[This essay was originally released in Animation Blast number 9 in 2006.]
I grew up admiring Disney’s Nine Old Men, a title Walt Disney jokingly borrowed from Franklin Roosevelt’s disdainful description of the Supreme Court justices to refer to his top artists. To me and many other young animators, the Nine Old Men were the stuff of legends. I read everything about them I could find and watched all the television shows. In my mind, Walt had gone through his staff, like Santa, rating each artist until he arrived at a definitive list of his best animators.
The reality, I learned, was a bit different.
According to Eric Larson, one of the Nine, Walt was merely noting that these men comprised the in-house animation review board. Others claim Walt gave them the title knowing it would generate press for the Studio. Though these artists certainly deserved the recognition, the title had an unfortunate side effect: it relegated a number of very talented animators to obscurity. John Sibley is one of them. […]