Start as young as you can, in any capacity. For directing music videos and commercials, the window opens around age 23. For features, the best you can hope for is to start in your late twenties. But the window closes too. If you haven’t directed a feature-length Hollywood picture by the time you’re 35, you probably never will.I was curious to see how animation directors stacked up. They generally skew older. One reason is that in the early years, animated features didn't exist and for decades they were relatively rare. However, even in the modern era, it's rare (as you'll see below) for directors to start in their 20s.
Certainly there are directors in their 20s working in TV and in the old days on shorts. However if directing live action features is a young person's game, directing animated features is for the middle aged.
So here are some ages of directors for their first animated features. There are omissions here because the IMDB doesn't have birth dates for every animated feature director, which is why something as big as The Lion King is not listed.
David Hand was 37 when he directed Snow White. Ham Luske was 37 and Ben Sharpsteen was 45 when they directed Pinocchio. Dave Fleischer was 45 when he directed Gulliver's Travels. Jiri Trnka was 39 when he directed The Emperor's Nightingale. Jean Image was 43 when he directed Johnny the Giant Killer. John Halas was 43 and Joy Batchelor was 41 when they directed Animal Farm. Paul Grimault was 52 when he directed The Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird. Wolfgang Reitherman was 53 when he directed A Hundred and One Dalmatians. Bill Hanna was 54 and Joe Barbera was 53 when they directed Hey There, It's Yogi Bear.
George Dunning was 48 when he directed Yellow Submarine. Bill Melendez was 53 when he directed A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Ralph Bakshi was 34 when he directed Fritz the Cat. Richard Williams was 44 when he directed Raggedy Ann and Andy. Bruno Bozzetto was 44 when he directed Allegro Non Tropo. Don Bluth was 45 when he directed The Secret of NIMH. Will Vinton was 38 when he directed The Adventures of Mark Twain.
John Musker and Ron Clements were both 33 when they directed The Great Mouse Detective. Gary Trousdale was 31 and Kirk Wise was 28 when they directed Beauty and the Beast. Henry Selick was 41 when he directed The Nightmare Before Christmas. John Lassetter was 38 when he directed Toy Story. Brad Bird was 42 when he directed The Iron Giant. Peter Lord was 47 and Nick Park was 42 when they directed Chicken Run. Chris Wedge was 45 when he directed Ice Age. Sylvain Chomet was 40 when he directed The Triplets of Belleville. Richard Linklater was 41 when he directed Waking Life.
I wonder, given that the majority of the movie audience is under 30, if this is one of the reasons that animated features have a problem capturing the teen market. The age of animation directors is very appropriate, though, for family films, as most of the directors above likely had children of their own at the time they got their first feature assignment.