Marc Davis (animator)

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Marc Davis
Born(1913-03-30)March 30, 1913
DiedJanuary 12, 2000(2000-01-12) (aged 86)
Alma materKansas City Art Institute
  • Artist
  • animator
Years active1937–1978
Known forOne of Disney's Nine Old Men
(m. 1956)

Marc Fraser Davis (March 30, 1913 – January 12, 2000) was a prominent American artist and animator for Walt Disney Animation Studios. He was one of Disney's Nine Old Men, the famed core animators of Disney animated films, and was revered for his knowledge and understanding of visual aesthetics. After his work on One Hundred and One Dalmatians he moved to Walt Disney Imagineering to work on rides for Disneyland and Walt Disney World before retiring in 1978.[1]

Walt Disney once said of Davis, "Marc can do story, he can do character, he can animate, he can design shows for me. All I have to do is tell him what I want and it's there! He's my Renaissance man."[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Davis was born in Bakersfield, California, on March 30, 1913. The family moved a lot, so Davis was in 26 schools before he was in high school. As a child, schoolyard bullies were an impetus for Davis to start drawing. He found when he drew that the other kids wanted his art, and the bullies wouldn't beat him up.[4] Davis studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. As a student, he spent his days sketching zoo animals; in the evening, he studied animal anatomy at the public library.[5]

Disney animator[edit]

Marc Davis began his Disney career in 1935 as an animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and was responsible for many Disney characters, becoming so well regarded for his work on female characters that he was called "ladies' man".[6]


As one of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men," Marc Davis's importance to the Disney Studio is immediately evident. Davis was creative and skilled, able to set himself apart from the distinguished group of veteran animators. His mastery of drawing and painting led him to champion animation, followed by three-dimensional characters and storytelling.[7] “I haven't used Marc as I should," Disney once admitted to Alice Davis: "I have a whole building over there filled with animators and that's all they can do. Marc can do story, he can do character, he can animate, he can design shows for me. All I have to do is tell him what I want and it's there. He's my Renaissance Man."[8] An even higher compliment from Disney circled back to Davis over the years. When asked what piece of the Studio's animation he fancied most, Disney replied, "I guess it would have to be where Cinderella gets her ballroom gown."[9][10] It was Davis who animated Cinderella during her transformation, with George Rowley animating the pixie dust itself.

Disney's Ladies' Man[edit]

Despite his skill with animal anatomy and caricature, Davis and Milt Kahl were stuck with over a decade of "difficult-to-draw" and "dull" human characters.[11] In Davis's own words, "Milt got stuck with the prince a lot and I got stuck with the girls." Despite his distaste for this role, his commitment to artistic excellence never let him forget that he "still had to put personality into the characters. You had to believe the characters were alive, give a performance like an actor, and make them come alive for the audience."[12] Davis follows through on this commitment, as seen through his involved work with reference images, voice actors, and live actors. Davis became a master of observing and capturing life, "evident in his acting, posing, and movement."[13]

Voice actors for Maleficent, Briar Rose, and Cruella De Vil have all discussed the influence on Davis's animation of their respective characters. Mary Costa, the voice of Briar Rose, recalled not even being invited to the premier of Sleeping Beauty because, at the time, the voice acting was hardly recognized. Even though Hollywood did not acknowledge voice acting's importance, Davis did. In an interview Costa described working with Davis at Disney: "Marc would sit in the sound booth and sketch my every gesture and expression." He recalled how despite hiring Helene Stanley as the live-action reference for Briar Rose, it was her "mannerisms" that made it to the big screen. When her mother saw the film, she exclaimed: "Oh Mary, she looks just like you!"[14] Eleanor Audley, voice of Maleficent, remembered Davis telling her that "the voice is the most necessary thing in the world." In the end, Davis admitted that Maleficent "looked a lot like Eleanor."[15] When it came to Cruella, one of the only characters to ever be completely controlled by a single animator, Davis claimed his greatest inspiration was the vocal performance of Betty Lou Gerson.[16] Gerson commented in an interview how Davis incorporated her high cheekbones into Cruella's face and how closely she had to work with him to perfect "the laugh."[17]

Live-action references also influenced Davis's work, though his distinct style still shone through, unlike many animators who just regurgitated reality.[13] Davis's most famous scene from Sleeping Beauty is when Briar Rose spins around with her arms out in the forest. Though he followed the live-action reference footage, "Davis exaggerated the foreshortening and sweeping arcs of the arms," making an artistic choice, rather than one from reality, that made the princess look "more appealing."[18] Fellow animator Frank Thomas criticized Davis for going "overboard" with Cruella De Vil, making the villain's face more "of a skull." However, Davis's skill in capturing personality made it so "her key poses and facial angles" retained a "certain glamor."[16] Another example of this talent is how Davis perfectly captured and articulated Tinker Bell's notorious sass and personality through pantomime and facial expression alone.[9] Margaret Kerry, the live-action reference for the fairy, remembered asking Davis for guidance on who he wanted Tinker Bell to be and getting a response that she described as "wonderful." Davis told her he wanted "her to be you!"[19] Davis had vision for the characters he animated beyond just what they looked like, he knew how they would behave, sound, move, and what they would wear. A clear example of Davis's forethought is with Briar Rose's dress. Davis instructed his wife, Alice, on how he wanted the princess's dress to flow so she could make the correct costume for when the live-action model arrived.[20]

Davis's contribution to Disney animation is undeniable. When asked how he would like to be remembered, he responded, "Well, I think as a really decent person and a pretty damn good artist."[21]

Significant characters he designed and animated are :

WED Enterprises (Imagineering)[edit]

Davis, a brilliant draftsman, also designed the characters for many Disneyland rides and show animatronics:

Personal life[edit]

As a professor at the Chouinard Art Institute, Davis first met Alice Estes as a student there in 1947. After her graduation, they married in June 1956, and remained so for 44 years until his passing in 2000.[22][23]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1982, Davis was the recipient of the Winsor McCay Award.[24] In 1985, Davis was the recipient of the Golden Award for 50 years of service from the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists.[25] In 1989, he was inducted as a Disney Legend.[26] In 1993, Davis was the recipient of the DFC Disney Legend Award given by the Disneyana Fan Club.[27] He was also the recipient of the much-coveted Mousecar (the Disney equivalent of an Oscar).[28] Davis, along with his wife Alice, received the honor of having their names on side-by-side windows on Main Street, U.S.A. at Disneyland. Marc's reads: “Far East Imports – Exotic Art – Marc Davis – Proprietor”.[22]


Starting in 1994, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has annually presented the Marc Davis Lecture on Animation series featuring noted creators and luminaries in the industry.[5][29][30]

Davis died on January 12, 2000.[31] That month, the Marc Fraser Davis Scholarship Fund was formally established at the California Institute of the Arts.

In 2014, the Walt Disney Family Museum presented the exhibition Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Marc Davis.[32][33][34]

In October 2014, Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man ISBN 978-1423184188, a hardcover book on Davis' art and career, was published by Disney Editions.[35][36][37] It was followed by the September 2020 release of Marc Davis in His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Parks ISBN 978-1484755754, a two-volume hardcover set covering his work at WED.



Year Title Credits Characters Notes
1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs assistant animator Snow White uncredited
1938 Ferdinand the Bull (short) Assistant animator uncredited
1942 Bambi Animator Bambi, Thumper, And Flower Credited as Fraser Davis
How to Play Baseball (short) Animator uncredited
1943 Victory Through Air Power (Documentary) Character designer uncredited
1945 African Diary (Short) Animator
1946 Song of the South Directing animator Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear
1947 Fun and Fancy Free Character animator Bongo, butterfly, and yawning trees
1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Character animator Mr. Toad, Cyril Proudbottom, Rat, Mole, Angus MacBadger, Mr. Winkie and the weasels (The Wind in the Willows)
1950 Cinderella Directing Animator Cinderella, Stepsisters (tearing Cinderella's dress apart), Prince Charming, the King (close up of hands and bookends) and the Grand Duke (close up of hands and bookends)
1951 Alice in Wonderland Directing Animator Alice and the eyeglasses creature
1952 The Little House (Short) Animator
1953 Peter Pan Directing Animator Tinker Bell and Mrs. Darling
Melody (Short) Animator
Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom (Short) Animator
1959 Sleeping Beauty Directing animator Aurora, Maleficent, Diablo the Raven, Prince Phillip (a few scenes), King Stefan, and Queen Leah
1961 One Hundred and One Dalmatians Directing animator / designer Cruella de Vil and Anita

TV series[edit]

Year Title Credits Characters Notes
1955–59 Disneyland Animator 4 episodes



  1. ^ In His Own Words: Marc Davis
  2. ^ "Marc Davis: Museum honors 1 of Disney's Nine Old Men".
  3. ^ "Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man, Subject of Gorgeous New Book | Disney Insider". October 7, 2014.
  4. ^ "Disney Legend Marc Davis is Born". March 30, 1913.
  5. ^ a b "Archives". Los Angeles Times. January 14, 2000.
  6. ^ Pace, Eric (January 16, 2000). "Marc Davis, Master Animator for Walt Disney, Dies at 86". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 293.
  8. ^ Canemaker, John (2014). "Introduction in Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance man". New York: Disney Editions: 7.
  9. ^ a b Canemaker 2001, p. 279.
  10. ^ Steelman, Ben (October 2, 1988). "Disney drawing power studio artists brought to life beloved stories". Newsbank. Lexington Herald-Leader.
  11. ^ Mills, Nancy (November 6, 1992). "Drawing the line on VILLAINS - Disney animator creates the characters we love to hate - and loves doing it". NewsBank. Daily Breeze.
  12. ^ Walley, Wayne (February 1986). "The man who created Disney's girls: Marc Davis whistles softly about his work". Advertising Age. 57: 32.
  13. ^ a b Docter, Pete (2014). "Animation Art in Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance man". New York: Disney Editions: 64.
  14. ^ Tims, Anna (June 17, 2014). "How we made Sleeping Beauty". The Guardian.
  15. ^ Mills, Nancy (November 6, 1992). "Drawing the line on VILLAINS - Disney animator creates the characters we love to hate - and loves doing it". Newsbank. Daily Breeze.
  16. ^ a b Canemaker 2001, p. 286.
  17. ^ Rhetts, Joanne (December 23, 1985). "Cruella character follows women who vocalized her". NewsBank. Houston Chronicle.
  18. ^ Canemaker 2001, p. 280.
  19. ^ Cohen, Jess (May 18, 2018). "Tinker Bell brings some of her magic to town". Newsbank. Vincennes Sun-Commercial.
  20. ^ Kalmakurki, Maarit (2018). "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty: The Components of Costume Design in Disney's Hand-Drawn Animated Feature Films". Animation. 13 (1): 7–19. doi:10.1177/1746847718754758. S2CID 192252827.
  21. ^ Canemaker, John (2014). "Introduction in Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance man". New York: Disney Editions: 10.
  22. ^ a b "Windows on Main Street, U.S.A., at Disneyland Park: Marc and Alice Davis". February 14, 2014.
  23. ^ "Marc Davis Exhibit at Walt Disney Family Museum". May 13, 2014.
  24. ^ "49th Annual Annie Awards".
  25. ^ Who's who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film & Television's Award-winning and Legendary Animators By Jeff Lenburg Hal Leonard Corporation, 2006
  26. ^ "Marc Davis". Disney Legends. Retrieved July 27, 2015.
  27. ^ "DFC Awards".
  28. ^ Willis, Christian (October 20, 2001). "An Interview with Alice Davis". Song of the South.
  29. ^ "Marc Davis". January 17, 2000.
  30. ^ "SIGGRAPH 2013 Partners with Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for Keynote Session" (Press release). June 14, 2013.
  31. ^ Pace, Eric (January 16, 2000). "Marc Davis, Master Animator For Walt Disney, Dies at 86". The New York Times.
  32. ^ "Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Marc Davis | the Walt Disney Family Museum".
  33. ^ "Stage and Cinema preview of "Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Marc Davis" at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco".
  34. ^ "My Wonderful Evening with Marc Davis, One of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men (Part 1 of 2)". May 16, 2014.
  35. ^ "[BOOK REVIEW] Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man". September 30, 2014.
  36. ^ "In Recognition of a Renaissance Man".
  37. ^ ""Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man" to be Published by Disney Editions". February 10, 2014.


  • Canemaker, John (October 22, 2001). "Chapter nine — Marc Davis". Walt Disney's Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation. New York: Disney Editions. pp. 265–294. ISBN 978-0786864966.

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