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"
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.