The best books about traditionally animated films

9 authors have picked their favorite books about traditionally animated filmss and why they recommend each book.

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The Illusion of Life

By Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston,

Book cover of The Illusion of Life

I was privileged to see firsthand these two Disney Legends and their passions for the craft of storytelling through animation. I worked with Frank and Ollie as a young animation trainee. I learned the basics of animation by ‘in-betweening’ scenes primarily for Frank. In addition to ‘in-betweening’ for Frank, he would give me scenes to animate under his supervision. The principles and philosophy of the ‘Disney way’ are explained within the pages of this book and I was fortunate to have absorbed them firsthand.

Applying the principles of animation that Frank and Ollie presented has had a tremendous effect on all aspects of my art. My book, my personal award-winning illustrations, and a 38-year career with the Disney Studio bear witness of putting these principles into practice.


Who am I?

I've been drawing for over 68 years and carrying a sketchbook for over 60 of those years. I've seen success as an author, I'm an award-winning illustrator of books and magazines and animated many classic Disney features. Am I an expert on sketching humans and animals? ...No. I'm constantly learning in my effort to capture humans and animals in action by following the basic principles of drawing as they apply to quick sketching. My learning is aided by these books as I prepare lesson plans or the encouragement and inspiration found within their pages. I'm married to LaVonne, my high school sweetheart of 50 years, and have three grown children and six grandchildren.


I wrote...

Quick Sketching with Ron Husband

By Ron Husband,

Book cover of Quick Sketching with Ron Husband

What is my book about?

One of the benefits quick sketching has given me is that it has sharpened my ability to analyze actions quickly. I now look at human and animal movement and see their basic shapes, the various shapes it is composed of as a whole and individually. I am able to quickly recognize special relationships between my subject or subjects; how far an arm is away from the body, the distance one foot is from another in a walk, or how one body relates to another in space. Seeing both the negative and positive shapes as equally important has given me control over my quick sketches. I am definitely a better artist today because of what quick sketching has caused me to focus my artistic attention on. 

Of Mice and Magic

By Leonard Maltin,

Book cover of Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons

This landmark survey of American animation, published more than forty years ago, remains an essential guide to the subject. Maltin’s passion for classic cartoons is evident in the depth of his research and in the infectious enthusiasm of his writing. For beginners unfamiliar with cartoon history, Of Mice and Magic is a delightful introduction; but even for the seasoned enthusiast, it provides gratifying coverage of both the established classics and the more obscure discoveries. I thoroughly enjoyed this book when it first appeared, and I still return to it periodically.


Who am I?

Like so many others, I discovered Disney in childhood. When I was five years old my parents took me to see a Disney movie in a theater, and the experience was so overwhelming that I still recall it vividly. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for classic films, a passion that has led me to a career as a film historian. For me, writing a book about a film is mainly an excuse to do the research, to get inside a film and explore it, and find out what makes it tick. It’s invariably a fascinating journey, and if I can share that fascination with readers, I’m happy.


I wrote...

Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

By J.B. Kaufman,

Book cover of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

What is my book about?

Pinocchio, Walt Disney’s second feature-length film, was nothing less than epic in its vision and the magnitude of its technical achievement, and is acknowledged today as one of the pinnacles of the animated film. This volume recounts the full fascinating history of the making of the film—based on years of archival research and interviews with the surviving filmmakers—and is sumptuously illustrated with images that celebrate the lush visual magic of Pinocchio.

For good measure there is a special chapter by renowned scholar Russell Merritt, and a foreword by the distinguished animation historian John Canemaker, as well as appendices detailing complete Pinocchio production credits, and later screen appearances of Figaro the kitten and Jiminy Cricket.

Hollywood Cartoons

By Michael Barrier,

Book cover of Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in Its Golden Age

During the 1960s, a wonderful periodical called Funnyworld began to chronicle animation history with unprecedented depth and eloquence. It was the work of Michael Barrier, and as it continued, it offered glimpses of the research he was conducting for a book to be published by Oxford Press. The book was finally finished and published more than three decades later, and reflects Barrier’s depth of insight, the thoroughness of his methods, and his dogged perseverance; his research included interviews with literally hundreds of artists from every American cartoon studio. Hollywood Cartoons stands as a definitive study of its subject, an essential reference (and enjoyable read) for any lover or serious student of classic animation.


Who am I?

Like so many others, I discovered Disney in childhood. When I was five years old my parents took me to see a Disney movie in a theater, and the experience was so overwhelming that I still recall it vividly. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for classic films, a passion that has led me to a career as a film historian. For me, writing a book about a film is mainly an excuse to do the research, to get inside a film and explore it, and find out what makes it tick. It’s invariably a fascinating journey, and if I can share that fascination with readers, I’m happy.


I wrote...

Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

By J.B. Kaufman,

Book cover of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

What is my book about?

Pinocchio, Walt Disney’s second feature-length film, was nothing less than epic in its vision and the magnitude of its technical achievement, and is acknowledged today as one of the pinnacles of the animated film. This volume recounts the full fascinating history of the making of the film—based on years of archival research and interviews with the surviving filmmakers—and is sumptuously illustrated with images that celebrate the lush visual magic of Pinocchio.

For good measure there is a special chapter by renowned scholar Russell Merritt, and a foreword by the distinguished animation historian John Canemaker, as well as appendices detailing complete Pinocchio production credits, and later screen appearances of Figaro the kitten and Jiminy Cricket.

Life, Animated

By Ron Suskind,

Book cover of Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism

If you have a child diagnosed with apraxia, a rare but growing neurologically-based communication impairment, you are probably aware of the lack of research for apraxia in children. Life, Animated is geared towards those raising a child with autism. While apraxia is considered to be “on the spectrum” not every child with apraxia meets the requirements for a diagnosis of autism, some of the treatments that have been found helpful for autism, have been found useful to address apraxia as well. In addition, a Penn State study found 64% of those with autism have apraxia. 

Life, Animated is helpful in a number of ways. Like The New Language of Toys, it demonstrates how we as parents can become instrumental in helping our children breakthrough to find their voices. It teaches us to look outside of the evidence to integrative methods that may help. Knowing which toy, activity, or subject…


Who am I?

I started as a designer, patented inventor, and creator in the fashion, toy, and film industries, but after the early diagnosis of my young children on the spectrum, both “late talkers,” diagnosed with multiple disorders including apraxia, I entered the world of nonprofit, research, and advocacy. I am the founder of the nonprofit Cherab Foundation where I've been outreaching for over twenty years. I've hosted numerous conferences including the first for apraxia overseen by a medical director from NIH who reviewed my protocol – the use of fish oils as a therapeutic intervention, published research on my patented nutritional intervention IQed Smart Nutrition, and co-authored the book The Late Talker to share my proven protocol and help others achieve the best possible results for their communication impaired children.


I wrote...

The Late Talker

By Marilyn C. Agin, Lisa F. Geng, Malcolm J. Nicholl

Book cover of The Late Talker

What is my book about?

The Late Talker is the first book of its kind, providing effective, practical answers to the questions every concerned parent asks. Written by Marilyn C. Agin, a highly respected developmental pediatrician, and Lisa F. Geng, a mother of two late talkers.

It is a tremendously useful handbook that includes: ways to identify the warning signs of a speech disorder; information on how to get the right kind of evaluations and therapy; ways to obtain appropriate services through the school system and health insurance; fun at-home activities that parents can do with their child to stimulate speech; groundbreaking evidence of the promising and dramatic benefits of nutritional supplementation; advice from experienced parents who've been there on what to expect and what you can do to be your child's best advocate.

Cartoon Animation with Preston Blair

By Preston Blair,

Book cover of Cartoon Animation with Preston Blair: Learn Techniques for Drawing and Animating Cartoon Characters

I believe this is one of the greatest books for breaking down and understanding the emotion and simplicity of construction. I love that it offers a variety of animals and humans to draw from and it can save you so much time by teaching you the basic fundamentals of drawing cartoon faces that will guide you throughout your career.

Who am I?

Stephen Silver has been a professional working artist, character designer, and teacher in the industry for over 30 years. He developed intellectual properties for some of the largest media companies in the world; such as Disney, Warner Bros., Nickelodeon, Sony, MAD Magazine, Reel FX, Bento box, Hasbro, Universal, DreamWorks, and more. Stephen is responsible for the visual character development and design of some of animation’s most iconic shows; including Disney’s Kim Possible, Nickelodeon’s Danny Phantom, and Disney’s Clerks: The Animated Series, to name a few.


I wrote...

The Silver Way: Techniques, Tips, and Tutorials for Effective Character Design

By Stephen Silver,

Book cover of The Silver Way: Techniques, Tips, and Tutorials for Effective Character Design

What is my book about?

The Silver Way: Techniques, Tips, and Tutorials for Effective Character Design by Stephen Silver offers invaluable instruction from one of the best teachers in the industry. Whether you’re a professional artist interested in improving your drawing skills, or an aspiring designer fresh out of high school looking to add to your portfolio, The Silver Way will help you build your confidence and strengthen your work in order to successfully design characters for any project, in any style.

Chockfull of helpful—and entertaining!—drawing techniques and easy-to-follow tutorials developed through his decades of experience as an artist on popular animated shows (Kim Possible, Danny Phantom, The Fairly OddParents) and as the owner of Silver Drawing Academy, The Silver Way is the kind of educational art book you’ll revisit again and again for guidance, encouragement, and inspiration.

Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation

By John Canemaker,

Book cover of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation

An Academy Award®-winning animator in his own right, John Canemaker has combined his firsthand knowledge of the craft with superior writing skills to produce a series of outstanding books on animation history. You can pretty much close your eyes, pick any one of Canemaker’s books at random, and come up with a winner. But I’m highlighting this one as the definitive study of the “Nine Old Men,” the Disney artists widely recognized as the leading masters of animation. For each of the nine, Canemaker provides a detailed biography and a cogent analysis of the artist’s work, heavily illustrated. It’s a fitting testament to a royal legacy of talent.


Who am I?

Like so many others, I discovered Disney in childhood. When I was five years old my parents took me to see a Disney movie in a theater, and the experience was so overwhelming that I still recall it vividly. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion for classic films, a passion that has led me to a career as a film historian. For me, writing a book about a film is mainly an excuse to do the research, to get inside a film and explore it, and find out what makes it tick. It’s invariably a fascinating journey, and if I can share that fascination with readers, I’m happy.


I wrote...

Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

By J.B. Kaufman,

Book cover of Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic

What is my book about?

Pinocchio, Walt Disney’s second feature-length film, was nothing less than epic in its vision and the magnitude of its technical achievement, and is acknowledged today as one of the pinnacles of the animated film. This volume recounts the full fascinating history of the making of the film—based on years of archival research and interviews with the surviving filmmakers—and is sumptuously illustrated with images that celebrate the lush visual magic of Pinocchio.

For good measure there is a special chapter by renowned scholar Russell Merritt, and a foreword by the distinguished animation historian John Canemaker, as well as appendices detailing complete Pinocchio production credits, and later screen appearances of Figaro the kitten and Jiminy Cricket.

Miyazakiworld

By Susan J. Napier,

Book cover of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

This is an excellent “life in art,” or a series of chapters on the major works in a biographical context.

Napier discusses such questions as: his feelings about the fact that his family profited from the war, making fan belts for fighter planes; his feelings about his father compared to his mother; the relation of the works to his professional life—the studio, his collaborators, his periodic burn-out and work ethic.


Who am I?

Princess Mononoke blew my mind. And as I read about Miyazaki himself I thought: here is a kindred spirit. I thought I’d try teaching a course on Miyazaki, not sure if I could sustain a whole semester just about his work—and then I found, there’s way more than a semester’s worth to talk about. After teaching about Miyazaki for a few years, I had to write it all down. Some reviews of my book say my essays are personal, and it’s true, for better or worse—it isn’t about Studio Ghibli or the production process or even about Japan—it’s my reflections on these great films. 


I wrote...

The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

By Eric Reinders,

Book cover of The Moral Narratives of Hayao Miyazaki

What is my book about?

In Miyazaki’s films, what is “the moral of the story?” What’s the message? What kind of people do we become, when we are watching a Miyazaki film? Why do fantastic stories matter in the real world? This book is a series of personal and philosophical reflections on the 10 major works, from Nausicäa to Wind Rises. Miyazaki’s films suggest how we can find meaning in our work; how to retain our creativity even when are tired of the job; and how we can hold true to our dreams when our dreams are compromised. The films lament the loss of the sacred in modern life but never give up hope. They address problems of growing into a new maturity while retaining the good things of childhood. 

Inspiring Walt Disney

By Wolf Burchard,

Book cover of Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts

Another catalogue (sorry!) but also another opportunity to delve into a rich and beautiful world, this time not Miyazaki’s but the world of Walt Disney and the European Rococo as seen in a special exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At first glance, this pairing seems an unlikely juxtaposition since the ornamental art of the Rococo flourished in the 18th century. As the beautifully illustrated catalogue and excellent essays by the curator Wolf Burchard amply demonstrate, however, both Walt Disney and the many superb artists who worked for him drew creative and aesthetic inspiration from all aspects of Rococo art. These range from decorative anthropomorphized teapots (think Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast) or the flamboyant costumes and hairstyles of the period, (illustrated in a mesmerizing scene from Cinderella) to Fragonard’s exquisite painting “Girl on a Swing” that shows up briefly but…


Who am I?

I am the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese at Tufts University. I’ve lived in Japan for 8 years beginning when I was 17 when I travelled to Tokyo and lived on my own, teaching English, and studying Japanese. I became a scholar of Japanese literature, and then in the 1990s became interested in Japanese animation (anime) and in animation in general. I’ve written five books on either Japanese literature or anime-related subjects, and I am currently working on a project comparing the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio with the films of Studio Ghibli.


I wrote...

Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

By Susan J. Napier,

Book cover of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

What is my book about?

It’s about the Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki, probably the most important animator since Walt Disney. Miyazaki’s films were initially known mainly in Japan but, from the 1990s, as Japanese animation (anime) became increasingly popular throughout the world, Miyazaki became recognized as a brilliant, influential, and entertaining auteur.  

While the designation auteur usually refers to directors of live-action films, such as Coppola, Tarantino, or the Coen brothers, I tell people that Miyazaki is a kind of Super-Auteur who, while working with a talented staff of brilliant and enthusiastic people, is still the main person behind everything – ranging from the numerous detailed storyboards he creates, the worlds and characters that he imagines, even the lyrics of each film’s theme song.

Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man

By Steve Alpert,

Book cover of Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man: 15 Years at Studio Ghibli

And here is your dessert course! 

Fluent in Japanese and with a background in Japanese literature, Steve Alpert worked initially at Disney in Japan and then for a number of years at Miyazaki’s Ghibli Studio and writes about his experiences in this delightful and frequently hilarious book. He gives us fascinating details about Miyazaki and his fellow director Takahata and producer Suzuki, especially in relation to what are perhaps the two most famous of Miyazaki’s movies, Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.

The chapter on Princess Mononoke is particularly interesting as it includes a detailed and very funny account of negotiations between Ghibli and Disney as to how to translate the film’s elegant Japanese script and complex worldview into something that could be understood by an American audience. The Disney executives keep asking Alpert “Who’s the bad guy?” and seem unable to cope with the answer that “There is no…


Who am I?

I am the Goldthwaite Professor of Rhetoric and Japanese at Tufts University. I’ve lived in Japan for 8 years beginning when I was 17 when I travelled to Tokyo and lived on my own, teaching English, and studying Japanese. I became a scholar of Japanese literature, and then in the 1990s became interested in Japanese animation (anime) and in animation in general. I’ve written five books on either Japanese literature or anime-related subjects, and I am currently working on a project comparing the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio with the films of Studio Ghibli.


I wrote...

Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

By Susan J. Napier,

Book cover of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art

What is my book about?

It’s about the Japanese animation director, Hayao Miyazaki, probably the most important animator since Walt Disney. Miyazaki’s films were initially known mainly in Japan but, from the 1990s, as Japanese animation (anime) became increasingly popular throughout the world, Miyazaki became recognized as a brilliant, influential, and entertaining auteur.  

While the designation auteur usually refers to directors of live-action films, such as Coppola, Tarantino, or the Coen brothers, I tell people that Miyazaki is a kind of Super-Auteur who, while working with a talented staff of brilliant and enthusiastic people, is still the main person behind everything – ranging from the numerous detailed storyboards he creates, the worlds and characters that he imagines, even the lyrics of each film’s theme song.

Drawn to Life

By Walt Stanchfield,

Book cover of Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes

This two-book volume of notes, drawings, wise sayings, and philosophy are and have been invaluable assets to the learning curve of myself and numerous others. I have these same handouts, in storage boxes, saved over the years. I was there in the lunch-time drawing classes Walt taught at the Disney Studio. Before each drawing session he would hand out these xerox pages. On occasion some of my sketches were included in these handouts. With humor and enthusiasm, Walt encouraged us to push the models pose, see the possibilities and more, all with a goal of making better animation drawings. 


Who am I?

I've been drawing for over 68 years and carrying a sketchbook for over 60 of those years. I've seen success as an author, I'm an award-winning illustrator of books and magazines and animated many classic Disney features. Am I an expert on sketching humans and animals? ...No. I'm constantly learning in my effort to capture humans and animals in action by following the basic principles of drawing as they apply to quick sketching. My learning is aided by these books as I prepare lesson plans or the encouragement and inspiration found within their pages. I'm married to LaVonne, my high school sweetheart of 50 years, and have three grown children and six grandchildren.


I wrote...

Quick Sketching with Ron Husband

By Ron Husband,

Book cover of Quick Sketching with Ron Husband

What is my book about?

One of the benefits quick sketching has given me is that it has sharpened my ability to analyze actions quickly. I now look at human and animal movement and see their basic shapes, the various shapes it is composed of as a whole and individually. I am able to quickly recognize special relationships between my subject or subjects; how far an arm is away from the body, the distance one foot is from another in a walk, or how one body relates to another in space. Seeing both the negative and positive shapes as equally important has given me control over my quick sketches. I am definitely a better artist today because of what quick sketching has caused me to focus my artistic attention on. 

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