Nashville, Tennessee is known to tourists as “Music City” for its rich history and abundant musical talent. It’s not currently known for animation. Yes, Big Idea (creator of Veggie Tales) makes its home here but there really isn’t much else. Tom Bancroft, Supervising animator of Mushu from Disney’s Mulan, and now President of TaughByAPro.com, an online resource for instruction of animation topics, is looking to change that with the first ever Taught By A Pro Weekend that was held last month at Lipscomb University.
In hopes of building the animation community in and around the southern part of the United States, Taugh By A Pro brought in some of the most renowned talent in the industry. The weekend consisted of two days. Friday evening held a V.I.P. Dinner where artists could sit down and get one on one time with animation veterans and share their portfolios and get some great personal advice and tips all over a delicious Italian dinner.
Saturday was really the main event, and it was an ALL day event. With meet-and-greet breakfast at 7am all the way to pictures and signings getting out around 7pm. But it was well worth the time. It was a very casual environment with about 75 aspiring and gifted artists in attendance… and myself. The main guests were all three veteran Disney artist and animators with a wealth of knowledge.
Ruben Aquino, Disney Animation Legend
The first speaker was Ruben Aquino. Now, I’d seen him on The Lion King Diamond Edition Blu-ray and thought he seemed like a lovely person then, but in this setting, he was just so endearing! You can tell he, like most artists, is a bit of an introvert but when you get him in his element, all you see is heart!
He started out his talk with how he got involved with animation. Architecture was where he thought he would end up but got out of school in the middle of a recession. In the mean time, he worked in a print shop where it was his boss who told him to go into animation. Taking his advice, he went and worked in a small studio in Hawaii before he finally got a job with Disney, only to join the team as they all went on strike. He thought this was, yet again, poor timing but decided to use his extra time to work on his pencil tests. He said that it was that time that gave him the extra bit to move forward when he actually started working at the studio.
He went on to draw some of the most iconic images in our favorite Disney films. I loved hearing him talk about the evolution of Shang from Mulan. Because he was born in Japan, he felt more connected to that movie. He showed a lot of concept art that he got inspiration from as well as a behind-the-scenes story. In early story process, Shang was betrothed to Mulan and she went to war to be closer to him… Ruben said he was glad that they didn’t go that route.
I talked to him during one of the breaks. Knowing that they were wanting to do this annually, I asked if he would be willing to come and do it again. He was conflicted when he said yes, but only because his schedule is in flux right now. He and a handful of other Disney 2D artists are in negotiations with an independent studio to make a 2D animated film. “If it happens it’s going to have to be different than anything we’ve ever seen.” I loved hearing this, of course. I hope all comes to fruition but even if his current opportunity doesn’t work out, it is clear that the irrepressible spirit of 2D is going to lead to great things in the future. #TwoDIsNotDead
Tom Bancroft, Animation Supervisor, Author and Teacher
After over 25 years in the animation industry (11 of which were at Disney working on films like: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, Mulan, and Brother Bear), Tom Bancroft is a guy to keep on your radar. After Disney, Tom worked at Big idea for a time before it was acquired by DreamWorks and that is where he learned CG animation. He then went back to Disney to work on Brother Bear. Next he got in to books at Disney publishing as well as worked on many Veggie Tales books. He realized how much he enjoys teaching and went on to write three character animation books. Tom has been appointed resident Animator and is in charge of creating an animation program at Lipscomb University in Nashville TN.
He gave most of his talk on character performance. He said “What’s going to set you apart from everyone else is bringing characters to life.” Tom likes asking questions like “What is the character’s place in the film? Hero, villain, comic foil, sidekick, heroine?” He says create the story. What is the attitude? What is the character’s personality? Is he content, dysfunctional, passionate, loving?” The most important thing to remember, he says, is “You are not an animator. You are a filmmaker.”
He also went in to how to navigate the industry and succeed in freelance. He’s a big proponent of social media because he doesn’t live in LA. He says he has to be seen to keep getting work and has sites like Deviant Art to thank for some of that. When working with a client he says “Don’t give them what they ask for, give them what they want.”
If it wasn’t clear by his, now, four instructional books, teaching is a big passion of his. It’s easy to see that Tom will do extremely well in the teacher/mentor position at Lipscomb.
Check out his DeviantArt and also his webcomic that he updates every Monday! I've also become a big fan of his animation podcast that he hosts with his twin brother, Tony, who is also an animator as well as a former Disney director.
The style and flow was very laid back and personal. And of course the Southern hospitality was in full force with the catering at breaks and full meals. (Yum!) Everyone felt very at home and free to ask questions. While everyone was sitting around talking and sharing their art you could even see Ruben Aquino, in a mentor like fashion, go threw and give notes on a few people’s portfolios. It didn’t look like there was any appointment or ranking to be able to sit there. I think one girl just sat down and asked and he was happy to do so. She ended up getting about 20 minutes of one-on-one time. It was refreshing to see, to be honest. It’s pretty rare to find a meet up of animation fans in the southern part of the United States to begin with, but to have so much talent and sense of community in one room was beautiful. That’s the only word I can think of. That was the moment I said to myself, this was worth it.
Claire Keane, Visual Development Artist and Children’s Author
One of my favorite parts of Claire Keane’s presentation was the family slide show at the beginning! She was very cute on the lap of her father Glen Keane! She is third generation in a family of artists. Family, itself, has always been a big part of each generation’s inspiration for art and characters.
She grew up drawing but in high school she just wanted to be a singer. Step by step her desires changed and she found that she wanted to stick with illustration and eventually visual development. She was brought on to the team of Tangled by her father Glen who was the executive producer. (Nepotism is alive and well… and I’m ok with that.)
She talked about and went through several versions of Tangled. One was going to be a boy and girl who got transported into the fairytale world. Another was going to be a lot darker with inspiration taken from Rembrandt. Claire really could have done her own Art of Tangled book with how much she brought to the project.
Claire is releasing a children’s book in March of 2015. She read and showed us all the art. It’s a tender story about a little girl named Celeste looking for the perfect gift for her mother. The art is beautiful, as you would imagine.
Q&A With All Three Guests
After the concept art contest where the winners of different categories received special gifts from the artists (I have total envy of the guy who got the signed drawing of Ursula). They literally pulled up a couch and had a question and answer session with all three speakers. Everyone had great questions. Claire was really fun. (For all those who want to know her favorite medium lately is pastel.) I loved her response when she was asked what it was like to be a woman in animation: “It’s like being a man in animation… it’s your job.”
By now you could tell Ruben felt right at home and was telling jokes and getting very passionate. In closing I will leave you with his words: “The best part of today is that we have independent studios who can work virtually, together. I’m not giving up on 2D animation at all.” He said to the whole audience, “I think the key to making 2D more relevant is to give them something extra. We definitely have to ‘up the anti’ and do more than what we have done in the past.”
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