Animation Pioneer

David Dodd Hand

by David Dodd Hand with David Hale Hand | Release Date: April 20, 2018 | Availability: Print

The Animated Director

Like Walt Disney, David Hand started as an animator. Also like Walt Disney, he didn't stay an animator for long. Hand rose as high in the Disney studio as he could without the last name of Disney. And then he left, his life as an animation pioneer just begun.

In 1930, Walt Disney hired David Hand as an animator, one of a handful of employees at the fledgling Disney studio. Before long, Walt recognized that Hand's talents were not so much in creating animation, but in directing animated shorts and features. So he promoted him, and then gave him the plummest assignment of all: directing the film that would either make or break the studio: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Working for Walt, as a perennial number-two man, held no appeal for Hand, and so when wealthy Englishman J. Arthur Rank invited him to launch an animation industry in England, he took the offer, likely with the intent to duplicate there what Walt had created in America.

David Hand tells his own story in Animation Pioneer, his candid, entertaining autobiography, with additional biographical material by his son, former Imagineer David Hale Hand. Starting with his wild youth in New Jersey and his exploits in New York during the 1920s, Hand traces his life in animation, from the J.R. Bray Studio and Max Fleischer, to Walt Disney and beyond. It's a story every animation fan will enjoy.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Breaking Free

Chapter 2: Cutting Loose

Chapter 3: New York and Lessons Learned

Chapter 4: To Hollywood and Greater Things

Chapter 5: England: Cartoon Studio, From Start to Finish

Chapter 6: A Home in the US...and Lost

Chapter 7: Settling Down in California

Chapter 8: And to Fill in the Blanks

Appendix A: David Hand Filmography

Appendix B: "A Duck That Became Donald"

Appendix C: David Hand Interview

Appendix D: GBA Recollections

Appendix E: Memories of Moor Hall

Appendix F: Cartoons by David Hand

David Dodd Hand wrote an autobiography for the benefit of his family and friends. It was never sold or intended to be a commercial venture. All rights to the memorabilia of David Dodd Hand were willed to his fourth wife, Martha Armstrong Hand, and his son and daughter, David Hale Hand and Judy Hale LaPrade. Their lives were entwined in this story on one level or another and to one extent or another.

This book is an extension of the autobiography written by David Dodd Hand that chronicles his life’s experiences both in and out of the animation industry. I strive to explain more completely some of the events which have been written about Dad, and hopefully to clarify and correct some of the misinformation which has been written by authors who have tried to tell the “Disney Story” but have assumed rather than researched. Dad has been noted to have been Walt Disney’s “assistant.” Believe me, he was never anyone’s “assistant”—he was always in control. Recently, on the internet, I found part of an interoffice memo calling staff to a meeting. The participant list started out—Walt, Dave, and then all the others listed by their first and last names. Everyone knew who Walt and Dave were. No last names were necessary.

I have provided additional information that followed Dad’s passing, which gives credence to his life’s work and needs to be made public. Unfortunately, people who work in the background do not gain the credit and exposure that they so well deserve. He was significantly responsible for the studio winning 16 Academy Awards, while he was animator, director, and/or production supervisor. Marc Davis noted, “[Hand] believed that it was his responsibility to get Walt Disney’s ideas and sometimes seemingly intangible thoughts on to the screen.”

One of the Disney “Nine Old Men,” the group who, some say, replaced Dad when he left the studio, told me: “Walt Disney was the creative genius at the studio, but David Hand was the pragmatic creative genius.”

David Hand had a zest for life and learned from the “school of hard knocks” in his early childhood. He left school in the 9th grade, and later put himself through the Chicago Institute of Art.

In the 1920s, Hand became an animator and a director working on the Out of the Inkwell films with J.R. Bray Studios and later with the Fleischer Studio.

From January 1930 to 1944, he started as an animator with Walt Disney Studios, but within one year became a director. In 1933, he was selected as supervising director of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and was also made production supervisor of the studio, answering only to Walt Disney. He was then responsible for all production of all films between 1933 and 1944. He directed quite a few of the Silly Symphony films and was supervising director of Bambi. His last effort with Disney was as director of animation for Victory Through Air Power. When Walt left the studios on his “Good Will Tour” to South America, Roy Disney and David Hand were responsible for running the Burbank operation. They together negotiated the studio union contract while Walt was gone.

From 1944 to 1950, Hand was producer and managing director of Gaumont British Animation, a studio of the Rank Organisation, in the UK, where he produced 19 short films, and then from 1951 to 1969, he worked as writer / director / producer for commercials with the Alexander Film Studio in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

David Hand was a talented, complex person and very complex in his capabilities and his personality. He liked people, especially the people he worked with, and tried to be a friend to everyone. However, he was all business and you knew that he was the boss. He fought for what he felt was right, and most of the time, he was right. He was dedicated to the animation industry, in which he was an important pioneer. His position at the Disney Studio and his contributions to the success of that studio were immense.

David Hale Hand

David Hale Hand, a former principal designer and supervisor for Walt Disney Imagineering, is the son of Disney director and animator David Dodd Hand, and the founder of David Hand Productions.

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