Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ken Hultgren

Ken Hultgren lived a short but very productive life. 
He started his career in 1936 at Disney , where he eventually became an animator on the short film Farmyard Symphony. Hultgren then moved to the Bambi unit, where he did character design and animation. As you can see in these two model sheets, he was a very gifted draughtsman.
Lots of appeal in these drawings. Hultgren is comfortable sketching the animal from every angle.
He was only 24 years old when he did these.

I remember talking to Milt Kahl about Ken Hultgren, and that I was very impressed with the way he drew animals. Milt recalled that Ken had animated a few scenes with the Stag, Bambi's father. "I had to redo those, they weren't working."
Be that as it may, Hultgren put out a great book in 1950 called "The Art of Animal Drawing".
Early on as an art student in Germany I found it quite difficult to draw animals at the zoo.  When I got my hands on a copy of this book and flipped through the pages several light bulbs went off. For the first time I saw realistic drawings of animals in motion with an animator's point of view.
The way he divides the body into three parts, then twists and turns those parts to get rhythm and motion was a revelation to me. It really helped to get a logical understanding of animal anatomy in motion.
Hultgren is particularly great with horses and deer (even if Milt disagrees).
The book has been in reprint for decades and is available at Amazon. I highly recommend it. 
You don't want to draw just like Hultgren, but you can benefit from the clarity of his anatomical sketches.

He doesn't always get it right though. This deer walk is flawed.
It is the rear leg contacting that releases the front leg ON THE SAME SIDE of the animal, not the opposite side as it is falsely shown here.
You can still use this walk for reference, just flop the front legs.

After leaving Disney in 1943, Hultgren animated for many other companies in town. He also made a name for himself as a prolific comic strip artist, illustrating stories for Disney and characters from other studios. In the late 1950ies Hultgren returned to Disney to animate on the short Paul Bunyan and the feature Sleeping Beauty.
He died in 1968 at the age of 53.


  1. Thank you again great post and great tip. I´ll definitely buy that book, look very interesting and inspiring.

  2. Just added it to my Amazon wishlist. Thanks again, Andreas!

  3. Found a copy over at Barnes & Noble a while back, worth picking up! Interesting to note some of the non-Disney stuff he was on such as two shorts for UPA including the feature film "1001 Arabian Nights", but eventually TV would catch up with him and he was on such gems as The Alvin Show, Popeye and several others, I see Filmation's "The Archie Show" was his last gig. I suppose if he had lived on past '68 he probably would've been stuck in the same spot throughout the 70's and 80's like all the rest (what I like to jokingly call "The Dead Period").

  4. I love his animal drawing book! My favourite to come across. Thanks for some background info about Ken too. I tried looking up some of his biography a while ago, but wasn't very succesful.

  5. I had forgotten Ken died so young. I remember he returned to Disney to work for Les Clark on Paul Bunyan. It's a shame his animation career was cut short.

  6. That's a great book! A nice simplified approach. It's amazing what he could do with brush and ink too. A bit of a lost art today!

  7. I just bought the book after reading that post. It is wonderful. Did you study it or take it for reference when you did Lion King and Bambi 2?

  8. That book definitely sounds like something worth finding. And the body structure pieces make complete sense – never saw it that way before. :D Thanks!

  9. Wonderful post Andreas. There is also another animal instruction book that goes more in depth about construction, movement, gesture, etc... By Joe Weatherly. Definitely also worth a look.

  10. great stuff. His squirrel and chipmonk drawings are so appealing on top of the great anatomy.Thanks for sharing..I always go to my How to draw animals by Jack Hamm as well..There's some great movement study in that one also.


    Hi. :) I'm a fourteen year old girl, assigned a school project where I have to interview an animator. I loved your blog and its posts, and your career sounds very interesting. Can you please answer a few questions? That would be so awesome!

    1. What inspired you to become an animator/artist?

    2. What are the pros and cons of working in this field?

    3. What courses did you tale in school/college to prepare you for this career?

    4. What is your favorite project you've worked on?

    5. What advice would you give to aspiring artists/animators?

    Thank you so much for your help! :) you can email the answers to me at, if you wish. :) Thanks!

  12. One of my favorite books on animal drawing. If I may add my two cents.. The University of Wisconsin has a reference resource on their website for the Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists. ( It doesn't get into action analysis but it's an great anatomy reference. It's also available on on Amazon.

  13. Have a copy on my desk for quick reference when doing boards. There are no art books quite like it.

  14. Ken Hultgren was my grandfather. It's very touching to read he has made such a lasting impact, despite having died 45 years ago. If anyone would like further details regarding his life / biography, let me know.
    Carey Hultgren

    1. hi carey this is my email I really love the way your grandfather did his drawings can I have contact with you i need a lot to know about mr ken hultgren tnx and sry for my bad english

    2. Hi Carey, My dad, Harold Cole was a friend of your grandfather and he was the architect of his home. I still have your grandfather's little known work, "In The King's Service" on my book shelf. My dad passed away in 1964 and I remember your dad attending his memorial service. His drawing book also sits on my shelf as well.

  15. I'm curious, Andreas. What other drawing books would you recommend to aspiring artists?

  16. I bought his book. It is so great! :)

    Thank you for posting! :)