Go With Your Gut

Here is a letter written by Jeff Joe, Senior Character Animator at PDI/ DreamWorks Animation.

Joe’s feature film credits include Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, Megamind, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, Bee Movie, Shrek the Third, Over the Hedge, Madagascar, Shrek 2, Ice Age, Mousehunt and A Simple Wish.


PDI/ DreamWorks

April 10, 2011

Dear Mr. Downs,

Thank you for this opportunity for me to tell my story on how I got started in the animation industry.

I currently work at PDI/ DreamWorks in Redwood City, CA. Each day as I sit down at my desk, I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. If you asked me 20 years ago what I would be doing, I would never have guessed I’d be making cartoons for a living and getting paid for it.

Having talked with my fellow co-workers, I realize that each one had a different way of breaking into the industry. I came to the conclusion that there is no cookie cutter way of doing it- the only thing is to follow your gut and never let go of that which really makes you happy.

Me? What really makes me happy is movies. Watching movies, making home movies, collecting movie-related things…and I also have always loved drawing. Not that I was ever good at either, but these two passions kept me thriving. But how do you make a living doing these things? Who knew that you could actually marry these two passions and get…animation?

I certainly had no clue. And I certainly didn’t have the guts to tell my parents that I wanted to have a career out of either of these passions. For me, the career path was going to be…pre-law. Because law school was the “safe” choice. But if you ever met me, you’d quickly realize I’m anything BUT the litigating, lawyering type. I’m too much of a wiseguy to take any of that seriously. But I didn’t tell my parents. For all they cared, I was a good boy, taking all the necessary pre-law, political courses that my college offered.

Then, in 1993, my Senior year, when I’m supposed to have started applying for law school, JURASSIC PARK came out. It blew my mind. It wouldn’t surprise me if I actually cut class to see this (I cut class a lot in pre-law). CGI was in such an infantile stage at that point. But I knew THAT’S what I wanted to do for a living.

So I researched computer animation schools and found one, The School of Visual Arts (SVA), in New York City, that offered an M.F.A. (Masters of Fine Arts) in computer arts in two years. I swallowed hard and asked my parents if I could apply to this school. Just as long as I got into one law school. To my surprise, they let me go through with it.

I started this new path in 1994 and since then, I never looked back. My instructors at SVA were also animation supervisors and founders at Blue Sky Studios in New York, and they’re the ones who gave me my first break.

My point is- go with your gut, ’cause you never know what life will bring you.

-Jeff Joe

Don’t Give Up!

Here is a letter written by Aaron Hartline, animator at Pixar Animation Studios.

Hartline’s feature film credits include Brave, Cars 2, Toy Story 3, UP, Ice Age 1-3, Horton Hears a Who and Robots. You can check out his blog, and his Daily Post-it doodles. You can also follow him on Twitter @TheDailyPostit.

Read what Hartline has to say about the letter on his blog after it was featured on the Letters of Note website.

This is the letter that not only encouraged me to follow my dreams of becoming an animator, but also inspired me to start this project as well.


Hi Willie –

Thank you for the kind words! Reading your letter, all I could think was DON’T GIVE UP! If you really love it, then don’t let anyone tell you it’s too hard, that you will fail.

When I took a tour at Disney right out of Highschool, I showed the tour guide/animator my work. She said ‘It’s easier to get a job as a professional basketball player than getting a animator position at Walt Disney Studios‘. My mom said ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ I was so angry. So motivated. I knew if I worked hard that one day..some day..I could do it! Took me 14 years of trying but it happened.

You can do it Willie!!

Work hard and really want it!

Check out www.animationmentor.com. I teach there. It’s a great school w teachers who are professional working animators at the major studios.

Hope to be working with you one day.



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