How can I work at Disney Animation

Zoomania is one of the most successful animated films in history. What is so special about the film?

I've always loved Disney animal films and haven't been around for a long time. In addition, zoomania is something special for me personally. This is the movie that I had the most fun producing. You have to imagine it this way: I imagined a city and others built this city for me. It's kind of like a big factory that built a dream for me.

What do you like best about the film?

I like everything best (laughs). I think Judy, the main character, is great. I also really like the sloth scene - and the nudist Yax. I think the hair is great!

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Was there anything that you enjoyed the most while developing it?

There were more difficult and easier things. Some things that I thought were great didn't make it into the film. For example, we designed a huge amusement park for animals. I had the most fun when you had to empathize with the animals and think about what these animals would like best. That was the case with the rabbit houses, for example.

You work for Walt Disney now. How did you get this far

I saw The Jungle Book as a kid and have been crazy about cartoons ever since. I already knew then that I wanted to do something like that later. When I finished my community service, the first part of Werner came out. I just went to the studio and said: [pullquote] I'll do everything! How can I start with you guys? [/ Pullquote] That was the cartoon production company TFC Trickompany. At that time it was the only animation studio in Germany. We produced Werner. I've worked my way up. In the beginning I always cleaned up, then I took part in productions and in the end I was a background painter. After that I studied in Ireland because there was the only university with a focus on animation. There are now many more of them, for example in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart. After graduating, I worked for years. I'm back to the company in Hamburg. They sent me to Seoul for the Ottifanten. After that I worked in Canada and Denmark. There are just not productions everywhere, so you always have to be ready to travel. After I married my wife, a Canadian, we moved to Vancouver. I was the art director of a film there. There was someone there who used to work at Disney. He thought my work was good and put me in touch with an art director at Disney. We spoke on the phone and I told him what I had been up to so far. He liked that a lot, but it still took me a while to get a job there. Timing is everything. It only worked out when I was looking for work and he had a job. I was first hired as an illustrator for three months. The three months were then extended again and again and at some point I was asked if I didn't want to make the film completely. Of course I said yes! (laughs)I've lived and worked in California for a year and a half now. This is really something very special to me.

Do you think that you need contacts in this industry in order to get ahead?

I believe contacts are important - but in a different way: It's about building a good reputation. If someone thinks your job is good, you will be recommended too. Sometimes you have to be patient, but it's definitely worth it. I would recommend doing an internship to anyone who wants to get into the animation industry. Disney offers many internships. I know a lot of young people who were taken on after their internship or their summer job.

What about the training opportunities?

There are now good universities in Germany where you can study something related to animation. However, I think the most important thing is to get into a studio. There you learn an incredible amount in production. However, I would finish the training anyway because you can then show something when you apply. The first job doesn't have to be the best, by the way - everything develops.

How do you get from the idea to the production?

At the very beginning there is a very free phase. I talk to the director and he tells me a little bit of the story. Then I have two weeks to think of something about it. Then I keep meeting the director, getting feedback and moving on. It goes on for a while, until the story is finished and you have enough pictures to know what the world should look like. And then suddenly hundreds of people are working on the story. Everyone is on a different team in which the tasks are distributed. It's a bit like acting: I know what someone is particularly good at and what the other person likes. As an art director, I help my team. When I'm satisfied, I pass everything on to the director and producer. Then it goes into modeling, where everything is built with the help of computers. The look department will later deal with colors, plants and surfaces, among other things. For the effects, for example, the clouds are added. At the same time, the animation takes care of the characters. When the whole departments have been covered, the lighting comes into play, the sound comes in - and we're done.

Which do you like better: drawing by hand or drawing on the computer?

I am a fan of hand drawings. Maybe that's because I'm so old.(laughs) I really enjoy drawing on paper. So I can bring in more feeling. Most of them now draw on tablets. It's probably all a matter of getting used to. You can realize yourself anywhere - even in tone, if you want.

What do you have to be able to do to work in animation?

You should be able to draw. But that will come with time. At first I wasn't that talented either, but after a hundred thousand hours you can. It is important for animators to have a good sense of humor and to be able to act - not with your body but in your head. You can learn the technical, but you have to have the talent to entertain. Creativity is of course important - but you also need a lot of persistence. Animation is very tedious. You work a lot on little things and improve, improve, improve. This means that you sometimes have long working days and it also takes a long time to see a result. I think it's very important that you don't mind that.

Is there a chance for career changers?

In any case. You don't have to be an animator to work in animation. There are effects animators, there are people who build backgrounds - there are so many little niches. I know architects who are now animators. There are also many jobs for computer scientists. A third of all people are busy writing the programs. You just have to think about what you would particularly enjoy - and then that's the right thing to do.ZOOMANIA has been available on DVD and Blu-ray since July 14, 2016.