The Walt Disney Animation Studios summer internship program is a dream come true for many passionate students every year. Not only do they get a real-life workplace experience (at Disney, no less!), Disney Animation interns also get to work together throughout the course of the internship program to create an animated short film, from start to finish. With the help of their Walt Disney Animation Studios mentors, each intern uses their individual skill sets and training to collaborate on the short film project.
“Ventana,” which took a little over 2 months to complete, is this year’s final work. This is the first time a short created by Walt Disney Animation Studios interns has been released to the public, so it is a rare treat to get to see it! Watch the beautiful short below and then keep reading to hear insights from our interviews with past and present Disney Animation interns (many of whom still work at The Walt Disney Company!).
How amazing was that? We spoke with Apollonia Thomaier, who worked as a story intern on “Ventana,” about her experience in the program, as well as Brian Kesinger, a head of story at Disney Animation who was one of this year’s mentors on the project.
What was your role on “Ventana”?
Apollonia: “Basically my job as a story intern was to understand the philosophies and thought process of being a story artist. My responsibility on “Ventana” was … figuring out what the story means, who is this character … and figure out how to board it visually.”
Brian: “The interns are brought in with the expectation that they will be going back to school, so what we really try to do is bring them in and inspire them, and give them the nudge they need to really hunker down and develop their skills, so that when they are finished with school, they have a running start.”
How did the story for “Ventana” come about?
Apollonia: “Brian gave me a basic outline saying, here’s a little girl, here’s the environment, here’s a 2D dragon that appears only on the surfaces of the map. So he gave me the rules of the world, and the age that this girl was, but it was like a sandbox. He explained it as wanting to give us a good sandbox to build a world.”
What is something you learned during your internship that you’ll take with you in your career?
Apollonia: “I think one of the big things that I personally will take away is something about trusting my own instincts as an artist. That is something I would discuss with Brian. It’s learning how to have a direct connection between your mind and your spirit and your hands. Learning how to trust your instincts when you first put down the drawing or an idea or write something.”
What are you most proud of about “Ventana”?
Apollonia: “I am so proud of all of us interns coming together. I think we had two weeks left, and we all had a meeting together, and we all had a discussion as interns, asking: ‘What do we all want from this project? What are our intentions with this project?’ We all decided, ‘We’re gonna finish this, and we’re gonna finish this with a bang!’ All of a sudden there was such an energy that came over our team, and everybody just started running … there was constant creation when we all just committed to the idea that we were going to finish this together.”
What was one thing that surprised you about your experience at Walt Disney Animation Studios that you didn’t know before?
Apollonia: “One of the things that was really eye opening for me, and I know all of us interns walked away with this impression, was we had no idea how truly aware and humane the company was to one another, and really honored the mindset of an artist. And how transparent the Studio is with communication.”
Brian: “I realized I really didn’t understand that there were so many different departments in the animation production pipeline. That was really eye-opening to me and something that I share with students I meet now and say, ‘I’d be willing to do anything, I just want to work at Disney.’ I always give them the advice to take a moment, and do some research and learn about all the different roles and departments.”
What was one thing you learned from the interns?
Brian: “I learned to really take a step back and remember how special it is, what we do. It’s easy amongst production schedules and when you’re deep in the heart of a sequence trying to crack some emotional beats, to forget—to take a break and look around and realize, ‘Oh wait, I’m working at Disney Animation, and it’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.” I’ve been doing it for 20 years now, so when you see the fresh faces come in, and these talented young people, it really reminds you and inspires you. They reference stuff that I wasn’t aware of artistically, so I get to learn new art styles, new techniques, certainly with the digital work as well.”
What is one piece of advice you have for the interns?
Brian: “I try to remind them to take it all in—to not just focus on their assignments, but to focus on the wealth of knowledge that’s in the building. I always try to remind the interns … to really savor the experience.”
We also got the chance to speak to a few other former interns who now work at Disney Animation, and asked them what advice they would give to anyone wanting to follow in their footsteps:
Brandon Jarratt, who was part of the intern program in 2012, is now a technical director who helped build San Fransokyo in Big Hero 6 and the city of Zootopia in Zootopia. His biggest piece of advice?
When you come into contact with someone who can help you accomplish your goals, and they offer to help you, “always follow up with people.”
It’s always a good idea to maintain relationships with people who offer it, so this is some advice we can really get behind!
Justin Sklar, animation supervisor on the upcoming Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It-Ralph 2 offered additional worthwhile advice:
“Being a Disney animator is hard. Know that you want to do it, know that it’s something that you feel like you have to do, and know what you’re getting into. Animation seems like magic, but it’s really a lot of smart people making smart choices that you learn to make over a long period of time.”
Lorelay Bove, a visual development artist who contributed design work to Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6, offered words of inspiration for any artist out there:
“Keep drawing and find your own voice, don’t give up. Keep a sketchbook everywhere you go. Observe what makes everything unique.”
Thank you to Walt Disney Animation Studios for sharing this beautiful short with us, and many thanks to everyone we interviewed for their wonderful and inspirational advice. We will definitely be taking their words to heart, and their achievements as a necessary reminder that dreams do come true!