Just Say “Yes”

Here is a letter written by Dale Baer, Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Baer’s feature film credits include Winnie the Pooh, The Princess and the Frog, Meet the Robinsons, Tarzan, The Lion King, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Rescuers, and Robin Hood to name a few. Be sure to check out his website to see some of his work. For more inspiration, you should make your way over to The Animation Podcast, and listen to the two-part interview with Baer.

Listen to Baer read his letter on air with KCRW’s the Business:

Transcript:

To All Aspiring Animators-

Personally I have wanted to be an animator, specifically for Disney, since I was 8 years old. I never got any encouragement from my family, so it was just a dream I had tucked away. I tried to do all the things that would make them happy as far as my future was concerned but my heart was never in it. When I was sixteen years old my father passed away. He had left me some V.A. money which sat in the bank till I got out of high school. And during that time my grandmother also passed away leaving me with another small inheritance.

So when I got out of high school I decided to try and go to art school, Chouinard to be exact. That was a struggle. Mainly because I wasn’t as good as I wished I was, but I got in just the same. Drawing has always been a bit of a struggle for me, but animation has always been my first love. And I wanted it bad enough to get over most hurdles . Which is true about anything you want bad enough.

Even after finally getting into the business, you always find people that are better than you in certain ways, but that’s good because it pushes you to try harder. This is something that will never go away. And the more popular this medium gets, the more people will be coming in, and the more competition you’ll be up against. You need to take advantage of that situation and learn from these people to better yourself. There will be some projects where you’ll shine, and others where they’ll shine. But bottom line if you work hard, keep a good and positive attitude and produce the amount of work that will make the bookkeepers happy, then you’ll do just fine.

The bottom line is to learn as much as you can. Keep up with changing technology, be enthusiastic and be the kind of person people want to work with. Be flexible. Take on challenges. Don’t complain about doing things three or four different ways, it’s all about the process and fine tuning.

There’s always going to be ups and downs in this business. It’s all a matter of riding those waves the best you can. Sometimes it’s a good idea to venture out and away from one studio and go to another to learn a different approach to doing things, be it time schedules, drawing styles, computer software and working with new people. It all boils down to your attitude and your desire to do this. No big secrets.

One of the things that always worked for me was to just say “yes” to what ever came along. You may or may not succeed at everything, but you don’t know till you try. Plus some of those things you say “yes” to may lead to something even greater than you could have ever imagined.

I’ve been doing this now for 41 years come this August, and it’s been the greatest adventure. From Saturday morning cartoons, TV specials, commercials, featurettes to features. And I haven’t gotten tired of it yet.

Sincerely,

Dale L. Baer

Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Animation

Comments

  1. Well said Dale. The same is true of illustration.

  2. Thanks, Dale. You’re words bring me confidence that all this effort (never ends, but) pays off. What an inspiration!

  3. Hi everyone,

    Dale Baer will be answering questions left here in the comments section on Sunday, September 16th, 2012, at about 8 a.m., PDT. Be sure to leave your questions for him here before that time and he will try to respond to as many as he can. Enjoy!

  4. Hi Dale! Thanks very much for your letter, wise words to live by and very heartening.

    I actually have two questions. I’ve heard that animation is a very networking-heavy industry, and while I have no problem with talking to people, I’m never quite sure what to say, especially since I’m just starting out! I don’t really know how to sell myself to a potential employer, whether I talk to them through a cover letter, a meeting at a con, or during a job interview. Do you have any tips?

    Second, what do you do on those days when ideas for a shot just aren’t coming to you, especially if you’re in the studio and on the clock? I haven’t had to deal with a block on the job yet, but the thought is pretty scary.

    Thanks for your time!

    • Hello Jenny
      Well to start off with, this whole business is networking. But I’m not good at it either. Fortunately it’s your work that will sell you more than what you say. And time and experience will take care of that down the road. If you happen to meet people somewhere, arrange to show them what you can do. You can have the best opening lines and dialogue in the world, but if you can’t deliver the goods then it doesn’t do you any good. And actually, when you’re talking to people and they’re looking for someone to do a project for them, you know the converstion will be a creative one. Talking about what they’re looking for or hoping for. It doesn’t really matter how long someone’s been doing this that counts. It’s whether or not you have what they want. And there’s always going to be little bumps in the road getting there too. But that’s what it’s always like working with someone new, and learning what they want. Sometimes you may not agree, but you are offering a service, and it’s important to make them happy. So keep that in mind too. I know it’s not something you asked for, but there it is anyway.
      And as far as mental blocks, all the greats use to have them. It usually happens early on on a project when there’s no pressure. But don’t worry, when quotas are expected and deadlines have to be met, it’s amazing what you can do when you’re under the gun. It’s just part of the creative process. It’s what happens even when you’re on the clock. You just need to get up and walk away. Go talk to people. Anything. It’ll come to you. Hope I said something that answers your questions. If not, let me know and I’ll take another stab at it. Take care.

      Dale

      • Thank you! Actually, that helped a lot. Your suggestion of showing what I can do at a meeting seems like the most obvious thing in the world and yet it never occurred to me somehow.

        Your suggestion on what to do with a block was also very helpful, as I tend to stay at my desk and fret when I get one. I’ll definitely be trying out all your tips in the future!

  5. Hey Dale. Again, great letter! So what would you say to an animator who got his first job on Alvin & The Chipmunks 3… really blossomed as an animator, finished his contract, and hasn’t been in a studio since – for over a year? I’ve had some freelance gigs, done tons of personal animation, and am now working on a comic picture book. People keep suggesting I get a day job (that pays more than unemployment), but I feel in my core that I need to keep pursuing this dream of collaborating with the greats! Besides, I’ve had so many places considering me that I KNOW opportunity must be around the corner …

    I imagine that in all your experience, you have some wisdom that will help shed light on my situation. Thank you for your time and I’ll look forward to hearing your advice!

    • Hello Imwiser
      My gosh, my first job was on the Jerry Lewis show for Filmation for Saturday morning cartoons in 1970. There’s nothing wrong with that stuff. I’d say just do what you have to do. If you can live on unemployment, all the more power to you. You’ll figure things out, and you’ll know when the right ting comes along. Some people like to squash dreams that other people have. Might be jealousy, not sure. Just do what’s right for you. I never had any support from my family when I started out. Tried to do things that would make them happy but not me. Then circumstances changed, and a door opened, so I took it, and haven’t regretted a thing since. You’ll know what to do.
      Hope this helped some. Take care.

      Dale

      • This definitely helps! You’ve reminded me that at each times I’ve had success in at the past, I felt strongly “what to do”, did it, and enjoyed the fruits of my labors. Those dream squashers always come around, but people like you and I will succeed regardless! Thanks, Dale. So much.

  6. NOW I UNDERSTAND

  7. Mr Baer, i want to publicly say that you have been the most important art influence in my life. It was a dream come true to have worked for you at your studio back in 1990-92.I always keep you in my mind,heart and prayers .Hope you write a book, open your own studio again (and hire me,please). I send you my gratitude and my blessings. I wish to see you producing your own features.I believe ,as you do, that traditional animation is an eternal passion God placed in our hearts, it never ends.I hope Hollywood producers realize that people STILL love good animation as yours ,and when the product is excellent, people keep buying it. BIG HUGS to you, boss! Thanks for giving me the chance to work for you,even though i was a young kid from Mexico that just wanted to become a Disney animator.Thanks for the confidence, thanks for keeping on encouraging new talent to pursue their dream as you did with me. Alejandro Reyes

    • Hello Alejandro
      Thank you sir. Those were good days. I know I miss them. I hope you and your family are all well and happy. Please take care.

      Dale

  8. Nataly Verdugo says:

    Thank you so much for your wise words Mr Dale… I almost cried!
    But.. What did you family think about your dream before? Did they support you? How did you know that it was your passion?

    I’ve been thinking about this for months about me… I’ve problems about studyin’ animation, I’m from Chile, a place where Animation is a really new field and where art doesn’t earn like there in USA or Canadá or many other countries with a very good and big field like Animation…

    How was for you studyin’ animation? How was your university? Did you have friend that followed you? How many friends from your childhood did you know that used to draw with good skills?

    I’ve been really sad lately, I’m the unique in my school that really draws stuff, it’s interested in animation, and unfortunatly… My family don’t support me at all… They want me to become something that I don’t really want to do! They prefer money than anything before… i just wanna follow my heart… But studyin’ here in Chile isn’t that good, we’ve got few animation studios, plus, the universities here don’t look at you with portofolios, if you have money, you can study it! That’s how everything works here, plus, people isn’t that interested like me, i’ve seen many people studyin’ arts, illustration or animation just to learn how to draw, while there in USA you’ve to learn that before than studyin’ animation…
    One of my dreams is become an artist for Disney Animation Studios, but I need to wait… Wait until I get a major done, money, and then I could do anything… Plus, getting the greencard for USA isn’t that easy, even the visa is hard to get…

    What would’ve happened if your family didn’t want you to become an animator? What you’ve done for that?

    I don’t know what to do, I’m really hopeless everyday, more sad and sad, plus my heart and skills are only for cartoons, and i’ll become 18 this 15th of September… I know i’m kind of young yet, i’ve a life to see new experiences and many stuff! But I’m really hopeless… hearing everyday from your family or people that you’ll be an starving artist…. I don’t know what to do…

    What was the worst moment of your animation career in your whole life? How did Disney contact you?
    How did you know that you were ready for being an amazing animator?
    I’ve seen your portofolio’s website so many times… You’re one of my inspirations, I’ve seen many stuff done by yourself since I was just a small little girl that used to draw random stuff!

    Are you happy?
    Have you ever wanted to give yourself up?

    Right now… I wish I could tell to my family, my parents, that I’ll try to be succesfull… I just wanna make my dreams come true… I practice everyday, I’ve done many drawings, so many that i can’t remember since when i started to draw, I’ve always wanted to become an animator, I’ve given my try in Flash, I know how to do small stuff, but not studyin’ in an university will make my family really mad at me…

    I’m really sorry if I disturbed you writting you this, but it was my chance, my chance to read something from someone that have more experience than anyone that I know, and i guess that you’ll answer me… I hope so…
    I wish I could show you any drawing from me right now, but I don’t wanna disturb you anymore…

    Many thanks for your really wise words! I’ll keep them in my mind everyday that i see somethin coming.

    Also, any tips? Tutorials? Anything? I wanna learn more! Everyday I wanna do more stuff and stuff and draw whatever, I’m always doing life style doodles and drawings in my school classes (I’m not in an art school, but I try to give a time to art everyday).

    Thanks again!
    (I’m sorry for the BIG comment! haha!)

    Greetings from Chile.

    • Hi
      I wanted to answer you sooner than Sunday. Don’t be sad. My family didn’t support me either. And I tried to do something that would make my father happy. But he sadly died when I was sixteen, so I really didn’t have him to stop me anymore. Just know you will always have this passion with you. Think about this. There are and were a number of artists that do films for themselves, and go on to be quite famous. You may have some obstacles right now, but they shouldn’t stop you completely from what you want to do. If there are small animation studios in Chilie, try getting a part time job there just to learn. They may not be a Disney, but you’ll get something out of it. I know there are some tutorials and classes on line. I don’t know if you’ll get them in your country, but I would search them out. Try and find some examples of independant films if you can, and you’ll see what I mean as far as creativity, probably more than you’ll find even in a company like Disney. And if you have to do a job to earn money and make everybody in your family happy, then so be it. You can always do your animation on your own time. Don’t let these things get you down. My mother was afraid I’d starve in an attic somewhere too. And I was the only kid who drew in school as well. Just do the things you feel you have to do to get where you want to go. You are young, you have your whole life ahead of you. Plus you never know where one thing or another is going to lead to. Just be happy that you have something you love, and do it when you can. You may have to be realistic about practical things in order to survive out there, but some of that may help pay for your films or equipment or lessons. You may not have the luxuries we have here in the states, but it’s not a total lost cause for you. As far as my education, I went to Chouinard Art Institute which taught animation. And when I started in the business it was at a small studio too, doing TV shows for Saturday morning kids shows. And fortunately Disney was starting a training program which I was able to get into. So I would suggest to you, to look around for any opportunity that might come up no matter how small. And do learn, if you can, computer animation and all the other tools that are out there. It will just make you more valuable to someone the more you know. I even did Layout and Storyboards. All of it helps, even in your animation. They all go hand in hand. Just try and be positive. This business always has ups and downs in it. Some jobs pay better than others. But if you love doing it, it won’t matter. And as far as my worst moment in my career, I was fired off a film. But it was a film I wasn’t enjoying being on any way. Plus there were times when the business was at one of its low points that I was thinking of doing something else, but then things picked up and all was well. You might even be able to do small pieces of animation for companies or TV stations, things like that. I don’t know if I’ve helped you or not. If the desire is there inside you, you’ll make things happen. That’s how all successful people get to where they want to go. They don’t wait around for someone to hand it to them, they make it happen themselves. You may need to do the same thing. Don’t forget, Nothing is impossible. That’s what Walt Disney said. I wish you all my best, and have a very happy birthday. Take care.

      Dale

  9. Hi Dale! Thanks very much for your letter…

    i plan to do masters in animation next year. from my childhood onwards i always wanted to be an animator in studios like disney, pixar, dreamworks. in my country there is no proper place or facilities to teach animation. some times it is outdated methods they having. i want to learn more in animation from basics onwards to continue improving my knowledge and shine in the industry.

    my question in what about the job oppurtunities and need for an animator in studios like disney, pixar etc in coming years? what are the skills need to be developed?

    i just have a doubt few peoples says concentrate in visual effects and in digital effects area instead of animation. but i like to be an animator than vfx artist. help me to clear this doubt ?

    • Hello Karthikeyan
      Not sure if you’re wanting to be a CG animator or Traditional 2D animator, but so many artist over the years have basically worked with what they had available to them. It’s not so much the equipment that makes what you do entertaining, it’s what you put into it that gives it its worth. Granted, the best possible equipment is going to give you the best look to the product, but if the entertaiment and heart aren’t there, then you got nothing.
      As far as places to learn, there are some online courses. Not sure if they’re available where you are, but check and see. And there are so many books out there now on animation now it’s mind boggling. When I started there was one or two tops.
      And as far as job opportunities, it’s hard to say what’s down the road. I know Dreamworks has something like 12 animated films they’re doing by 2014. I’m not sure what skills they look for in a CG animator. You could write to the studios and ask. Disney has a website for people looking for a job, and they might list what they’re looking for. I’m sure Dreamworks has the same thing too. But in traditional animation, it’s basic drawing skills. Figure drawing, sketches of people in various attitudes and action sketches. A lot of times you’ll be trained in certain areas, so you don’t have to come in already knowing everything, it won’t hurt though.
      And last but not least, learn as much as you can. Don’t limit yourself to just one area. Be as versatile as you can be. You will be more valuable to a company if they know you can do many things. Plus it helps you to know understand the workings of every department under you and above you to help things run smoothly. I learned Layout and Storyboarding and Clean-up in my career, and I was never in need of work because I could jump around where needed. So don’t dismiss anything that you can learn out there.
      Hope this helps you some. Take care.

      Dale

  10. Hi Dale,

    Firstly, thank you for taking the time to write your letter – it makes you guys a bit more human (not like you’re alien’s or anything, I’ve put you guys on a pedestal). I don’t think of you guys as animators but as my favourite Artist’s – what you can do with drawings is magic.

    I live in Australia, have always wanted to be a Disney Animator, but we don’t have anything like Calarts here, I’ve looked around (maybe not as much as I should) but things are different, which might be great, but I’m obsessed with what comes out of the major studios like Disney, my point is that I really wanted to study 2d animation because I want to draw – I can’t ignore the desire to learn the older style as a skill… Do you think we should all be focused on 3D animation now, learning digitally instead of the traditional styles – or it may be a waste of time? Also do you know any Australian animators who you would recommend as a reference?

    I’ve just started reading the illusion of life thoroughly again – I’m still so in-love with traditional animation. How did you feel about the transition from 2d to 3d animation and about what’s being made today, being in the industry?

    Do you work on your own projects as well? Would you ever go into Directing?

    You probably get a lot of the same questions, so thanks for reading this.
    Kind regards,
    Jasmine

    • Hello Jasmine
      I had the same feeling about animators, especially at Disney, when I was in school dreaming of doing this. And back then, the 1960’s, you had no way of talking to those guys. In fact, when I did start at Disney on the training program in 1971, I was taken upstairs to meet 6 of the 9 old men. And I said to someone, it was like going up to Mount Olympus and meeting the Gods. And we are just regular people who happen to have really cool jobs.
      As good as schools like Calarts are, to me, and this isn’t putting them down by any means, but to me you really start learning this craft once you have a job. Maybe find a small studio, and get in at the bottom, and start learning everything you can. Jerry Lewis, the comedian, wrote a book years ago called “The Total Filmmaker”, and it was about when he was doing movies as an actor, when he wasn’t on camera, he would go around and ask everybody involved in the film, what they did. He learned everyone’s talents and skills, and developed an appreciation for them, that when he went into directing, he knew how to work with them and respected them totally. There are a lot of online schools that teach 2D animation, but don’t look badly on CG animation. You basically use the same skills, just a keyboard instead of a pencil. So don’t close your mind to it. Study both if you can, it will just make you more valuable to someone out there. I learned it, and it’s quite challenging. Alot of CG animators out there don’t really have 2D skills. They’re great at what they do, but 2D animators have a weird way of looking at things, that we can sometimes add something to CG that was never done before. That’s why I think so much CG animation is looking more like 2D. Basically, learn all you can. Learn Layout, learn Storyboarding, learn as much as you can. Ask questions of people in the business. We love to share. At least I do.
      And no, I don’t do any projects on my own. And I did direct commercials, and I did direct the L.A. unit on Roger Rabbit, but these days it takes your every waking hour, and your life is the studio’s. So no, I don’t think I would want to direct, unless it’s commercials again.
      Oh, I almost forgot to answer your one question. I don’t know any Australian animators, that’s not to say there aren’t any here at the studio, but Disney and I’m sure other studios in town, are so international now. There are people from all over, right here under this one roof. Anyway, I hope I helped you out here some. I wish you all my best in your adventure. Take care.

      Dale

  11. Hello,

    First of all, thanks a lot for taking the time to do this, I really appreciate it, even if you don’t answer my post. I feel like everyone else has got such great answers already.
    I’m a Finnish High school student very interested in pursuing a career in animation. I’ve sort of come into character animation through a more unusual path, I started with video editing and later moved on to motion graphics, but I felt it lacked story-telling, so I decided to try character animation in After Effects and fell in love with it, I never thought it was possible for us mortals to have work of this kind, but I decided to have a go at it and have been in love ever since.

    I have a similar problem like most people who’ve posted here, not having any proper animation schools in my country. I’ve managed to somewhat convince my parents about animation studies. I think this is a problem for most people when starting out, unless their parents are in the creative field, I basically played soccer for nine years, because it was my dad’s dream when he was young and he pushed me towards it until I finally quit and he also wanted me to work in mathematics. I think he still believes that I’ll suddenly change my mind and jump right into it. I think if you stand up to yourself and show them how much you want something, they’ll support you. I guess it’s just the old belief that artists will starve. I’d like to tell my parents it won’t happen, but you never know.

    The problem I have is that schools in Finland are paid for through taxes, which means it isn’t expected to have to pay any tuition fees. Did you have any trouble with paying for college, you mentioned you got some money through inheritance, was it enough to pay for the school? Plus, I’m wondering on how important is it to go to college. Nowadays, there seems to be a lot of resources for learning animation, which are fairly cheap and there are also few online animation schools, but they don’t teach drawing and other artistic things. So that’s definitely a minus. What’s your general impression of the work coming from online animation school students? I’ve seen a lot of their reels, but in my opinion many of them lack story, which is hard to show in short clips, but I feel like they’re almost all similar. I think a mentor in drawing could really help and you learn other things at school which might make you fall in love with something else in the field. Also, do you know of any great European animation schools? I don’t speak French so Gobelins and Supinfocom aren’t really alternatives. I feel a bit like a horrible son, if I leave for 3-4 years for studying in America. Plane tickets are very expensive so traveling back and forth too often isn’t an option. That’s why I’d prefer studying in Europe, but I haven’t found any information about any great schools here, except the French schools.

    As you mentioned in your letter you weren’t great at drawing, how did you improve your drawing, just practicing a lot and analyzing? The scenes I’ve seen of your work are amazing. In my case, I’ve always enjoyed drawing, but I “quit” between the 7th and 9th grade and thought I wasn’t made for drawing, because I never managed to achieve the results I wanted. I believe I was way too harsh towards myself and I still am a bit, but I’ve recently started focusing on my drawing skills again, because I think it’s a very essential part of the artform and I’d love to make 2D short films in the future. You haven’t made any short films, have you? Do you think we could use computers more in conjunction with 2D and combine it with 3D, just like they did in Paperman? I’m glad people are experimenting with different rendering styles in 3D to make it look more artistic and not as realistic. This is mostly in short films though, I wish they would do the same in terms of feature films.

    Thought I’ll ask some random questions here at the end to clutter it up even more, just in case my English doesn’t clutter it up enough already. Have you done any 2D special effects animation, if you have, what did you think of it? Which of the films you’ve worked on was the most fun to animate on and why? Did you have a lot of trouble learning 3D? I certainly thought I was going to stay within After Effects and become a master character animator in it, because I was so comfortable with the software, but I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone. Do you think there should be more studios making animated feature-films or do you think the market is limited? I wish there were more studios having a go at it, but I feel like the views per film would either spread out between the new films or the new studios would have a hard time because everyone prefers Disney and Pixar, which could essentially be problematic for studios trying to get into feature-film animation.

    Thanks to both Willie and you for taking the time to organize this great opportunity and thanks for writing the inspirational letter. Hopefully the wall of text didn’t bother you too much. :)

    Cheers,
    Jonathan

    • Hello Jonathan
      I’ll do my best to answer all your questions. Forgive me if I miss one or two. As far as the online schools, there are a few animators from Disney that teach on those. Not sure if they still are or not, but I think they’re as good as any art school. Because to tell you the truth, you don’t really learn till you’re on the job, which, of course, means starting at the bottom and working your way up the ladder. Don’t think that just because you come out of a good art school that you’ll take the world of animation by storm. So, if that’s all you have available to you, take it. It’s better than nothing.
      You don’t think that if you went to France to study, you wouldn’t find people who speak english? We used France on one job I was on and communication was just fine. You should at least investigate it. And with the mentoring program they have here at the studio, I know you get paid, and some of the mentees get an apartment together during their stint.
      As far as my drawing skills, I was very tight with my drawing, so I had to take qualifying drawing at Chouinard for eight weeks to learn how to loosen up. But if drawing isn’t your strenghth, don’t sweat it, because most CG animators aren’t strong in drawing. Some don’t draw. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Jason Ryan, but he was one guy that wanted to animate so badly, but his drawing skills weren’t strong enough. Then he discovered CG, and was on his way. He also has an online course he teaches, so you should check him out.
      I think they are going to do other things like Paperman, but haven’t heard, but as successful as it is, I can’t see them not.
      I’ve never done 2D effects, that’s an art form that still amazes me. And, pretty much, all the films I’ve worked on have had their challenges. They’re all different, but the one that I’m most fond of was Roger Rabbit. And learning CG was difficult for me because I never grew up with a computer like kids do today. But at the time I was learning CG, 2D was pretty much dead at the studio. They said we’re not doing it anymore, so we didn’t have much choice. But I’m gald I did. It’s not easy for me like most, but I manage. Haven’t done it in a while, but it’s like riding a bicycle.
      And as far as more studios doing animation. You already have Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks. And Dreamworks has a hugh list that they’re going to do. I think there’s enough out there as it is, unfortunately it’s all CG. That’s where I wish it would change.
      But try and learn every form of animation tools out there. It just makes you more valuable to companies, and you’re still animating, you’re still putting life into a character. You just don’t know where things are going, so you might as well be prepared. Learn storyboarding too, it’s a fun job as well.
      Anyway, I hope I answered all your questions. If I didn’t I apologize. Write me again if you wish, with whatever I missed. Please take care, and I wish you all my best.

      Dale

  12. Hi Mr. Baer,

    I am so thankful that you said “yes” when I asked you if you could answer questions because your responses came at just the right time for me. Though I never really thought about how your responses to other people’s questions could impact me, when I started reading some of your responses, it gave me so much encouragement, hope, and motivation to not give up. I have been very discouraged as an animator over the past few weeks, and the timing of your words were perfect.

    I am currently a student at Animation Mentor, learning CG character animation; and though I have a passion for animation, I find that at times, I get so discouraged by my lack of progression as an animator that I find myself giving up and not trying as hard as I should. I passed my body mechanics class, just barely, and then moved onto an introduction to acting class where I struggled the whole way through with body mechanics. At the end of the course, I felt like I had improved a lot, but it wasn’t enough, and my mentor felt like I was still lacking significantly in my understanding of body mechanics. He felt like he would be hurting me by sending me on to advanced acting, so he failed me and didn’t allow me to move on. It was a huge blow to the gut for me, because I see everyone else moving on to the next class, and see other friends graduating and I want to graduate too. I want to start working at a studio too. I look at other students work and even work on the big screen and see the vast difference in it and my work…I want my work to look amazing and to be able to get a job at an amazing studio like Disney some day but feel like I am stuck in place with my skills and not progressing enough…I am stuck at body mechanics. Why can’t I just understand this stuff like everyone else that is pumping out awesome animation?

    Once I realized that I was not moving on to the next class, I took a long hard look at myself and where I am as an animator. I decided that it would be best for me to go back and retake the body mechanics class that I already passed, in order to get a better understanding of it…even though that means I am adding on about another year of schooling, which stinks. As much as I want to graduate though, I don’t want to graduate JUST for the sake of graduating, if my skills are not where they need to be and I can’t get a job. If I am going to graduate, and I know I will eventually, I want to know that I completely understand what I am doing and feel confident enough in my skills that I would feel like an asset to a company. It’s been very tough for me and you could say it’s been an emotional roller coaster for me the past week trying to figure out what to do with my life.

    I know I have been rambling on about a lot of stuff, but I guess what I want to ask you is if you have ever experienced this same kind of feeling…the feeling that you are not any good as an animator? That everyone else is better than you. The feeling that you are stuck and not progressing in your skills as an animator as fast as you feel like you should be. Also, what advise would you give for someone struggling with body mechanics? What should I do in order to get a better grasp on it? I am determined to understand body mechanics and understand how to implement it into my work by the time I finish this class that starts on Monday. I am cutting my full time job down to part time (and live off of peanut butter) to have more time to focus on my school work, and I’m going to put 110% into the next 12 weeks…I want to make it count so it can set me up for success for the remaining year of school and beyond.

    Thanks again so much for taking the time to answer these questions Mr. Baer. I feel blessed to be able to get insight from such an amazing animator who animated on the films I watched over and over again as a child.

    • Hello Willie
      I had to look up the term “Body Mechanics” because I never heard it before. It’s obviously a CG term. But it’s no different than the things you would do with a characters body in 2D or the thought you would put into a figure drawing or just sketching. It’s thinking of the character’s attitude and what you are trying to convey to the audience through the character’s mood and attitude. But that aside. People learn at different speeds, and you can’t compare yourself to them. Some things come easier to others than maybe yourself. The trick is, don’t give up. Nothing has ever been easy for me either. Maybe that’s why I’ve stayed with it so long. It’s a constant learning process. I’ve seen people who just breeze through things, and I think they eventually get bored with it, and move on to other things. If you look back on animation history, there are animators who just were’nt strong enough to be a “Disney” animator, but found success in other studios, or producing their own films. And CG animation is not easy to learn. I forget how long I was in training for CG, but I thought I was never going to get it. And, like art school, you don’t really start to understand it till you’re put into a job situation, with footage requirements and deadlines. Plus you’re actually doing a character that’s acting and doing something with a purpose, not just an exercise. Don’t get me wrong, all that training is important, but you may find yourself more apt to figure things out in a working situation, I don’t know. Don’t think of going back into this class as a failure. It might be just what you need to “Get it”. Don’t worry about the other people, just concern yourself with you, and what it’s going to take to learn what you have to learn. You may fnd yourself better at one type of animation over another.
      My mentor, John Lounsbery, was given some animation to do on the woman in Aristocats, which was Milt Kahls character. Well he took it, and tried to do the scenes, and he finally took them back to the director and said “I can’t do these.” The character was just too subtle for Lounsbery’s type of animation. You have to give yourself time to find where your strengths are. And the only way you’re going to find that out is to try everything. Look back into history at Disney with Norm Ferguson and Fred Moore. These guys didn’t come out of art school, but were naturals in what they did. But then the guys coming into the studio that did have art training, pushed those two out of their positions at the studio. Granted it was a different time, and the competition wasn’t as fierce as it is now, but you have to be the one to learn everything you can, whether you’ll be good at it or not, but have a knowledge for as many things as you can. You may discover something out there you never thought existed. I’m sorry, I feel like I’m rambling now.
      I had Don Graham as my composition teacher at Chouinard, and he was one of these guys that could look at a students work, and tell them they’re going into the wrong major. The one’s who took his advice did well, and the one’ s who didn’t, I don’t know what happened to them. I don’t know Willie, I guess I’m trying to say don’t be so hard on yourself. When you get into this business, it’s going to be the same. You’ll have people better than you, and you’ll have people that aren’t as good as you. Those are the ones you help. And the one’s better than you, pick their brains. Learn from them as long as they’re willing to teach you. The learning is never going to stop, especially the subject of “Patience”. That’s the hardest one to pass. You’re also going to be up against deadlines, so you’ll always wish you had done this or that with that scene. So you learn from that and try to do it the next time. But it’s going to be the same thing over and over. But it’s going to push you personally, and you’ll get use to it. School is just to get you ready for the real world. It’s not to make you a master at the craft. That’s going to take another 40 or 50 years if you’re lucky. Just enjoy the process. Learn as much as “You” can with each film or project. Don’t compete with everybody. It’ll just frustrate you to no end. Just push yourself and your own abilities, and your own personal growth in what you do.
      Willie, I don’t know if I helped you any here. If you have anything more to ask me, please do. And that goes for everybody that wrote in here. I’ve been doing this 42 years now, but I haven’t forgotten what it was like wanting to get here. So please, if I missed anything just say so and I’ll do my best to, hopefully, give you or anyone else an answer. Take care.

      Dale

      • Hi Dale,
        Your experiences and advice are so encouraging to me, so thank you very much. I forget that amazing animators such as yourself also struggled, but it took lots of hard work and determination…and above all else, not giving up! I am going to stay at it and give it my all, because I know I will get this stuff down and that it will all be so worth it when I do. Please don’t apologize for rambling…I don’t see it as rambling at all, you are speaking from experience, wise words from years of animating, and I am gaining so much from what you have said. Thanks again for taking the time to answer everyone’s questions, as well as my own. You’ve been incredibly gracious and kind.

  13. Hey Dale. Im applying to CalArts this fall for Character Animation. I really don’t have any problems applying to the school aside from money. The tuition is crazy high but Im extremely lucky to have supportive parents, we however don’t have much. If I get accepted I’ll probably have to take some huge loans. Do you think a CalArts education is worth the debt? I know there are other options for animation schools, but Im quiet settled to going to CalArts.

    • Hi Jon, I don’t want to take away from Dale responding, but are you interested in traditional or CG animation? I never went to CalArts so I can’t speak for them, but if you are wanting to do CG animation, then I highly encourage you to check out http://www.animationmentor.com, if you haven’t already. I go there, and they are an amazing online animation school for way less money than you would pay at a traditional 4 year university. Not to mention, you get to learn from industry professionals currently working at the major studios. Definitely worth a look.

      • Hey Willie, Im actually interested in both. I also want to learn and explore other aspects of animation, such as visual development and story boarding. Also, I feel that learning 2d animation mechanics first will help me with 3d. I’ve heard great things about AnimationMentor, but I think they just teach 3d animation. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • Hello Jon
      Do look into AnimationMentor. They might teach both. I know two or three animators from here were teaching there, they might be still. They’re traditional animators. Yes, they.ve done CG, but their love is 2D. CalArts is a good school, but the cost is ridiculous. And it’s not the only school Disney goes to to recruit talent. When we were on “Meet the Robinsons”, we did hire two students from AnimationMentor to do assistant animation, granted it was CG, but they’re both still in the business at Dreamworks.
      If we all made unbelievable money in this business, it wouldn’t be a problem paying off student loans. I’d just hate for you to get in over your head. It all boils down to how good you are, not so much where you went to learn it. There’s students applying all the time for the mentoring programs at Disney, and they’re from all over. We just look at what they have to offer. Some of the schools we never heard of. Learn animation where ever you can with what you can comfortably afford. What’s important is what you show us to see if you have what it takes.
      When I went to Chouinard, they were going to phase out the animation program. Animation was at an all time low, so they didn’t think it was worth it. So they moved me into the animation program in my first year, up against 3rd year students. Plus I could only afford to go for two years with the money I got after my dad died. And honestly, and I don’t know if this is the best advice to give to someone, so take it with a grain of salt, but I never really started to learn this business till I got into it. And they were having me do things they never taught me in school. CalArts is a good school, but it’s not the only place to learn this stuff. Shop around. I don’t really know who teaches storyboard work. I have a friend who actually took a storyboard test at Nickalodeon, to try and get a job doing that. There are a lot of books out there these days to learn from, which is a start.
      I don’t know if any of this helps. I wish you all my best. I know what you’re going through. Been there, done that. Take care.

      Dale

  14. Hello Mr Dale,
    You are a great inspiration for us ,Sir what if a person like “Me” understands that i want to become an animator at the age of 31 coz i didn’t have any resources back then even in our country no sign of becoming one but now as we have latest technologies and lotz of knowledge and finally i figured out that i really want to be an animator and collected resources to learn but from where to take a start or can you plz suggest that how in some other way i take out my creativity and craze of animation ?
    I hope you’ll answer these with your smart mind and pure heart Sir,
    plz tell me the way to take myself out of rut!
    thankyou
    Tehmeena

  15. Heya i am for the first time here. I found
    this board and I find It truly useful & it helped me out much.

    I hope to give something back and aid others like you aided me.

  16. I’m only 15 years old and I finally decided to strive to become an disney animator. I don’t have alot of support in that area. I am a really good drawer many people say so. But I srewed up alot and i decided to let my grades drop. And just have fun. So now Almost no one supports me and believes im goin to ever succeed at anything. Only my boyfriend has supported me and hasn’t given up. But your letter has helped to inspire me. so Now I don’t care what anyone says. It’s my dream. Thank you.

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