Monday, February 13, 2012

Ward Kimball - Disney's Nine Old Men

Ward Kimball (March 4, 1914 - July 8, 2002) joined the Disney team on April 2, 1934. He spent about 6 months in the studio basement as an in-betweener before being promoted. When fellow "old man" Eric Larson moved up in the animation hierarchy, Ward took his place as assistant to Ham Luske. Here he honed his skills as Luske would often leave substantial bits of animation unfinished for him to complete. Kimball's first assignment as a solo animator was the Silly Symphony Woodland Cafe.

His skillful drawing along with his humorous personality seemed a perfect fit for the studio, although not all of the other animators appreciated his keen wit. "He was colorful, eccentric and inventive."

It was 1935 when work on Snow White began. It "was sort of a shock to all of us," he recalled about Walt Disney's decision to go forward with his first feature-length project, "because we knew how hard it was to do a seven-minute short." By 1936, Kimball was well into his animation on the film. What happened to his end product is well documented.

The bulk of his assignment was cut from the final movie. Two musical numbers with the dwarfs--the bed-building sequence and soup-eating scene--were both dropped late in the game. The animation for the soup-eating, in particular, was quite far along.
When all the sequences were put together and Walt saw the overall timing of the show, he could see that we didn't need those sequences 'cause they held up the progress of the story. [I was] not bitter, but discouraged because I had worked so hard. Ward Kimball via John Canemaker's Nine Old Men, p.101

Soup Eating scene

Some of Kimball's animation did make it into the movie...Snow White walking in the forest, the vultures that trail behind the witch, and the sequence with the nose of each dwarf appearing over the edge of the bed when Snow White is sleeping.


Dwarf Noses

Kimball took the deletions hard, so much so that he decided to quit the studio. He made an appointment with Walt to tell him of his disappointment and to resign. Disney sensed what might be coming, but not wanting to loose one of his top animators, he...
...waxed eloquent about the next project. Pinocchio was going to be a wonderful picture, said Walt, and he wanted Ward to personally take charge of this cricket character. From Nine Old Men, p.101
"God, he did such a wonderful job," Kimball recalled, "that I walked out very happily and said, 'What a wonderful place this is!'"

Ward Kimball photos via John Canemaker's book, Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation, 2001.
Image scans copyright Disney

Ward would go on to become one of the most distinctive animators at the studio as well as director of such Disney television episodes as Man in Space; Man and the Moon; and Mars and Beyond.


  1. Ward was an amazing guy... I really wish I could have met him (well, I did sort of meet him, but I was a kid and too shy to say anything). It would have been amazing to go to one of his "steam-ups" where he would run his full-size locomotive out in Riverside. And his toy collection, wow!

  2. Major-- An amazing guy he was for sure! You may have been too shy as a kid to say anything to him, but it's still pretty cool you had an opportunity to see him in person. Have you blogged about this encounter? Would enjoy hearing more about it.