In the animation world very few artists get the praise they deserve.
Most of the movies and TV shows you love were animated by hundreds people whose names you’d never recognize.
Yet there are some animators who truly stand out. They’re practically household names for their contributions to the animation industry, the characters they created, and their dedication to the craft.
Here you’ll find 20 of the most famous animators that I think everyone should know. Some of these people may be obvious while others may be totally new to you.
Either way this is a great place to start learning and researching about industry legends. And most of these artists are featured in popular animation documentaries if you wanna learn even more about their lives.
Spümcø creator John Kricfalusi is best known for his Nickelodeon series Ren & Stimpy.
But it’s his animation style and approach to animation that has radically affected the industry. He’s shared so much advice on his art blog for newer animators and seasoned professionals alike.
Not to mention his contributions to the animation world have affected the artistic styles of so many modern cartoons. Anyone who grew up in the 80s or 90s will likely remember the outlandish style of Ren & Stimpy.
It’s these kinds of classics that leave a real imprint on society and the animation world.
As the creator of an entire cartoon empire it’s fair to say Seth MacFarlane is one of the most well-known animators worldwide.
Family Guy developed from one of Seth’s college projects called Life of Larry. That was eventually transformed into a kid’s short called Larry and Steve, which was then pitched to Fox and developed into a primetime animation. Whew!
Despite gaining a massive following, Family Guy was cancelled after season 3. This was overturned a few years later when the show came back on the air along with a newer show in Seth’s animation style: American Dad!
Both shows are still running to this day and overshadow his lesser-known spinoff The Cleveland Show.
Just developing one show is a massive undertaking. Having the chance to work with, develop, and influence the animation styles of 3 primetime shows is just plain incredible.
One of the original animators behind Pixar’s success, John Lasseter is perhaps the defining animation goliath behind classic Pixar films.
He was around during the development of Toy Story and he shaped the way 3D animation entered pop culture. In fact, Toy Story was the first ever fully-digital film and it easily topped the box office charts after release.
That says something not just about the 3D animation style of the movie. But also about the characters, the voice acting, the writing, and ultimately the storytelling.
John Lasseter helped the animation industry accept 3D and we could say the same for Pixar’s other two co-founders Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith.
If you start delving into animation history you won’t get too far before you stumble onto Max Fleischer.
He’s a Polish-born American animator who founded Fleischer Studios. They produced some of the earliest cartoons that we still talk about today.
Characters like Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor were both developed heavily under Max’s reign in the early 20th century.
As time passed other companies like Walt Disney and Warner Bros carved their own massive slice of the animation industry.
But Max still has quite a legacy including his invention & first theatrical use of the rotoscope.
If you ever watched any classic Looney Tunes shorts then you should recognize the name Chuck Jones.
He’s an infamous animator who directed most of the well-known Warner Brothers cartoons during the 50s. Chuck’s work included a lot of crazy faces, movements, poses, and general wacky antics that we’ve all come to associate as tropes within cartoons.
But the crazy part about Chuck’s work is how well it holds up decades later.
Even as an adult you can watch clips like Pronoun Trouble and laugh out loud. That’s not easy to do.
To me that’s proof that Chuck was one hell of an animator and director well beyond his time.
Side note: you know that song “Hello! Ma Baby” from that singing frog cartoon with the top hat? Directed by Chuck Jones. This guy’s everywhere!
Here’s another big name under Warner Bros. cartoons that everyone should know: Tex Avery.
He worked with plenty of lovable characters like Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Elmer Fudd.
But he also did work for MGM Cartoons directing a lot of well-known clips. The wolf who howls at the nightclub singer is one very popular example.
Tex’s work is a mixed bag but if you go looking through cartoons from the golden era of animation I’m sure you’ll find a lot of stuff you recognize with his name on it.
One of the lesser-known yet still wildly popular Disney animators of today is Eric Goldberg.
It seems like an oxymoron to say he’s not well known, yet also popular. But Goldberg is featured in a lot of behind-the-scenes clips along with some featured interviews discussing how he animates.
His work for Disney has changed a lot over his career as the company moved away from 2D films to focus solely on 3D.
But the fundamentals of animation always remain the same. That’s the beauty of Goldberg’s work and it’s something you’ll hear a lot if you search his name on YouTube.
Hanna-Barbera Studios created some of the best old-school TV animations we still talk about today.
Think Scooby Doo, The Flintstones, and The Jetsons as popular examples.
Founders William Hanna and Joseph Barbera worked their entire lives in the animation industry and were even still helping to create cartoons into the early 2000s.
Not as many younger kids today would know about this animation studio since it’s now owned by Turner and mostly managed in name only.
But there’s no denying the legacy these two men left behind in their wake and how their minimalist animation style changed the face of traditional animation.
The well-known Disney animator Ollie Johnston was one of Disney’s original nine old men who helped to refine the elegance and beauty we see in Disney’s early films.
Ollie is also the oldest of the bunch who lived until 96 years old.
His life is one that’s far more open than other animators since he was featured in a documentary along with his fellow Disney employee Frank Thomas. It’s a 1995 film called Frank and Ollie and it covers a lot of their contributions to the animation world.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about Walt Disney Animation during its early years then I highly recommend that film.
Ub Iwerks is another animator who worked for Walt Disney and he’s credited as the original creator of the infamous Mickey Mouse(among other characters).
Over his career he won quite a few awards for his achievements in animation & film. He’s definitely one of the lesser-known artists who deserves a lot more attention for his style and contributions to the studio.
In the late ‘80s Ub was officially named a Disney Legend which certainly makes sense, to say the least.
Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki has animated and directed some of the most influential films in the anime art style.
He’s the co-founder of Studio Ghibli and has produced over 50% of Japan’s highest grossing anime films.
I think that says a lot about the studio’s work ethic and their animation style.
You’ve likely heard about many of these films like Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. They focus on a lot of fantasy elements and work to bring ideas to life that you just won’t find in other animated films.
This is Miyazaki’s claim to fame and it’s something that’ll live on for decades to come.
SpongeBob creator Stephen Hillenburg didn’t get into the animation industry until his early 30s. He started working on Rocko’s Modern Life and later pitched his idea to Nickelodeon for a cartoon about a talking sponge.
It was met with mixed reviews.
But they went ahead and greenlit the project in 1999. And here we are over two decades later still talking about it.
Steve’s sense of humor and imagination have built an empire around this character. Many would argue that SpongeBob is just as well known today as Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse.
That’s one hell of a legacy to leave behind.
Craig McCracken is an American animator with a long career working for Cartoon Network.
He’s created many shows that cartoon lovers would recognize from the early 21st century like The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.
All of his cartoons follow a similar art style and they’re very clean. It’s one of the ways you can quickly recognize his cartoons at a glance.
Disney animator Glen Keane worked on many of Walt Disney’s animated films during their resurgence and popularity throughout the 90s.
Glen’s experience includes some of Disney’s most popular 2D films of that era like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Tarzan(among many others).
He has skills in character design and traditional animation along with storyboarding. He’s basically a legend in his own right and was even recognized as a Disney Legend in 2013.
Nowadays he’s not doing as much work on films although he does run classes every so often to help the new generation of students improve their animation skills.
The biggest reason I have to include David Feiss in this list is his animation style and sense of humor that put Cartoon Network Studios on the map.
Cow & Chicken was the first original Cartoon Network show and it paved the way for so many others.
Granted it may not be the most popular or the most well-known series out there.
But Feiss developed 4 seasons of a show that kids loved during the time. And his animation style was even featured in commercials which he helped to animate. Pretty cool!
Here’s another Cartoon Network legend and the guy behind three kids who loved killing time in the cul-de-sac.
Danny Antonucci is an old-school animator who started his career super early. He worked for Hanna-Barbera in his late teens and eventually pushed his way through the ranks to start his own animation studio.
Under that studio he created a few niche cartoons like The Brothers Grunt which aired on MTV. But his most well-known project is Ed, Edd n Eddy which spanned 10 whole years under Cartoon Network.
He created the entire show in Canada under his studio A.k.a. Cartoon. This was Cartoon Network’s longest-running show until it was overtaken by Adventure Time.
Danny’s work is still some of the best stuff out there with a very unique style.
Friz Freleng should be much more well-known than he is considering how many characters he developed over his career.
Friz worked for Warner Bros. and helped to create Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, and Speedy Gonzales along with many others.
He worked closely with the animators and artists from the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts so his work is all over those classics.
And when the Warner Bros. animation wing shut down in the mid 1960s he even went on to create further cartoons under DePatie–Freleng Enterprises. The most infamous animation they produced is likely the Pink Panther intro.
Russian-born animator Genndy Tartakovsky is a Cartoon Network veteran with some very popular cartoon series under his name.
He’s the creator of Dexter’s Laboratory & Samurai Jack along with the director behind the original Star Wars: Clone Wars series.
There’s no denying his work is very well known and he clearly has a knack for animation.
His art style alone is pretty unique, but it’s his eye for storytelling and directing that lends him popularity in the animation world.
Mike Judge wears many hats and it’s hard to call him strictly an animator. He’s also a screenwriter, voice actor, director, and musician.
But his first animated series Beavis and Butt-Head ran for 8 seasons on MTV and is widely known by anyone who grew up during that era. In fact, it’s known by pretty much anyone who was alive during that era.
Judge later went on to create King of the Hill which focused more on a primetime audience.
Because of how much he’s affected modern American animation(and film, and TV!) he certainly deserves a spot on this list.
What more can be said about the king of 20th century animation?
Walt Disney is no doubt the best known animator worldwide.
His name is practically synonymous with animation.
I wasn’t sure whether he should be added to this list because it’s such a no-brainer.
But Walt Disney has more documentaries about his work than anyone else I could find. No way I could leave him out of this list.
Not to mention the animation studio he built is still operating today and is one of the most successful studios in the world.
Truly a brilliant guy and his legacy is one that’ll overshadow the animation world for centuries.