Disney is a brand built on interesting characters, from the animated likes of Mickey and Minnie to the real world human characters who staff the many creative departments within the Disney universe. Sometimes these characters come together in ways that surprise even the most experienced fans.
Insider sat down with Video Visual Development Artist Katia Oloy, whose job brought her face-to-face with one of the most frightful characters in the Disney canon. Strangely enough, that character inspired her to create something that would make her co-workers laugh and smile. What started as a doodle of the Abominable Snowman from Disneyland Park’s Matterhorn ride has become an unofficial office mascot, and has been seen gracing conference room walls and presentation slides ever since.
How did you get your start working for Disney?
I started out working as an intern before I was a cast member. The funny story behind that is that I put together an animation festival in college and I was producing some work for Bonnaroo [Music & Arts Festival] through my college, so I had a couple of opportunities at different studios outside of Disney–but those all eventually fell through. At that time I didn’t have a job and was living with my dad for the first time in years, so the day after my graduation I started a job at a spa. I was really burnt out after a number of job opportunities didn’t pan out. I was stubborn about my desire to work in 2D animation; I didn’t want to go into 3D, I didn’t want to go into CG, I was inspired by the classics and I love putting pencil to paper so I said “2D is where I want to go!” and I wasn’t willing to budge on that. I was just starting to think that I really wanted to chill out and reset myself when I got a call on my way to work at the spa. It was Disney Interactive and they said “Hey, we got your stuff, we really like it, can you do a phone interview?” I said sure, but at the time they didn’t know I never actually submitted my stuff. Somebody else had, and to this day I still don’t know who it was. But I said “Of course I’ll interview! This is my dream job,” and I ended up being part of a group of four interns who worked as a creative SWAT team who problem-solved on various projects throughout Disney Interactive.
What projects have you been working on recently?
Most recently, I’ve been working on Animash*. In the videos in Animash, I did some of the in-betweening transitions between the different stations that took part. I was also one of the animators on that project, myself. We also just made an announcement about an “It’s a Small World” animated series, and I’m involved on that project as well which is very exciting. Anything else that has come out of the Disney YouTube team over the past year, I’ve gotten to be a part of in one way or another.
*Disney Interactive’s Animash is a collaborative animation project featuring a collection of future-animators who all contributed to a single animated short for Disney.com. If you missed it, we highly recommend you check out this series of videos featuring the animators throughout the process, as well as the final film they produced together.
In recent months, the Matterhorn Abominable Snowman has become the unofficial mascot of Disney Interactive. How did that come to be?
When I was an intern, the group at the time didn’t have anyone to directly report to, so we reported indirectly to the SVP of Disney Interactive, who was our mother hen. That closeness meant that he really got to see everything I worked on and would spend time by our desks and see all of the art I put up on the walls. His team reached out and told me that they really wanted to do something cool and different with their internal company presentations, which pack a lot of information, but also represent a highly creative team. They challenged me to figure out how we could ‘plus’ these presentations. I was looking at a project internally codenamed “Matterhorn” and I thought, “Well, we have these big white furry looking Abominable Snowmen, let’s look closer at them.” So, I started sketching designs.
From there, I ended up coloring them and making them specific to each slide of the presentation. Initially, they were close to looking like the Abominable Snowmen you see on the actual Matterhorn ride. But that was really just a jumping off point. By the second presentation a few months later, they had transformed a bit. I really wanted to rebrand them and make them a bit cuter. And now they’re even becoming their own entity as we work towards producing some short animation of our own, which we hope we can talk more about soon.
What about drawing these particular characters has been interesting to you?
People had poked a bit of fun at me because the first initial set looked a bit like Chewbacca, which was totally not intentional. They’re big, gruesome, scary creatures. But as I drew them, they got cuter and cuter, and I started to think of them as little children. They had this sweetness, but also this brattiness about them. As a creator it can be difficult; design by its very nature has to have a purpose, and you have certain ‘asks’ that you have to answer to. The asks with this project were that they had to illustrate certain points and they had to look like what you see on the ride, but I was welcomed to play with them.
What are the favorite situations you have put the Abominable Snowman in?
I really like them crying and upset. There’s something about having a really upset, snotty, little kid crying that is the funniest, most enjoyable thing for me to draw–I don’t know why. I just drew one today where he lost his ice cream cone, that was really funny.
So, pretty much the polar opposite of how he looks on the Matterhorn ride.
Yeah! Being sweet, and innocent, and cute, but also a little bit snotty. One of the initial drawings I love, I drew on Halloween day, of him in a Cinderella costume. It was one of the most disgusting but also funny, sweet-looking drawings I could do.
What animators have inspired you?
That’s always a tough question! I would say, Frank [Thomas] and Ollie [Johnston], Ollie especially who had that sweetness to his work–he animated Alice in Alice in Wonderland, Rufus the cat in The Rescuers. Any of the animators with that sweetness to their approach really pulled at my heartstrings. The animation festival I put together is actually named after Ollie Johnston. More contemporary artists would include Ned Wenlock, who does amazing motionographer stuff. I feel like I have one foot in one world and one foot in the other. I almost cried for joy when they gave me an animation desk. I think that pencil and paper is the best thing to do, but we live in a digital world, and I work in a digital industry, so it’s important to take a broad view. I’m Russian, and a lot of the old school Russian animators inspire me. Soviet animations of Winnie-the-Pooh and Hedgehog in the Fog are some of my favorites from that part of the world. I try to draw from everything.
Do you have any other favorite Disney characters?
I’ve always loved Alice. I moved around a lot as a kid, so everything was always new. I always felt like the odd man out growing up so I associated myself with that character. And on a very personal level, Mickey Mouse. When my family emigrated here, on my first Christmas we didn’t have anything. My parents had left the Soviet Union and we were homeless for a time here. My parents had just started to pick our family up and work, and my mother found work as a seamstress. There was a lady who had come in to have her dress altered and, making small talk, asked my mother what we were doing to celebrate Christmas. My mother told her, “Well, we don’t really have a lot, we might not celebrate Christmas this year.” The woman came back the next week and she had a gift, and she told my mother it was for her daughter. At first my parents told her that she didn’t have to do that, but she insisted and told them it would mean a lot to her. It was a Mickey Mouse doll. My grandfather had always loved animation, and my mother wanted to be an animator, and that was our first Christmas here and this woman was so giving. And I still have my Mickey Mouse doll.
If you like Katia’s art, be sure to check out her work for the recent OhMyDisney article, 1920s: Disney-Style.