If your passion is drawing, you may have wondered what it would be like doing animation for a living. Last week I worked on a project where we interviewed animators creating the characters for the upcoming Tinkerbell movies. We were lucky to get in there. Previously, no cameras were allowed inside.
The Disney Toons building is a nondescript brick building, no whimsical landscaping or statues, just a plain brick ivy-covered building in Burbank, CA. Security is tight. You must have a pass to enter the building. Once you enter, you see telltale signs of Disney: the colorful walls, bright colors on the floors, everything feels cheery and energetic.
When you get off the elevator, the first thing you see is a huge painting of ‘Fairy Gary’. The sign on the receptionist desk says ‘Don’t piss off the fairies.’ The animators’ floor is open ceiling, meaning you can see the pipes and beams in the ceiling and there are hanging lights of all sizes and types. Very cool.
The first thing you notice is how quiet the place is, almost like a library. Perhaps ringing phones and loud voices are a distraction.
This place was busy creating the next 4 Tinkerbell movies, one movie for each of the four seasons.
Where the ‘Winter’ Tinkerbell movie was being made, everything was winter. Huge canvases of icebergs and glaciers hung on the walls, fake snow covered the doorways, snowflakes and huge icicles hung from the ceiling, stuffed polar bears. Bulletin boards were filled with pictures of animals who live in the snow, bears, wolves, coyotes, and of course baby animals too. Pictures of snow covered trees, icy ponds serve as reference. Makes sense, because the animators are creating an animated version of the real world.
I wandered past ‘Summer’ next. Flowers spurted from every space, huge arching palm trees, paper butterflies floated from the ceiling, busy bees and kites floated along. One cubicle was decorated like a Tiki shack, where you had to duck beneath the palm fronds to enter, palm trees, waterfalls, kites, with stuffed seabirds and pelicans hanging out to greet you. The animators surround themselves with the environments and the art they are creating. Immerses them in the feel and the visuals.
Each manager or director’s office had a mickey mouse name plate. But inside the offices were not what you see anywhere else. Huge bean bags and pillows, guitars, boom boxes, stuffed giraffes, Playstations and sketches of characters hung from every wall. I’m sure there was a desk in there somewhere! I’m positive these people do work ;)
We met several animators. They were very nice, quiet personalities. One animator explained to us that it takes 24 frames of film to create 1 second of film. So 24 perfect drawings must be created to make 1 second. It can take two weeks for one animator to create the material for 3 seconds of film.
There are character animators, who specialize in the character movement, their dialogue and acting, and there are special effects animators who animate anything that isn’t a character, like the trees, snow, ponds, lights, etc.
One guy we interviewed drew Tinkerbell. He said that it was fun because as you were making the character act, you actually become the character. Must be a weird feeling to become Tinkerbell, especially when you’re a 40 year old man. But hey, that’s a fun way to make a living becoming a tree for six months, a baby squirrel for another four months, I like it!
We were lucky to be able to see this fun, creative place. There are so many ‘unreleased secrets’ hanging everywhere. Disney never allowed filming in this environment before. That’s one of the great things about working in this industry, you get an inside look at all the fun stuff!