Book Review: The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation

Of the many books on animation and Disney, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation is probably the best. Written by two of Disney's famous Nine Old Men, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, this book goes back to where animation was born, made and enjoyed by people all over the world.

At 576 pages, this huge volume probably covers lots of ground on animation except the how-to-do-it part since this isn't really a tutorial book. There are plenty of illustrious stories on Walt Disney, people he worked with and the roles everyone played from the storyman to director. Storytelling and character development are also covered. Interesting quotes and commentary are everywhere.

The book goes deeper looking at how these hardworking pioneers approach animation, invent new ways to animate and bring seemingly inanimate objects, even things like safety pins, to life. While not a tutorial book, it does covers subjects like camera techniques, styles of background paintings, effects, colours and other technical approaches to creating animation, right down to how they voice sync a talking door knob.

Lots of photos, paintings, sketches and storyboards are included. You can see the transition from the rubber hose arms of early characters to the more realistic designs that were achieved with attention paid to form and anatomy. Those are the results from the emphasis on research later on.

It's an inspiring book recommended to animators, great for those who want a flashback to the golden era of animation.

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 01

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 02

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 03

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 04

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 05

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 06

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 07

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 08

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 09

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 10

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 11

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 12

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 13

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation - 14

Visit Amazon to check out more reviews.

If you buy from the links, I get a little commission that helps me get more books to feature.

Here are direct links to the book: | | | | | | | |

Hey Parka! Which version of The Illusion of Life do you have? I've heard that the 1981 print quality is far superior to those of later editions.

I really want this book (and at $40 it's a steal), but I don't know if I should hold out and get an original 1981 copy. Is that something you could possibly take a look into? Sorry to bother you. :)

My problem with Illusion of Life has always been that it´s so dense you cannot remember everything. It´s sort of like the bible of animation but on a negative way too.
The chapters are also so extense that sometimes you have to leave them at the middle or you cannot remember where is the info you quickly want to see.

I read an edition of this book a few years ago. It's not great for reference, but I found it actually taught me very well in some ways because it kind of took me on a journey with these artists as they discovered and developed critical techniques. The principles become more alive and relevant than just methods listed in a textbook. Incidentally, I find a lot of the principles extremely useful in illustration, not just animation. I also just like reading about great artists!

yes, the illusion of life is a very informative book on animation - for the lacking how-to part, id say its best supplemented with richard willams' "the animators survival kit", which i bought for mere enjoyment and interest in animation technique. its amazing in that it opens your eyes not in the way johnston and thomas take you by the hand and take you on a behind-the-scenes tour of disney history, but to the more hands-on technical "form" of how animation works as a craft. both books together should be extensive, but also chock-full of enough animation knowledge to keep everyone with a bit of interest in the matter occupied for quite some time.

i agree with brainrust - there is a lot of carryover into illustration. walt stanchfields two volumes on gesture drawing come in handy there, too.

I own the slipcover special edition of this book, hand signed by Thomas and Johnston, and now that we've lost them both, I treasure it immensely. I agree with the criticisms that it is kind of dense and reads a bit like a treatise or the Bible, but it does seem to deserve its reputation as the seminal dissertation on animation.

From someone who has actually orked for the Disney animation studios and went to school for it; this is a must have book. Just the history behind it is great. Alittle overwhelming at first glance but once in it you have a better grasp on what is Disney animation.

By "original" do you mean the 1981 printing? If so, that seems to be popular with collectors due to the supposedly superior paper/printing quality. I know there was a copy of the same deluxe signed slipcover version (ca. 1995) that I own up on eBay recently for around $350. But it did not sell so no confirmation if that's the going price. I think it went for $225 originally.

I have a 1981 The Illusion of Life first edition fourth printing if anyone is interested

Just bought a first printing 1981 edition for 12 bucks in a yard sale. Made my day. My baby sis is studying disney animation to become a pro, she's gonna go berseck!

This is a must for any animator! Such a good book with so much information.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.