What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Andrew Chesworth, and I am an animator at Walt Disney Animations Studios.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Guidebook illustrator, Subway sandwich artist, bookstore clerk, and phonathon caller for my college’s alumni office.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My favorite project I’ve ever worked on was a traditionally animated film noir short entitled Palm Springs, which was used as a festival opener and promo for the Palm Springs International ShortFest in 2010 as well as 2011. It was a perfect storm of timing, directorial autonomy, an art style I thoroughly enjoyed, getting to write playful words for remarkably distinct voice actors to speak aloud, and working with a tight-knit team of artists and friends I’d known since college and developed a very familiar rapport with. I would rank Disney’s Get a Horse! as another high point for me, getting to animate the iconic Ub Iwerks Mickey Mouse in classically mischievous and outlandish scenarios. Working with veterans of the industry like Lauren MacMullan, Eric Goldberg, Dale Baer, Alex Kupershmidt and Mark Henn was a really privileged and rewarding experience. Wreck-It Ralph will have a special place in my heart for being the first Disney feature I got to animate on. It was interesting how much that experience encapsulated my nostalgia not only for the video game characters of my childhood, but for Disney as well. A tremendous first film to work on, with a strong and clear voice from Rich Moore. I’m proud of every project I’ve worked on at Disney, truly. Frozen, Big Hero 6, Feast. It’s such a healthy time to be at the Disney studio. The artists are young, hungry, and full of vitality. Something is in the air there these days.
How did you become interested in animation?
I was never not interested in it, to be honest. As soon as I was old enough to comprehend what I was watching, I was hooked and attempting to draw. I will say there were pivotal moments for me along the way, seeing Dumbo, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Toy Story, that all felt like they were pushing me further and further toward being inspired to attempt this career. In my junior high years, it was The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Aliens, Terminator 2, The Matrix and others that made me really interested in animation as it relates to visual effects and action filmmaking. I was computer-savvy at a young age and drawing, animation, and computer effects sort of blurred together in my mind. It was all fascinating and creatively compelling to me, the concept of making images exist to showcase entertaining stories.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
The short answer is I was born in Delaware but my family moved a lot when I was a kid, so I’m from all over the place – Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Minnesota. I’ve never lived anywhere longer than eight years, and Minnesota is where I spent that duration of time (four years of college, plus four years of beginning my career there.) I attended the Minneapolis College of Art and Design after finding out about it through a portfolio review in Chicago while I was in high school. I began freelancing as a student very early into my college years, because I was hungry to get involved in something animation-related. I was doing in-betweens for various commercials that my animation instructor Tom Schroeder was hired to create. I networked with students and alumni at the college whose work I admired, and before I knew it I was working at a local studio called Make (co-founded by classmate Danny Robashkin.) When I graduated, I was hired there as an animator and commercial director. It was a vibrant, busy, exciting time, and the amount of short films and projects we would turn out from the studio in just one year was staggering.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
At Disney, my responsibilities are very focused. Once a week or so there are department check-ins and studio updates to keep the armies of people appropriately informed on the film they’re making. I am at my desk most of the day, animating the latest scene I am assigned. Roughly three times a week, I attend rounds or dailies with the supervisors and directors to check in and get feedback on my shots. It’s generally quiet because it’s a bullpen-style space with workstations everywhere, but the sound of keyboards clicking away on GChat is pretty ubiquitous.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I like how you have no choice but to be motivated and work hard and be good at your job, because everyone else is a top-tier artist in their field. Disney often feels like the Olympics of animation. Everyone is specialized, highly trained, highly intelligent, and highly driven. Many of them have given up very interesting alternative career paths or artistic lifestyles to contribute to the greater good of these giant ocean liner-sized movie productions that have to be consistent, cohesive end products. Being surrounded by such savvy, talented people on a daily basis is exactly where I want to be. It inspires tremendous growth.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Animated movies take an awfully long time to make, and we can certainly think much faster than we can create. It’s a slow, microscopic process and it’s easy to get distanced from seeing the story you’re telling through the macro lens. On top of that, even minor lapses in communication can severely impede progress or take people down the wrong path for too long. Spontaneity is healthy and invigorating in storytelling, and maintaining the feeling of that in the final animation is a constant uphill effort.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Animators mostly interface with Maya on Linux-based workstations. There are amazing Disney proprietary tools in our Maya shelves that streamline our workflow considerably, and I almost take them for granted now. When I use Maya on my personal computer at home, I’m reminded of all that is suddenly missing.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
I really want to see a wider variety of stories and visual styles being made with animation, and it’s less than inspiring when you see the whole feature film industry just kind of go with a certain flow. It’s always been that way to a degree, so me saying that now is about the least original sentiment I can imagine. The silver lining is that there is so much amazing content online made by individuals all over the world, there is no shortage of inspiration to seek out. As a consumer of entertainment, I simply want to experience a wider variety of voices.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
During the 2005 Disney shareholders meeting in Minneapolis, I got to say hello to Roy Disney during a screening of Dan Lund’s documentary Dream On, Silly Dreamer. When I was still working at Make in the late 2000s, I had some inspiring long-distance correspondences with Lou Romano who had recently finished his work on Up. Most of my brushes with greatness have been in the last few years working at the Disney studio itself with Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg, Dale Baer, Alex Kupershmidt, Mark Henn, John Kahrs, and the other veterans with a wealth of experiences to share.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
The end of 2010 was a tough year. My girlfriend of four years broke up with me, I left a great job to pursue other interests with nothing else lined up, and I had a daunting independent short film project I was producing that I ended up canceling. But the silver lining was, in 2011 I got hired at Disney and moved across the country for a fresh start and it’s been amazing.
Any side projects or you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
At the moment, I’m thinking of new projects to tackle and it’s all blue sky right now. It’s exciting to be back in that mindset again. Nothing concrete yet, but things are itching to get put down on the digital page. Being a more inventive visual storyteller is the goal behind it all.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I have very long thin toes and I’m good at clasping things with them. My legs are still very flexible and supplement that well. I have an amateur interest in literary dissertation and long format essays, and I enjoy film reviews as an art form. I would have enjoyed an alternative career path teaching English literature, Shakespeare, or perhaps writing for The Onion.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Cultivate your work ethic to supplement your creativity. Do brain exercises. Eat well and do routine physical exercise because this job can be sedentary as hell. Consume entertainment and experiences that put you out of your comfort zone and intrigue you. Never lose that academic mind of being able to dissect and deconstruct what you’re observing. Don’t take yourself too seriously because the world can be pretty hilarious. Be humble in your interactions and generous with your effort. Don’t live for your job, but give it your all. Be the person people want to trust with responsibility. Take notes in the spirit they are intended, and address them. Listen more than talk. Above all, enjoy what you do. It is the foundation underneath everything.