Han van Gelder is best known for his work as a film director, but he began his artistic career in comic books. Born in Amsterdam as the son of a furniture maker, he initially pursued a technical education, but it was cut short due to the outbreak of World War II. Van Gelder spent part of the war in hiding, and during this period he killed the time by drawing. He attended the drawing classes of Henk Kannegieter in Haarlem, where he met Hans G. Kresse. Van Gelder and Kresse cooperated on two comic booklets, called 'Per atoomraket naar Mars' and 'Ditto en de draak in de grot', that were written by the retired teacher H. G. Haakenhout and published by J.A. ten Klei. Van Gelder would continue to work with Haakenhout on his own on two comic books called 'De Wereldreis van een Jeep' for publisher Vondel in Amsterdam around 1945.
He went to work at the animation department of the Toonder Studios in 1947, and initially stayed there for two years, when he joined Joop Geesink's Dollywood studios. He was mainly involved in the special effects for Geesink's puppet films. He returned to Toonder in 1951, as the assistant of chief animator Harold Mack. He set up his own Tabletop department, to employ a special animation technique with the use of miniatures. He used the technique in the films 'Globobbo' (1952) and 'The conquered planet' (1953), that were both written by Jan Gerhard Toonder.
Van Gelder's reputation as a special effect artist got him in touch with filmer Bert Haanstra in the mid 1950s, with whom he worked on the Shell UK documentary 'The Rival World' in 1955. In the following years, he also worked for Toonder's live-action productions, but he left the studios and went to work as an independent film producer in 1962. Until 1990, he produced dozens of mainly educational films and documentaries. In 1967, he was one of the first producers to show moving dinosaurs in his films, long before Jurassic Park. He also managed to animate some of M.C. Escher's mathematical creations in the film 'Adventures in perception'. He retired from films in the 1990s, and spent the rest of his years painting and drawing in the Frisian town of Oldeberkoop.