Milt Kahl, Glen Keane, Marc Davis, and Eric Goldberg are just a handful of artists responsible for some of Disney’s best and brightest animated features. Since most of the studio’s beloved characters began their lives as sketches on a piece of paper, a bumper crop of artists has found a home at Walt Disney Pictures.
In the past, Disney was known to reach out to well-known artists in the hopes of adding some extra visual flair to their productions, and movies like Alice In Wonderland, Fantasia, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire have benefited from the presence and involvement of many famous artists, some even finding their callings while working at the studio.
8 Mary Blair
Her name might only be known to seasoned Disney fans, but, if viewers have ever seen films like Alice In Wonderland or Peter Pan or have set foot in Disneyland, they have been exposed to the artistic contributions of Mary Blair. Considered to be one of the unsung heroes of Disney, Blair was a watercolor artist who won the eye and attention of Walt Disney himself in the early ’60s.
Blair’s contributions to animation have ranged in everything from Fantasia storyboards and the designs of Cinderella to pkaleidoscope of color and character that became Alice In Wonderland. But, her triumph at the studio was arguably the happiest cruise around the world, It’s a Small World.
7 Bret Iwan
If fans don’t know his name, they definitely know his voice. Actor Bret Iwan has been performing as Mickey Mouse since the passing of his previous voice actor, Ray Alwine. But, what fans might not know is that before he became the voice of the master mouse himself, Iwan was an artist for Hallmark and now even does paintings for Disney.
An honorable mention, but an artist that also does the voice of Disney’s most beloved character is easily worthy of one. It’s a wholesome thing to know that, when Iwan isn’t delighting millions of fans the world over, he’s creating artwork of the leader of the club.
6 Alex Ross
Alex Ross is a writer and artist that comic book fans might be more familiar with given that some of his work includes comics and runs like Marvels, Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, and Sandman: Mystery Theatre. However, the artist’s realistic and breathtaking art style has also garnered the attention of Disney.
Although he hasn’t contributed to their animated works, Ross has lent his style to artwork featuring some of the studio’s classic movies including Snow White, Peter Pan, and Beauty and the Beast. It certainly has many wondering what Ross could do if given the opportunity to work on an animated feature.
5 Don Bluth
Don Bluth is an animation legend that began his career at the Walt Disney Company under projects like Sleeping Beauty, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh, and Pete’s Dragon just to name a few. But, Bluth is one of the select few Disney artists that went on to do more away from the mouse than under.
Along with creating brilliant animated features like An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH, and Anastasia, Bluth lent his artistry and animation prowess into other projects like the video games Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. If nothing else, there’s something to be said for Bluth’s versatility.
4 Al Hirschfeld
Known more for his contributions to The New Yorker and the art-deco movement, Al Hirschfeld’s stylistic caricatures have influenced several artists for decades, including Disney’s own Eric Goldberg. But, there is one project most younger fans might recognize his style from, as it was the main influence for Fantasia 2000’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Before his death in 2003, Hirschfeld served as the artistic consultant for the Fantasia segment inspired by his portraits and artwork. Needless to say, the animators and director brilliantly recreated his ink-and-paper designs and practically made them jump off the screen.
3 Mike Mignola
He might be more famous for giving the world Hellboy, but comic artist Mike Mignola has also made a very cherished contribution to Disney, a sci-fi masterpiece called Atlantis: The Lost Empire. From its sketchbook-inspired art style and its sci-fi/fantasy adventure, it should be apparent that most of the film’s character carries Mignola’s heavy comic book inspiration.
Mignola served as one of the production designers and essentially developed the backbone for the movie’s art style. Plus, considering the subject matter concerning Milo Thatch and the rest of the expedition, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to think that Hellboy’s BPRD exists in the same timeline.
2 Salvador Dali
Walt Disney was known for his collaboration with other giants of the art industry including the likes of Leopold Stokowski, Nelson Eddy, and Sergei Prokofiev, but perhaps one of his most underappreciated and impressive partnerships was with the prolific artist Salvador Dali. The result of these two working together was the short film Destino, which wouldn’t be finished until after both had passed.
The short film can be viewed on Disney+, and the visuals are everything one could expect from both parties involved. All of Dali’s psychedelic and surrealist imagery melts and warps its way across the screen with animations only Disney could dream up, making it almost a living work of art.
1 Tim Burton
Tim Burton is a man that has worn many hats in his impressive career, but, before he was the director of films like Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands, Burton was a poet, a painter, and an animator for Walt Disney Pictures. Believe it or not, Burton has had his name on projects like The Fox and the Hound, Tron, and even The Black Cauldron.
While Burton would later go on to make several contributions to Disney’s filmography with films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Frankenweenie, his early days at Disney were a little bumpy, often his original work was considered “too dark” for the studio. Nowadays, Burton and Disney play a lot nicer together, but it’s also important to recognize how he got his start.