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!

Transcript:

DREAMWORKS ANIMATION SKG

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 lesson..be 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

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