John Canemaker

Filed under: People, , , ,

Full Name:

John Canemaker

Occupation / Title:

, ,

Date of birth:



John Canemaker is an Academy Award-winning animator and an internationally renowned animation historian and teacher. A key figure in American independent animation, Canemaker’s work has a distinctive personal style emphasizing emotion, personality and dynamic visual expression. His film, The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation, won an Oscar in 2005 for Best Animated Short.

A 28-minute autobiographical essay about a troubled father/son relationship, The Moon and the Son marked a personal and professional breakthrough in animation storytelling. Canemaker is also a noted author who has written nine books on animation, as well as numerous essays, articles and monographs for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications.

He has taught at several colleges and universities in the course of his career, including a guest residency at Yale, but he is most closely associated with New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he began teaching in 1980 and was one of the founders of the animation program. Canemaker is a full, tenured professor who became the program’s executive director in 1988 and served as Acting Chair of the NYU Undergraduate Film and Television Department in 2001-2002. Canemaker himself is a featured commentator on many classic animation DVD releases, including the Disney films Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Fantasia Anthology, Dumbo, Peter Pan, and Beauty and the Beast, as well as Cut-Up: The Films of Grant Munro, The Mask, and Winsor McCay: The Master Edition. He has been interviewed on NBC’s The Today Show, PBS’s News Hour with Jim Lehrer and Entertainment Tonight, and lectures at film and animation festivals around the world.

In his animation research, The John Canemaker Animation Collection was donated to the Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, New York University, through a formal agreement signed by the Library and John Canemaker on August 18, 1988. Additional material was received in 1991. Canemaker began collecting the material in the early 1970’s and this rich research source, devoted to the history, technique, and cultural significance of film animation, will be enlarged with additional material of historical and contemporary interest. The collection will serve the needs both of Canemaker’s students at the University’s Tisch School of the Arts and of researchers in film animation. The John Canemaker Animation Collection housed in the Fales Library consists of documentary and graphic materials and is a source of information on personalities and subjects, both American and foreign, important to the history of film animation. While the collection includes copies of original material dating from the beginnings of film animation at the end of the nineteenth century, the original material concentrates on the late 1970’s and the 1980’s. Significant portions of the collection relate to Walt Disney and his studio, and to Canemaker’s own extensive creative and research activity, and publications.

John Canemaker is an internationally recognized independent animator, animation historian, author, teacher and lecturer. Since 1988, he has directed the animation program at the Tisch School of the Arts’, Kanbar Institute of Film and Television. He has also been a Guest Fellow at Yale University. Canemaker’s interest in animation began in childhood, and it has moved him to write more than 100 articles on the subject, as well as several books, including the story of the making of Richard Williams’ Raggedy Ann & Andy entitled: The Animated Raggedy Ann & Andy (1977).

Canemaker’s own films include: ‘The 40’s’ (1974), ‘Bottom’s Dream’ (1983), ‘The Hunger Project’ (1987), animation sequences for ‘The World According To Garp’ (1981), ‘You Don’t Have To Die’ (1988) which received an Academy Award, Confessions of a Stand-Up (1993), and Bridgehampton (1998). Canemaker began collecting the material that comprises this collection in the early 1970’s, and eventually obtained a wealth of material about the history, technique, and cultural significance of animated films. Items include animation resources such as: documentary material, drawings, posters, storyboards, recorded interviews and lectures, personal research materials for his articles and books, and periodicals.

Family and early life

John Canemaker was born in Waverly, New York, in 1943 and raised in nearby Elmira where he completed his first animated film while in his teens. Canemaker began an acting career which included off-Broadway and advertising work in New York City from 1961 to 1965. In 1967, after a two-year stint in the Army, Canemaker, with funds from acting assignments in TV commercials (he appeared in over 35 advertisements for major products, most famously leading a line of “fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks” through Central Park for Armour hotdogs)—and appearing as a cast member of the 1972 WCBS-TV show Patchwork Family, in which he drew on a large sketching pad.

Career outline

While studying for his Bachelor of Arts degree, Canemaker’s childhood interest in animation revived. He began making sponsored animated shorts and wrote the first of more than 100 articles on animation history. His first book, the story of the making of Richard Williams’ Raggedy Ann and Andy, was published in 1977 as The Animated Raggedy Ann and Andy.

In 1982, he wrote the introduction to “Treasures of Disney Animation Art,” and, in 1987, he published, “Winsor McCay – His Life and Art,” and, in 1991, “Felix, the Twisted Tale of the World’s Most Famous Cat.” There followed “Tex Avery: The MGM Years” and “Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists (both in 1997), “Paper Dreams: The Art and Artists of Disney Storyboards” (1999), “Walt Disney’s Nine Old men and the Art of Animation” (2001), and “The Art and Flair of Mary Blair” (2003).

His research in the history of animation inspired two of his own films, Remembering Winsor McCay (1976) and Otto Messmer and Felix the Cat (1977).Canemaker’s filmography includes independently-made animated shorts that are part of the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Among them: The 40’s (1974), Street Freaks (1975), Confessions of a Stardreamer (1978), The Wizard’s Son (1981), Bottom’s Dream (1983), Confessions of a Stand-Up (1993), Bridgehampton (1998). In the early 1980s, Canemaker animated several Childern’s Television Workshop films, TV commercials, and, in 1981, created the animation sequences for the Warner Bros. feature The World According to Garp. He designed and directed animation sequences in the Academy Award-winning HBO documentary You Don’t Have to Die (1988) and the Peabody Award-winning CBS documentary Break the Silence: Kids Against Child Abuse (1994).

Personal style

We can hardly imagine how much John Canemaker has done in animation. It’s hard to find a difinition to fits him. He is a legend of independent animator. Canemaker has inspired a lot of young people and animators those who are embarking on careers in the industry. Significantly, John does this with his enthusiasm for animation. He positively thinks toward animation. He says, “It’s one of the great art forms of our time, It’s an art form that incorporates so many other traditional forms to create a new one.”


Not only in his teaching career, John Canemaker is a film animator well known for his intelligent handling of serious subject matter. His animated sequences for the Academy Award-winning YOU DON’T HAVE TO DIE, a documentary about an 8-year-old boy’s struggle with cancer, were praised by critics. Mr. Canemaker, a [full] professor and head of the animation program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, is also a noted historian of animation. He has published six books on the topic and writes regularly about the field for The New York Times.

His most recent book, Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists (Hyperion) appeared in November [1997]. Recently, Animation magazine, a trade publication, listed him as one of the most influential people in animation today, along with the likes of Roy E. Disney, Michael D. Eisner, and Steven Spielberg. In a recent animation class, Mr. Canemaker reminds students of the importance of “anticipation” – the small, contrary motion a character makes that anticipates a major movement. If the character is going to stand up, he sinks ever so slightly first. If he’s going to jump to the right, he first draws back almost imperceptibly to the left.

One student has prepared a short film that shows a man drinking poison. After he drinks, his head shrinks like a deflating balloon. Good, as far as it goes. “Have some anticipation,” Mr. Canemaker advises. “Have the head go out, swell, before it shrinks.”




Suggestions are not enabled for this post.