Doctors for the Human Spirit


Here is a letter written by Amelia LorenzCalArts graduate, and animator at JibJab Media Inc.

Lorenz had the opportunity to go through the internship program at Pixar Animation Studios during the summer of 2011. You can watch her demo reel here.

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Dear Willie,

Animation has been an incredibly rewarding career for me, so I encourage you to go for your goals and don’t give up. I haven’t been in the industry for even a year yet, so most of my learning experience has been from school and talking with professionals in the industry. But I’d love to pass on their advice to others, since it has greatly helped me:

  • Keep it simple. This is deceptively difficult. But I find that sometimes, when something I’m working on isn’t working out, I apply this rule and it helps me approach my problem from a new, clearer perspective.
  • Work smarter, not harder. It’s tempting to stay up all night and crunch to finish a shot…and in school, at first I thought this was a necessary part of the process. But I found that it’s just counter-productive. I made sub-par work, and it took me way longer! So plan, commit, and follow-through with your schedule. Get up early. Avoid crunching cause you’re just going to crash later.
  • “Done” is better than “perfect”. This advice helps me keep things in perspective. First of all, our opinion of “perfect” can change at any time. so we could be “perfecting” something indefinitely. Secondly, what you might see as a flaw in your work could go completely unnoticed by someone else. And our goal in the end is to share our work with others, right? So shoot for something complete that others can enjoy. A complete shot or a complete short film, not necessarily a “perfect” one.

All of this advice has helped me keep both feet on the ground in a pretty wacky career. It doesn’t sound glamorous, but I found it incredibly valuable.

One other thing that I sometimes remind myself- storytelling is a way of bringing people together, and it can be a way of healing sometimes. So animators may not be like police officers or fireman or doctors, in the traditional sense, but I believe as storytellers we can be like doctors for the human spirit. We can show that the world can be beautiful, that people can learn and grow, and that life can be pretty cool. We can be like the cheer-leaders of the human race! So that makes me feel good, even though “all I do” is draw. I try to draw for good reasons. It seems like as long as I enjoy what I do, and others enjoy it too, then it’s worth it.

Good luck! Hope this helps.

Amelia Lorenz (signed)

Ask For Help


Here is a beautifully written letter by Brenda Chapman, Director at DreamWorks Animation.

Chapman’s feature film credits include Brave (co-director and writer), The Prince of Egypt (co-director), Chicken Run, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, to name a few.

On February 1st, 2012, Chapman wrote a great blog post calling all animation artists to participate in The Animator Letters Project. Read it here.

letter-to-willie-final_page_1_editLetter to Willie final pg 2_edit Letter to Willie final_Page_3_edit Letter to Willie final_Page_4_editTranscript:

Oct. 28, 2013

Dear Willie,

I’ve tried to sit down & write this so many times, but I always feel that what I’m writing either makes no sense or it’s too much. I’ve been in the animation industry for nearly 30 years…and I still feel like I have so much to learn.

When I arrived at CalArts in 1984 (after being rejected when I tried for 1983), I didn’t really have a clue.  I hadn’t been an animation geek – that is…I didn’t know who the 9 Old Men were, I had never read an animation book nor had I tried to animate or make my own film. I just loved to draw and watch Bugs Bunny cartoons after school and see the old Disney animated films in the theater. So I was behind when I started at CalArts. Most of my classmates had an idea of how to animate already. So I asked a lot of questions – and I wasn’t afraid to ask for help with things I didn’t understand. I have a deep gratitude for the patience of the teachers – and the mentoring of the upperclassman (Steve Moore, Kevin Lima, Kirk Wise, Ron Hughart & Dale Macbeth – to name a few).

I was incredibly naive. Good was good. Bad was bad. I’m still learning to cope with all the shades of gray after all these years. I went into the animation world with eyes wide, a smile on my face and a determination to do what I loved to do.

DIC was my first job working the summers while I was still at CalArts. Then I made it into Disney when I graduated in 1987.

Again, I asked a lot of questions & sought help when I was out of my depth… which was often – and still is! I was incredibly fortunate to have wonderful mentors who didn’t see me as the token woman in story (for which I was hired by the exec in charge at the time), but as a new young story artist bringing my own ideas to the game. People like Joe Ranft, Roger Allers, Ed Gombert, Vance Gerry, Gary Trousdale and Burny Mattinson. I was truly very lucky.

But the main thing that I feel I’ve had in my corner for all these years is something my mother taught me… and I didn’t even realize it until lately. She taught me resilience. She taught me to get back up when I got knocked down. Giving up was just never an option. I know it has nothing directly to do with the craft/art of animation that we all love. But it’s a way to look at life, I suppose, that helps you make it through the hard stuff and achieve whatever your passion is. Things may change direction (sometimes by choice, sometimes out of our control) – and if you’re open to it – that change could lead you to a better place. Just don’t let the direction change so much that you end up going backwards.

Ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Look for mentors from whom you can learn. Most importantly, be happy in doing what you love to do. Don’t let the struggles, the heartache or politics deter you. Look for the passion, the joy and the satisfaction of your own personal part of the bigger puzzle. Those 3 things combined with the struggle & heartache are what make us artists.

Wish you the best of luck in everything you try!

Brenda Chapman (signed)

P.S. The sad thing is, I don’t draw as much anymore – as you can tell by the little sketches. My change in direction has taken me more into writing…and I love that too!

We’re in Animation Magazine!

I am proud and honored to say that The Animator Letters Project got featured in the March 2013 issue of the prestigious animation publication, Animation Magazine!

If you are a professional animator, please consider writing a handwritten letter for this project. Find out how you can contribute here.

Special thanks to Ramin Zahed, the Editor in Chief of Animation Magazine, for supporting this project by bringing it to the attention of the animation industry.

Animation_Magazine_cropped(Scanned image via Animation Magazine with permission from the Editor in Chief, Ramin Zahed.)


Emotional Creatures

Here is a letter written by Steve Anderson, director at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Anderson’s feature film credits include Winnie the Pooh, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, and Tarzan, to name a few.

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





Artists are emotional creatures. We feel things deeply. We see the world around us, react to it and base our work off of those reactions. Our work represents ourselves. It’s us. Not just what our bodies can produce but what our minds and hearts have to say.

We want people to like what we do. If we didn’t, we’d just draw, paint, sculpt, dance, act and write in our own living room with no documentation or recording of it. But we don’t do that because we want our work to be seen. We want to express ourselves to people and, in turn, produce a reaction in them. Our emotions create the art and our art creates emotions.

But there are days when our emotions get the best of us. They let us down. They didn’t give us the strength and motivation that we need when we’re discouraged or struggling. They convince us that we are “no good”. That we have no talent. Or that the talent we do have us not as much as, or as good as, the talent of another person.

Ultimately, the struggles that we have- the creative blocks we all face- come from comparing ourselves to others. I’m not as good as that person. I’m not as successful as that person. That person is at the level I want to be at and I don’t have it in me to get there. I do this constantly. But I realized a few years ago that what I SHOULD be doing is comparing myself to myself. I find that when I step back and evaluate where I’ve come from, and where I am in relation to that. I feel much healthier. Block out all those other people and focus on YOUR work. Are you better today than you were yesterday? Were you better yesterday than you were the day before? Better than you were six months ago? A year ago? Twenty years ago? If the answer is “yes”, then you’re on the right path. If the answer is “no” you’ve got work to do. But the only person you have to be better than is yourself. That constant growth, improvement and evolution is the mark of a healthy artist. Instead of looking around the room to see what everyone else is doing, keep your eyes on your own paper. YOU have to be the best artist you can be and the only person that can drive that evolution is YOU!

Steve Anderson

Follow What’s True To You

Here is a letter written by Mario Furmanczyk, animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Furmanczyk’s feature film credits include Wreck it Ralph, Winnie the Pooh, and The Princess and the Frog. He is also the creator of the animation social network, Animated Buzz, so be sure to check it out! I’m a member there and it’s pretty awesome.


Hey Willie,

So this is my contribution to your letters project. I’m trying hard to make my handwriting as legible as possible. Ironic considering I draw for a living!!

I’ve wanted to be a hand-drawn animator for Disney since about the 2nd grade. I remember the moment I realized it as if it were yesterday. I was watching “The Jungle Book”. During Baloo’s “Bear Necessities”, I looked over at my mom, wandering how they created such an amazing, alive character like Baloo. I told her at that moment that I wanted to be a “cartoonist”!! I eventually realized that the job title was “animator”.

I read up on everything I could about animation including “The Illusion of Life” by Frank & Ollie. So I grew up with a great appreciation for the “Nine Old Men”, which made it all the more remarkable when I was blessed with working alongside the direct descendants of the “Nine Old Men” once I finished at CALARTS in 2007.

Dale Baer was my mentor at Disney during my apprenticeship for 2D animation! Dale worked with the “9 Old Men” back on “Robin Hood” so I made sure to bug him often about his experiences working in that era. He was always willing to share awesome stories which made the challenge of showing him my animation something to look forward to!

After my Disney apprenticeship, I was brought onto “Princess and the Frog” as an Apprentice Animator. Finally, my dream was realized!! On top of it all, I had the great fortune of having Mark Henn as my supervising animator/ Mentor. I’ll never forget those long days, drawing non-stop, living the dream, and learning from artists that I looked up to the most!! I continued to work with Mark through the production of “Winnie-the-Pooh”, which was another dream job for me. When I sit back and reflect on my experiences so far, I’m sure glad I didn’t let anything stop me from pursuing my dream. The best advice I can give anyone is to follow what’s true to you, that truth will guide you through the most amazing life journey.

Mario Furmanczyk


Keep the Sails Pointed in the Direction of Your Goals

Here is a letter written by Jim Vanderkeyl, animator at DreamWorks Animation SKG.

Vanderkeyl’s feature film credits include Kung Fu Panda I & II, Flushed Away, Over The Hedge, Shak Tale, Stuart Little 2, The Iron Giant, and Space Jam to name a few. Be sure to check out his website where you can find some of his amazing caricature work!



To all aspiring animators

I thought I would write this letter, not so much as a letter of inspiration but perhaps more of a letter of persistance…

When you have a passion for something its more like a huge wave that carries you over the rough spots and keeps you going. Just having the passion alive and dreaming about it somehow leads you to where you want to go.

I always drew as a kid. My mother recognized the passion and encouraged it. My father, seeing this as positive, was sort of invisible in the background and provided the funds to allow this to happen. After all, this was childhood and all should explore during these years. I drew lots of cartoons, portraits, and everything that I saw. I loved the Disney cartoons- and so did my Dad. He was always enthusiastic when another Goofy short came on the television. His enjoyment always stuck with me and struck me that this art form could give so much pleasure to even adults. I would also have to say that being in Canada at that time, the school system was highly encouraging. I had the beingness of an artist according to my school, to my friends, and to my mother.

That is, until it was time to start seriously thinking of one’s career; one’s mode of making a living. I came from a family of engineers. My Dad and his brothers became engineers after the war (II), his friends became engineers and my brother followed in his footsteps.

So at 13, 14, it was time to put my crayons down and start thinking of getting real. We had moved to the states in Rhode Island. We were in a middle, upper middle class neighborhood and we were being prepared for the factories and corporations. Art was a luxury for the rich.

Meanwhile, I submitted a drawing to the Famous Artist School Course. If I was selected I could take their correspondence course. My father reluctantly agreed that he would pay for the course and enrolled me. Soon the books came in the mail and I was so excited! There in lay all the information about drawing and design that I wasn’t getting at school. I was itching to get at them, but my Dad said “Don’t open those yet, I have to make a phone call first.” I remember him talking to Rhode Island School of Design and asking them if this course would guarantee that I get into their school. The guy said that he could not make that promise. My Dad was disappointed. So he promptly packed up the books and sent them on their merry way back to the distribution center. I never got to open them.

It was my first set back.

I lost the desire to become an artist.   My art teacher was furious with me when I stopped trying…She gave me low grades and pulled me aside and asked me why I was not giving it my best. I felt so ashamed, that I started to try again and regrouped and got the grades that were expected of me. I was feeding off the energy of people who believed in me and I guess that was the first around people that encouraged you.   So I went to school, studied painting, but all the while my father and brother treated me as though I had abandoned the cause- the cause of ENGINEERING! I was now different than “them” and I was on my own. I had to somehow navigate my way through and try to make a living as an artist without the “support” from the male figures in my family.

So what happened was after I graduated from college somehow my ship sailed to better and better opportunities…because my goal was to be an artist- the carrier wave I was talking about. I landed a job as a caricature artist, first on the East coast then on the West coast in California. And while I was taking art extension classes at UCLA, I learned about animation classes with the animation union. I enrolled in that. Somehow because of good luck, timing and preperation, I was able to get into animation and a whole new world opened up. At the age of 32 I was working for Disney as an inbetweener! I was a cleanup artist! It was very difficult to be an animator because once you were in cleanup you were thought of as staying there- FOREVER! More obsticles! Well after 6 years of believeing this I tried my hand in animation and found out I could actually do it! An opportunity came at Warner Bros to become an animator and I took it.- started animating at the age of 39!

Soo guess what I am trying to say is…keep the sails pointed in the direction of your goals. You may detour and you may come across some storms, but eventually you reach your destination. Sometimes its a matter of your beliefe in yourself over riding what others think of you- until they see yourself as you so..the artist.

I ran out of room!

Jim Vanderkeyl

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


Here is a letter written by Austin Madison, animator at Pixar Animation Studios.

Madison’s feature film credits include Brave, Toy Story 3, Ratatouille, and UP. Be sure to check out his blog, and also follow him on Twitter @munchanka.

Read what Madison had to say about The Animator Letters Project on his blog, after Letters of Note featured it on their website.

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



May 17, 2011

To Whom it May Inspire,

I, like many of you artists out there, constantly shift between two states. The first (and far more preferable of the two) is white-hot, “in the zone” seat-of-the-pants, firing on all cylinders creative mode. This is when you lay your pen down and the ideas pour out like wine from a royal chalice! This happens about 3% of the time.

The other 97% of the time I am in the frustrated, struggling, office-corner-full-of-crumpled-up-paper mode. The important thing is to slog diligently through this quagmire of discouragement and despair. Put on some audio commentary and listen to the stories of professionals who have been making films for decades going through the same slings and arrows of outrageous production problems.

In a word: PERSIST.

PERSIST on telling your story. PERSIST on reaching your audience. PERSIST on staying true to your vision. Remember what Peter Jackson said, “Pain is temporary. Film is forever.” And he of all people should know.

So next time you hit writer’s block, or your computer crashes and you lose an entire night’s work because you didn’t hit save (always hit save), just remember: you’re never far from that next burst of divine creativity. Work through that 97% of murky abyssmal mediocrity to get to that 3% which everyone will remember you for!

I guarantee you, the art will be well worth the work!

Your friend and mine,

Austin Madison


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 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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