Auteurs in animation

Or “Let’s take a fun subject and bloat it up with pretentious blather.”

Anyway, the “auteur theory” states:

Applied to animation, both past and present and including both movies and TV, what animators would qualify as auteurs? Also, during the Golden Age of American Animation, what studio had the most “auteurs” (i.e., animators with a distinctive style) working for it.


Well, there’s Mike Jittlov:

I believe Hayao Miyazaki is an obvious one.

Chuck Jones, arguably.

John Kricfalusi from Ren & Stimpy.

Ralph Bakshi.

Tex Avery
Brad Bird
Nick Park
Bob Clampett

Actually, animators are more prone to have auteur status since they usually have full control over everything. Chuck Jones did what he liked at Warner Brothers* (he had his own production group) and people like Park are given full autonomy. Disney is the exception, since Walt tended to take a heavy hand (though Walt Disney was certainly an auteur – the theory does not require the auteur be the director).

*The answer to your question about which studio had the most auteurs, BTW.

Bill Plympton

You’re definitely correct. Although Warners’ system of animation production was set up long before anyone heard of the “auteur theory” of filmmaking, it was probably the best in terms of having multiple auteurs. Of the other classic animation studios, MGM is probably next since it had both Hanna-Barbara and Tex Avery doing their own things.

Another auteur-friendly studio was UPA which was formed by a group of former Disney animators and had their cartoons released through Columbia Pictures during the 1940s and 50s. Although UPA’s product is not as well-known today as Warners or Disney, for about ten years UPA was considered a very close competitor to Disney in terms of style and innovation.

Actually, I think most critics thought UPA was better than Disney in terms of style. Disney felt they were a major competitor and tried to copy their style (winning an Oscar for “Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom”). But Disney himself didn’t like it and they went back to what he liked.

I’d consider Sally Cruikshank an animation “auteur”. Her film Quasi at the Quackadero was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2009.

I’ve posted both of these before, but I think they deserve to be mentioned in this thread.

A recent example would be David O’Reilly who made the wonderful Please say something. He works alone so I’m not sure that he counts as a proper auteur as per the OP’s definition.

Estonian Priit Pärn does, I think. He has a very unique and personal style that shines through even though his work probably had to pass through a severe censorship process. See for instance Time Out

René Goscinny was definitely a comic book auteur, and he did write screenplays for and direct a few movies adapted from his work.

It’s probably worth noting that animation can be done very cheaply, if you pick the right style and keep it short. Which means there are all kinds of pretty much one-man animators and a lot of them have very distinctive styles.

For example, Don Herzfeldt (video, possibly NSFW).

One other genuine animation auteur is John Whitney, Sr.. Whitney is the father of computer graphics, his work actually predating digital computers. He had a vision of the sort of visuals he wished to create and built mechanisms to draw with light directly on film. Later, he used war surplus bomb-sight calculators, and eventually analog and finally digital computers.