Claude Coats
BornJanuary 17, 1913
DiedJanuary 9, 1992(1992-01-09) (aged 78)
EducationPolytechnic High School, University of Southern California
OccupationPainter, Animator, Walt Disney Imagineering, formerly known as WED Enterprises
Years active1935-1989
EmployerWalt Disney Animation Studios (1937-1957)
Height6 ft 6 in (198 cm)
Board member ofWalt Disney Imagineering

Claude Coats (January 17, 1913 – January 9, 1992) was an American artist, background artist, animator and set designer, known for his work with the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering. His pioneering work with the company helped define the character of animated films, and later, immersive installations with his designs for Disneyland. Coats, known as "The Gentle Giant"[1] was inducted a Disney Legend in 1991.[2]

Personal life

Claude Coats was raised in Los Angeles and graduated from Polytechnic High School. On an athletic scholarship, Coats attended University of Southern California as an architecture student, but later received his bachelor's degree in drawing in 1934. He later attended Chouinard Art Institute and studied watercolor painting with Paul Sample. Upon matriculation, Coats became an active member of the California Water Color Society, which garnered the interest of the film industry. Coats accepted an interview at Disney’s Hyperion Studio and began an apprenticeship in background painting in 1935.[3] While working at the studio, Claude met his future wife, Evelyn Henry, an inker in the Ink and Paint Department. The couple were married in July 1937 and went on to have two sons, Alan and Lee.[4]

Claude and Evelyn were avid world travelers. They visited remote locations at Petra, Jordan, and Machu Picchu, long before these became popular tourist destinations. They joined the first American tour groups to visit China when that country was opened to Western visitors. Claude would return with a sketchbook and film to create vivid paintings of his travels. When he decided it was time to discover Antarctica, Claude realized his long-time dream to visit all seven continents. Penguins would become a favorite subject to paint and sculpt.[5]

Career as background painter

Coats' earliest film work included the 1935 animated shorts Mickey's Fire Brigade and Pluto's Judgement Day. He also painted backgrounds for the Silly Symphony musical shorts, earning him membership to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His distinctive, layered style is prominently featured in the Oscar winners The Old Mill and Ferdinand the Bull. He was personally selected as one of the artists by Walt Disney to paint the backgrounds for the studio's first full-length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, also the first full-length animated film created in the United States. He would continue his contributions and color styling to over twenty other Disney animated films.

Career as Imagineer

In 1955, Coats was again appointed by Disney to the staff of WED Enterprises (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering). This "second career" as one of Disneyland's art directors and show designers brought his dynamic film sets to an immersive, three-dimensional space. These designs, along with those of Mary Blair, themed the Carousel of Progress, Ford Magic Skyway and It's a Small World at the 1964 New York World's Fair as well as WDI's future installations. Coats would go on to serve as the designer for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Pirates of the Caribbean, World of Motion and Horizons. Until his retirement in November 1989, Coats would go on to do major designs at every extant Disney theme park, including the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.


In 1991, he was awarded the Disney Legends award.

Selected Filmography

Year Title Credits Notes
1937 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Background Artist
1940 Pinocchio Background Artist
Fantasia Background Artist - Segments "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and "The Pastoral Symphony"
1941 Dumbo Background Artist
1943 Saludos Amigos (Short) Background Artist Credited as Claude Coates
Victory Through Air Power (Documentary) Background Artist
1945 The Three Caballeros Background Artist
Tiger Trouble (Short) Background Artist
Dog Watch (Short) Background Artist
Californy er Bust (Short) Background Artist
1946 Make Mine Music Background Artist
Song of the South Background Artist and Color Stylist
1947 Fun & Fancy Free Background Artist
1948 Melody Time Color and Styling
Cat Nap Pluto (Short) Background Artist
1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad Color and Styling
1950 Cinderella Color and Styling
Motor Mania (Short) Background Artist
1951 Alice in Wonderland Color and Styling
1952 Uncle Donald's Ants (Short) Background Artist
The Little House (Short) Background Artist
1953 Peter Pan Color and Styling
How to Dance (Short) Background Artist
How to Sleep (Short) Background Artist
Ben and Me (Short) Art Director
1955 Lady and the Tramp Background Artist
Up a Tree (Short) Background Artist
1956 Hooked Bear (Short) Background Artist
1955 - 1967 The Magical World of Disney (TV Series) Background Artist - 15 Episodes
1957 The Magical World of Disney (TV Series) Animation Art Styling - 1 Episode
1965 The Magical World of Disney (TV Series) Himself - Disneyland 10th Anniversary
1984 DTV: Rock, Rhythm & Blues (Video) Background Artist
DTV: Pop & Rock (Video) Background Artist
DTV: Golden Oldies (Video) Background Artist
1988 The South Bank Show (TV Series Documentary) Himself - Background Artist - The Art of Walt Disney
It All Started with a Mouse: The Disney Story (TV Movie) Himself - Background Artist
2000 Fantasia 2000 Background Artist - Segment "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"

Walt Disney Imagineering


  1. ^ "Disney Legend Claude Coats". Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  2. ^ "Biography of a Disney Legend". California Water Color. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  3. ^ "Biography: Claude Coats". Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  4. ^ "Biography: Claude Coats". Retrieved 12 January 2016.
  5. ^ "Biography: Claude Coats". Retrieved 12 January 2016.

Further reading