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

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:


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.


Dale L. Baer

Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Animation

Better Days Ahead

Here is a letter written by Ruben Aquino, Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Aquino’s feature film credits include Winnie the Pooh, The Princess and the Frog, Meet the Robinsons, Tarzan, Mulan, Pocahontas, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid.


October 4, 2011

Dear aspiring animator,

I am writing to share some of my experiences early in my animation career.

Unlike many of my colleagues who knew they wanted to be animators since their childhood or teen years, I did not aspire to a career in animation until I was in my late 20′s…

My major in college was architecture (I loved drawing cartoons as a child, but never even considered that as a viable profession..my dad encouraged me to be an architect instead); unfortunately, I graduated in the middle of a recession (in 1975), and I couldn’t find a job (builders weren’t building, and architects weren’t hiring)….

So…I switched careers and worked as a graphic artist (at a print shop in Honolulu, Hawaii); the job was not very creative or satisfying, but I kept at it for 4 years….

In 1979, I heard about an available trainee position at a small animation studio (also in Honolulu). I had absolutely no prior animation experience, but I decided to apply anyway. I did a short animation test (my first animation ever..of a humanoid/ frog creature jumping), which the owners liked, and I got the job!! It was a very small studio (only 5-6 people), so I wound up doing a lot of different things (inbetweening, animating, clean-up, layout, test camera, ink & paint, etc.)– it was a great way to learn all aspects of making an animated film. The pay was not great, but I was having the time of my life!!

The following year, I moved to Los Angeles, and got a job at Hanna-Barbera studios (in visual development, character design, & layout). I was laid off after about a year (along with many of my colleagues), but was able to get into the clean-up training program at Walt Disney Animation Studios several months later (in February, 1982).

Soon after I completed my clean-up training at Disney, I worked on a 30-second animation test (of Fflewddur Fflam, from the Black Cauldron), submitted it to the review board, and was promoted to animating assistant. I’ve been animating at Disney ever since….

There were a few bumps in the road before I started my animation career at Disney, but I always worked hard to improve my artistic skills, and always looked forward to brighter days ahead!

I hope my story will be inspiring for young artists who may be experiencing a few “bumps” in their own road–I encourage you to never give up, and to keep challenging & improving yourself as artists/ animators! There will always be great opportunities in the future!!

Warmest wishes,

-Ruben Aquino

Supervising Animator, Walt Disney Animation Studios


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