Wisdom From the Greatest Animator Who Ever Lived

Milt Kahl is often referred to as the greatest animator who ever lived. There are a few folks who could be in contention for such a title, and Milt certainly belongs in that conversation. His draftsmanship was likely second to none at Walt Disney Studios, and he had a natural feel for the art form. Today we’ve gathered some quotes from this animation master that will hopefully inspire you to take the next big step in your own animation journey!

While you read these, keep in mind the following: Words are simply words until you put them into action. Milt did. He didn’t just speak on animation, he worked on his skill set every day to become the genius he was. So while it’s terrific to read these quotes and be inspired, what will make the true difference in your life (and the world) is taking that inspiration and putting it onto the screen. Don’t just read and move on. Read, be changed, and go out and do great work! Today is as good a day as any. If not now, when?


“I think any director would be a fool if he didn’t let a good man do what he thought he ought to do. I think a director has to trust an animator’s judgment sometimes.”

(On Standards)
“You might as well, geez! If you don’t have something to ASPIRE to, what have you got? You have to have high standards. I think that’s part of any profession. If you don’t aim high, well you’re not going to get anywhere.”

(In Early Development of Pinocchio)
“Why didn’t they forget that he was a puppet and get a cute little boy, you can always draw the wooden joints and make him a wooden puppet afterwards. And Ham Luske said, “Well, why don’t you do something about it, do a scene,” and I did one. What I don’t remember is whether they had a new voice by then or not. Probably they did have; I don’t know. I did a scene of Pinocchio underwater with the jackass ears, knocking on a shell of an oyster, saying, “Pardon me, can you tell me where I can find Monstro the whale?” The shell closed up and caused a swell in the current, which affected Pinocchio. I made kind of a cute little boy out of him, and Walt loved it; this was actually my big chance. It was my move into being one of the top animators.”
[Here the takeaway is in the first line. Remember whatever you are animating, simplify it down to its essence first. You can always add “the wooden joints” afterward, it’s the essence that’s the key.]

“They’re not terrible, but they’re not as good as they should be. That’s the trouble. People would rather be left to wallow in their mediocrity. They’d rather not be bothered.”

(On Live-action Reference)
“I think if you’re going to do human characters it’s necessary. I don’t approve of it, but… If everyone on the picture was a Milt Kahl it wouldn’t be necessary to use live action reference, but unfortunately they aren’t, and it is necessary.”
[Might seem egotistical, but the guy had the skill to back up his words!]

“Just for my own creative outlet, I’m going to get into something that’s completely different. Just for the fun of it. Therapeutic, if that’s what you want to call it.”

“I think that the trouble with a group effort is that if you work hard enough, you find yourself all alone.”
[But that didn’t stop him for striving for perfection. And it surely increased the skill of everyone around him as well.]

(Biggest Thing Gained?)
“I’ve gotten the satisfaction whenever something turned out well and I had a good performance on it.”

“One of the hardest things to do is ‘nothing,’ especially in animation where we try to show change all the time, and characters like that. Also pretty girls.”

“I think you should be able to animate princes, or princesses, or any kind of difficult character, and make them believable. I don’t mean realism, I mean you should be able to do things with them that a human being wouldn’t be able to do. But make them convincing, make people be able to believe in them.”


Hopefully this brief look at advice from the great Milt Kahl has given you the opportunity to think about your work and what you do. No one animator is going to be “right” all the time, so it’s important to really consider the wisdom others share. Take what works, leave what doesn’t, and remember that every artist is unique and we all have our own particular way of working. Now go out there and do some great animation!

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Stop praising the dead and praise the living *cough* Eric Goldberg *cough*.


Hey Riki, the animator


Of course Riki, the thing is everybody seems to be stuck in the past by quoting the nine old men to death while the live ones are ignored.

Eric Golberg’s Character Animation Crash Course book is full of quotes. I don’t have my copy with me at the moment but one goes like stare at your pose till you understand it.

So there you buddy, keep up the good work, building a legacy for all animators over the world.


Sabina K

Great quotes. My favorite is the last one. 🙂

Greg Duva

Excellent quote about group effort; thanks for posting!


I’m really loving the words of wisdom from the Great Kahl. Guy was a f-ing genius.