I have drawn all my life, but my professional career started in the 1980s. My first paid work in animation came while I was still a student at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. I did not start right off at the Disney studio, but tried my hand at several small studios first to make a resume for myself before entering a large workplace. Building a solid reputation helps to keep you from being lost when entering a big company.
California Institute of the Arts Years
My first paid animation job came while I was still working on my BFA in Film at CalArts. We painted cells (remember cells?) for a film about abortion.
Loads of jobs are offered to students who work cheep. Animation development, story, graphic design work, comic book illustrating ... many odd jobs that I took to help gain experience and build a resume. However, some never came through with promised payment. Be wary that some jobs are shady and will not pay you. Watch yourself.
Get every offer in writing!
My Little Pony
During the summer of my junior year at CalArts, I began working for Marvel Entertainment (their animated television shows). Mike Joens interviewed me for "My Little Pony". As he shook my hand to welcome me aboard the show, he pulled out plane tickets with the other hand and left the company. The producer who replaced Mike turned down every drawing I had with the only comment "that is what Mike would have wanted - not what I want". Being my first true professional job, I went home in tears every night convinced that I had no talent and everyone had been lying to me since birth about my abilities. Not being able to draw tattoos on pony butts sucked.
Jim Hensen's Muppet Babies
Fortunately, "My Little Pony" did not have room for me in their section of the building, so I was placed in a room with model designers on "Muppet Babies": Vicky Banks, fellow CalArtians Leon Joosen and Chris Sanders, and Jean Gillmore. Jean was the Model Supervisor for their show and quickly had me pulled off of "Pony" and on to "Babies". I now cried tears of joy! I learned the business of model designing from Jean Gillmore. Check out her web site at www.jeangillmore.com. Talent will get you in a door. Being at the right spot to meet the right people at the right time ... puts you through the RIGHT door. This was definitely the "right" door since we won Emmy Awards for best show several years in a row! Great way to start a resume!
McGee and Me
It use to be that when a season finished you were laid off and had to look for new work. None of these long term contracts they have now. You worked for length of show only. Usually, in between seasons I would find graphic or toy design jobs. Even did scale mock ups of buildings and sample window displays. When "Muppet Babies" went off the air for good, Mike Joens, who had left Marvel to start his own company, hired me to supervise the art of his series "McGee and Me". My first taste at Art Directing. But since he was just starting and couldn't pay the union fee for that title, I was technically just a model designer. I needed experience, so I agreed to "help out" without the title. After all, who was going to give a kid out of school a title?...
Blondie and Dagwood Wedding Special
Oh. I guess, TMS would give a kid a title if they knew the right people at the right time. I was asked to Art Direct the Blondie and Dagwood Wedding Special (forgot what it was officially called). But, I had promised to help Mike start his new company and was raised never to break a promise. So, I supervised the art anyway working full time at night. But, Union regulations said an Art Director needed to be in house during the time when the people they were supervising were working. So, technically, I was a model designer again. Good experience, and I proved myself to be someone who would work hard AND be loyal = someone to definitely hire. But years later when Disney grew into an enormous machine with new executives running through the turnstile, I will regret not having titles on the resume. Strangers who don't know my reputation nor are able to judge art need words on a resume to know if you are good or should be paid.
When I was designing for 'McGee and Me' and 'Blondie and Dagwood' full time, I also took 4 mini freelance jobs because I could not say 'no' out of fear of upsetting someone. When some friends of mine told me that Disney was opening up a Development Department and asked me to apply, I gladly did since everyone knows you won't have time to do outside work if you're working for the Big D. (wink.) Mike Gabriel looked at my portfolio and let me in the door.
Since the Development Department was just starting, it was not yet organized and often had you drawing ideas for stories that we did not have the rights for. Most of my work in the beginning were on such ideas that will never see the light of day. I got to know Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale during this time and joined their team to design characters for an animated intro used at Epcot's ride "Cranium Command". My face even appeared in the show as a brain being jumped started. Very cool. I have that cell (yup, still using cells back then). I'll have to see if I can find it to post.
Disney Buffs will wonder why I am posting "Aladdin" prior to "Beauty and the Beast" when "Beauty" came to the theater first. I worked on "Aladdin" while "Beauty" was being developed by London Directors, the Perdums. "Aladdin" was still just a concept they were trying to get approved for development. A writer was working at home on the concept while Richard Vander Wende and I did some R&D all by our lonesomes. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker were still making "The Little Mermaid" and didn't take the project over until after we finished Vis Dev on "Beauty".
In Visual Development, we sometimes are given nothing but a concept and have to flesh out the idea to prove it has potential. If approved for Development, we then flesh out the story more to obtain a 'Green Light' for the film to be made. Development keeps working on the idea in Pre-Production where we tighten the ideas up for Production - the actual making of the final product. In short, Visual Development is what is referred to in the 'making of' shows as "a whole lot of Disney Magic".
Beauty and the Beast
I left poor Richard alone on "Aladdin" Development to do "Beauty" designs. When I first met Producer Don Hahn, he told me to "drop down and give me 10". So I did. He was shocked that I didn't giggle and ignore the request as most people did. I made the team well and good! Back then, Visual Development was an extension of the Story Crew. We helped to visualize the development of the story. We did not focus on Look Development like the department does now. I was part of the story crew that met with Howard Ashman in NY to hash out how we were going to make this "tale as old as time" something new and different. (My photo from this trip is used in Don's movie "WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY") I stayed on this show until pre-production began and story boarding was in full swing. I was only doing designing at this time and did not stay to do story boards. "Aladdin" was the first movie I boarded on. Most of the seasoned board artists were finishing up "Beauty" when "Aladdin" was ready to draw out story. So, Ron and John gave me a scene to do - The Princess Sneaks Off Into The Marketplace. John was shocked when I said I never boarded before. He insisted that he had seen boards I had drawn. I often drew out story concepts in beat board format for a Visual Development pitch. So, I guess that was the boarding he was thinking of when he made me an official story artist. Ed Gombert was my mentor for boarding. From then on, I started on films as a Vis Dev designer then continued on as a story artist - sometimes switching between the two.
Sue is now a Certified Gemologist by the International Gem Society! Sue became a gemologist to help better identify gems in jewelry bought and sold by the company she and her husband run, CSM Collectables. Find it on Ebay.
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My husband and I are looking for a new career to pay for the kids in college. Check it out.
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