemaker's Nine Old Men, p.62-63.

No one's home...

Whistle While You Work scene

Many years later, Eric was critical of his Snow White animals, particularly his deer. He amusingly said, "You could hardly call them deer. They were sacks of wheat." It wasn't until Bambi that "the idea was to be honest with them."

"Sacks of Wheat"

At his drawing board working on the owl from Bambi...

Eric Larson photos and sketches via John Canemaker's book, Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation, 2001.
Images and scans copyright Disney

Larson continued to work on feature films contributing to many of the classics. By the 1970s, however, he was being nudged out of the role of animator. Instead, Eric would supervise the Disney training program. In 1986, he'd finally had enough of studio politics, and at the age of 80, he retired. Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid is named in his honor.


  1. You're welcome Alexandre. They've been fun to do. :)

  2. Have you seen the behind-the-scenes featurette included on some VHS copies of Bambi, Snow White Sanctum? There's some footage of Eric discussing his deer and sketching some.
    Just thought you'd like to know.
    Thanks for doing this great blog! I really admire your work.

  3. Disney Freak-- I might have seen this featurette a number of years ago, but I don't remember it. Thanks for letting me know. I will look it up.

  4. Aww, I don't think bad of the deer in SWatSD for not being realistic like the ones in Bambi. The deer are my favorite animals of SwatSD!

    1. I like how they look too. It fits the surreal style of the film.

  5. I'm a bit late here but... I really enjoyed this article. Especially like the insight into how Eric animated his group shots. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Rodney. I found that interesting too. Also liked how he called the deer "sacks of wheat." :)