Mark Kennedy

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What is your name and your current occupation?
Mark Kennedy, head of story at Disney Feature Animation

What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
An overnight shift putting “The New York Times” into newspaper machines

What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Tangled, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast

How did you become interested in animation?
It didn’t hit me until I was in junior high school. It was when I first saw the “Dragon’s Lair” video game. I never thought about animation or drawing until then, so I had to try and catch up fast in order to go to art school by the time I graduated high school.

Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m from Cupertino, California USA and I went to The California Institute of the Arts right after high school, then started working at Disney feature animation after 3 years at CalArts.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Every day is different. It depends on where the film is in the production cycle. In the beginning of the cycle, I spend most of my time in the story room with the directors and the other story artists (and writer, if there is one) talking through the story and writing it out on index cards and talking about who the characters are. We constantly rework the cards in an effort to improve the story and characters and pitch it to people and get feedback and rework it until it is solid.As the Production goes on I spend more time in many types of meetings, for example; meetings where script pages (or just story beats) are issued to board artists to storyboard, pitch meetings where board artists (and myself) pitch our storyboards to the directors and story crew, get feedback and input about how to improve our boards, editorial sessions with me, the director and the editor where we look at the storyboards cut together and make changes, recording sessions with the voice actors, and also talking to my crew, looking at their work (if they want) and answering their questions, or getting them together with the directors for further clarification if I can’t answer their questions. Then when I go home at night, after my kids are in bed, I finally have time to storyboard my own sequences.

What part of your job do you like best? Why?
Working with everyone on the story crew – when the crew gels and everyone gets along well with each other and the directors, it’s a very satisfying job and lots of fun. Also, I like boarding more than anything, so I suppose that’s my absolute favorite part.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Part of the job is judging the work of others and having to give them feedback when their work isn’t up to where it should be. It’s uncomfortable and nobody likes to do it, but it’s part of making the film as good as it can be. As long as you’re respectful and the feedback is meant to make the film better, people usually accept it and take it to heart and don’t get too upset or mad. Also, in those situations where the story crew and the directors don’t all get along and gel with each other, the job can be really tough and a struggle.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Part of being a supervisor or leader is to deal more and more with bigger issues at the studio, like morale, recruiting, communication between departments and where the studio is going. None of that is what anybody gets into the business to do, but it’s important and you can’t help having strong feelings about those things. So I wish I had more time to storyboard and draw…it’s hard to have to “squeeze those things in” to your day, when they’re supposed to be what you do!What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
A Wacom 20″ cintiq that’s run on a MacPro laptop. We use photoshop to draw and internal software to catalog the boards and pitch them.In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I met some famous Disney veterans back when I was at CalArts – including many of the famous “Nine Old Men” – and have worked with some modern Disney Legends in my professional life. In all honesty, though, the people I work with every day are amazing, and even though they’re aren’t as famous as some other more well-known Disney artists are, I think many of them deserve the label “great”. So I think I brush with greatness every day.Describe a tough situation had in life.
After a few years as an animator at Disney, I was fired. It was tough and really destroyed my confidence but looking back it was a great thing because it led me down a different path and helped me find a better path – one that suited my talents better.

Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of? 
Not yet, but hopefully soon! In the meantime people can visit my blog about storyboarding and film at www.sevencamels.blogspot.com

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Showing a strong sense of character, personality and a strong sense of entertainment in your work are the most important things. If those come through in your work, it makes you jump to the top of the list of “We have to hire this person” (at Disney, anyway)

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2 Comments

  1. Always good to hear what my old classmates are up to. Thanks for participating, Mark.

  2. I had the opportunity to work with Mark years ago at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He is a brilliant talent as evidenced by all the amazing movies he has influenced. He is truely a gifted leader and story supervisor.

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