Here’s the crazy thing about animation. Sorry, ONE of the crazy things about animation. As an art form, it’s in its infancy. The span of time between Gertie the Dinosaur, Mickey Mouse, Jurassic Park and Avengers: Age of Ultron is shockingly small, (100 years) compared to how long other art forms like music, painting and theatre have been around…a conservative estimate would place the birth of painting, for example, on the walls of caves 40,000 years ago. And here’s the thing. There are people alive and kicking right now who may have been too young to have been the original pioneers of this form, but they studied at the knees and stood on the shoulders of the giants of that first generation. And NOW you can hear what they, and THEIR protégés have to say. What is their take on animation, the art form, the history, the industry, the people, the highs, the lows…? The Animator Letters Project captures it all in first person accounts. A gold mine of knowledge, trivia, trash and treasure, there for the taking. If you’re just starting out in the biz or if you’re a grizzled veteran or somewhere in between, there’s something here for everyone.

-Gary Trousdale

Director, Story Artist, Plate-Spinner and Bottle Washer

If only there had been something like this when I was growing up. The people I admired in this industry seemed untouchable. Not anymore, thanks to Willie and his Animator Letters Project. Willie has brought people, who’s dream it is to get into animation, so much closer to having that dream fulfilled. And thanks to all those professionals out there who have contributed to this project. You haven’t forgotten where you came from. I hope everyone in this industry contributes to this project. Thanks again Willie for giving this opportunity to our future talent.

-Dale L. Baer

Supervising animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

For a young person contemplating how to land the coveted “dream job,” the road to the future can seem bleak, long and downright scary. That’s one of the many reasons mentors are so important. An experienced voice of reason can make all the difference in helping someone get a start in an industry, which is why I am such a fan of The Animator Letters Project. I plan to write a letter to Willie, and if you work in the animation industry, I urge you to consider participating, too.

-Brenda Chapman

Writer, director, original writer-director of Disney-Pixar’s Brave

(Source: Brenda Chapman’s blog.)

 I am always intrigued to hear other people’s life stories and even more so when it is their version of a similar journey I have made. So while it is a fantastic motivator for those starting out in the world of animation, The Animator Letters Project is a fascinating read for me too. It makes me smile or recall similar moments in my career when reading the other artists observations and shared experiences, it is a wonderful insight.

-Merlin Crossingham

Creative Director of Wallace and Gromit at Aardman Animations


When I mention The Animator Letters Project to people, the first thing everyone says is “Thatʼs a great idea! Why hasnʼt anyone done that before?” And theyʼre right. Itʼs such a simple and pure notion, how could it have gone untapped for so long? I guess weʼve just had to wait for someone as insightful as Willie Downs to come along and make it happen. Here are accessible and practical words from industry professionals that all of us can benefit from, no matter what level of experience you happen to be at. Itʼs so important that we all communicate our creative discoveries with each other and, thanks to Willie and The Animator Letters Project, we have this wonderful forum to do so.

-Steve Anderson

Director at Walt Disney Animation Studios

You know, when I went to art school in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, there were no animation schools or classes for this art form. Even now with over 720 animation programs in colleges throughout the English speaking world, most of those programs do not give any insight as to how their animation students might get into this unique industry. Your idea to bring in professional animators to write a letter to aspiring animators is truly a great concept, and will undoubtedly help give those aspiring artists some insight to how they might proceed when school is over. We should all reach out to our animation colleagues to participate in The Animator Letters Project. We all have a story of how we entered this vocation.

-Gary Goldman

Producer, Director, Animator, at Don Bluth Films, Inc.

I started in animation (pre-Who Framed Roger Rabbit) in a time when I was being told by industry insiders that I should “choose something else to do with my life if I ever wanted to be married and have kids”.  It was a dark time for animation.  I blindly pushed forward because I knew there was nothing else I could do with my life but draw for a living.  I had failed at everything else and the animation passion wouldn’t go away.  How would I have known that less than two years later, the industry would be booming and hiring like crazy?  During that time, I sure wish I had a site like “The Animator Letters Project” to go to for words of wisdom and inspiration.  We need it now as much as I needed it then.   Thank you Willie for being the guy to do it- today’s animators say “thank you”.

-Tom Bancroft

Former Disney Supervising Animator, Character Designer, Author

When I was a young student of animation the goal of a professional career just seemed so far away sometimes.  I often wondered how my idols Ollie Johnston, Freddie Moore or Chuck Jones made it to where they were.  Thanks to “The Animator Letters Project” and the work of Willie Downs there will be a new generation of animators that will have to wonder no more.  The inspiration, advice, and stories are there in every letter.  Stories just like mine.  Just start reading.

-Tony Bancroft

Former Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Who should read The Animator Letters Project?  Anyone.  Everyone.  You don’t have to care a single bit about the art of animation, these letters can be treasured by literally anyone from any walk of life who is searching for motivation.

A lot of people have dreams.  Some people follow those dreams, but they simply follow them around without actually getting any closer.  This is a collection of wisdom and journeys from people who didn’t just follow their dreams – they hunted them down, caught them, and then refused to let go.  What could be more inspiring than that?

-Shawn Kelly

Lead Animator at ILM

Co-Founder, Animation Mentor


Willie Downs has accomplished what few would dare dream–he’s gotten animators to communicate in words rather than imagery. Words of encouragement, none the less! Too often, the emphasis in the animation industry is on job openings, technology, and the competitive side of things. It’s nice to have a place for animators to share their knowledge and experience, putting industry aside for community. If you’re a professional animator, please consider contributing to The Animator Letters Project. It only takes a few minutes to hand-write a letter, but you never know who you may inspire!

-Austin Madison

Animator at Pixar Animation Studios

The Animator Letters Project is a great opportunity for seasoned animators to share, pass on knowledge gleaned along the way and express words of encouragement to younger artists and those new to the craft.

-Ron Husband

Former Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

For any budding artists dipping their toes into that vast pool known as the animation industry, The Animator Letters Project will give them that little push they need to jump right in. Willie’s Big Idea is already such a positive influence on so many young talents that it’s a no-brainer for any professional animator in the industry to contribute.

-Jeff Joe

Animator at PDI/ DreamWorks Animation Studios

I like to help others. I’m not sure if it’s still the director inside me but I like to give a little guidance and direction when I can. Words of advice have always helped me throughout my career and I jump at the opportunity to do it when I can. The Letters to Animators was a perfect way for me to do this.

-Mike Gasaway

Owner of Animflow

The Animator Letters Project is such a great and unique project!  Its inspiring for me to read about how my peers accomplished and struggled to get to where they are.  The stories being told are what we all go through, and its great to know that we are all in this together.

-Benson Shum

Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

The Animator Letters Project is such a great way of letting you connect personally to some of the best professionals in the animation industry. Seeing pen to paper really humanizes people that can otherwise seem like celebrities in the eyes of students. These letters give budding animators all over the world a way to keep going, and a way to see that they too are no different, and no less capable of becoming great animators as well. Thank you Willie for giving the animation community such an amazing resource!

-Kent Alfred

Lead Animator at Reel FX Creative Studios

There are two things that are essential in starting out on a career in the entertainment business apart from one’s own dedication and passion. One is honest, constructive criticism and advice from professionals; the other is encouragement from the people who have travelled the road before. The Animator Letters Project has plenty of both and is a valuable resource for aspiring animators.

-Andreas Wessel-Therhorn

Former Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

For me, animation was that unreachable dream that only came true for some lucky people.  I remember this fear, a tightness in my gut every time I thought about it.  I wanted so badly to become an animator, but it just seemed so impossible.  “I’m not even the best artist in my own school,” I thought.  “How can I ever hope to be an animator?” and for years, I gave up altogether.  I wish there had been something like The Animator Letters Project to give me hope and point me in the right direction.  These amazing letters from professionals in the industry will inspire and instruct up-and-comers, giving hope where, for a teenaged me, there was none.  You’re not alone, dreamer!

-Travis Howe

Animator at Industrial Light & Magic

A place where aspiring animators discover that even the best of us stumble and stutter before we strut. A place where we pick ourselves up off the floor and give it one more go. Because ‘they’ faced the same challenges. Because ‘they’ made it. A place called The Animated Letters Project.

-Rusty Gray

Animator at Digital Domain


I’ve been aware of The Animator Letters Project since its inception and have been happy to share it with my students, friends and colleagues. Willie Downs has dedicated himself to developing the project as an inspirational resource for everyone striving to reach a professional level with their skills and breaking into the animation industry. Even if you’re already in the business you can appreciate reading through the collective wisdom embodied in the motivational hand written notes that many of today’s great animation artists have contributed for the benefit of us all. Thanks very much Willie for the initiative you’ve taken to get The Animator Letters Project going and thanks to the animation professionals who’ve reached out to us with their written word, personal stories and encouragement.

-Charles Zembillas

The Animation Academy, AnimationNation.com

The history of animation is a history of mentorship. Since the days of John Bray and Winsor McCay, experienced animators have taken newcomers under their wings. Every veteran artist in our field has stories of what they have learned from “the greats”.

The Animator Letters Project brings the tradition of mentorship into the twenty-first century. The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE enthusiastically supports The Animator Letters Project.

-Steve Hulett

Business Representative, The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

If you would like to endorse The Animator Letters Project with a statement, then please email it to Willie Downs at willie@theanimatorlettersproject.com. Thank you for your support!


  1. If any of the authors of these amazing letters get to ever read this comment then I just want to say thank you. And thank you to you, Willie, too. So much. I can’t begin to describe how important this blog is to me.
    Next month I’ll start my degree in Animation Production, I’m so incredibly nervous, but these letters are what get me through the dark, doubtful moments, reminded me that I should only concentrate on having myself to compare to, driven me to want to work even harder towards this crazy goal. And I’m sure I’ll be revisiting and re-reading every letter much much more in the next few years.
    You have all assured and encouraged me that I can do this and I just simply can’t describe how much of an important imprint your words have made on me, I’ll never forget all of your advice.
    So thank you, again. Just thank you, so much.

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