Steve Anderson Q&A

Q&A Date: January 14, 2013
Animator: Steve Anderson, Director
Studio: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Credits: Winnie the Pooh, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, Tarzan, and more.
Host: The Animator Letters Project
Participants: Fans of The Animator Letters Project

A special thanks to Steve for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer questions asked by fans of The Animator Letters Project. His answers offer unique insight into his career at Disney and encouragement to face many of the real challenges in the life of aspiring animators.

Comments 49

  1. imwiser

    Amen, Brotha! I’ve heard it said plenty of times – “Don’t compare yourself to others.” But you’ve helped me understand it so much better. And thankfully, I can answer – “YES, I am better than I was a day, a week, 6 months ago!” You reminded me that’s why I was so excited to get into animation – it would be a lifetime of artistic exploration. Thanks Steve Anderson!

  2. faithrunsdeep

    ABSOLUTELY COMFORTING. This is what I’ve been feeling the past few months, and I could absolutely relate to this. I love your blog, and it’s a joy to know that I am not dealing with my problems alone. I love art, I have a passion for drawing, and I live for animation. Your blog inspires me in every way possible. It tells me enough, to not give up and still go for my dreams and passion, to continue jumpstarting the artist in me. 🙂

  3. Willie Downs

    I am proud to announce that Disney Director, Steve Anderson, will be participating in a Q&A hosted by The Animator Letters Project, to kick off 2013! He will be answering all questions submitted here in the comments section under his letter, January 14th through the 18th. Anderson directed Winnie the Pooh, and Meet the Robinsons, as well as worked on many other films such as Bolt and Tarzan. Please have all questions submitted no later than January 18th- but no need to wait either, ask your questions today!

  4. Nic XL

    Hi Steve! Great letter and fantastic advice for all creative people.

    Here is my question. In the initial stages of concept art for a film, what level of direction is involved during the art and design process? Are characters and scenes talked through in extreme detail before and during their design or is there room for the artists to experiment and even change/add elements as they go?

    The process of creating the concept art is very interesting to me as it’s where I’m heading as I follow my own artistic dream and to hear your experiences with this stage of film making would be great. Thanks for taking the time to answer, it’s greatly appreciated!
    Nic XL

    1. Stephen Anderson

      Hi Nic! Thanks for your question. Yes, we talk about the characters and the story in the early stages. I wouldn’t say it’s in extreme detail because usually all of that stuff is still being figured out. We talk in as much detail as we have at that point but we can’t really get specific until the story gets more shape to it. But that’s a good thing, in my mind, because it allows the visual development folks to help in the shaping. I love to talk through the early ideas with artists and then let them go and explore. This gives them the chance to really sink their teeth into the movie and they always bring back stuff you never thought of. It opens everyone’s minds to new places that the movie could go which then helps the characters and story evolve. It’s a great process! There’s nothing better than seeing artwork that makes you say “Wow, I never thought of that!” So these early stages are very free and experimental and very important, I think, to the health of the movie. Once the story gets nailed down and the movie comes into focus, visual development takes on a different role. It becomes about designing the specific things (characters, environments, costumes, props, etc.) that will appear on the screen. Less experimental and more practical. This is how I like to work and how I personally see the process. Every director is different, as is every project. Hope that helps! Thanks again!

      1. nicxl

        Thank you so much for your reply Stephen! It’s great to hear about the process and that the artists can help develop characters/visuals that can affect the story.

        It sounds like a fantastic process and I can’t wait to be a part of it one day. Getting your reply is one more thing I will use as motivation this year as I continue to study with some Disney artists and plan to visit the CTN Expo. It’s going to be a great year and I wish you all the best for 2013!

  5. India Barnardo

    Hello Steve,

    Such a wonderful and inspirational letter. Thank you for the encouraging words to all the people that get the artistic block from time to time.

    I just pondered, whilst you talk about concentrating on your work etc, what kind of activities do you do in your own time to get inspired? Anything out of the ordinary to get the creative juices flowing?

    Thank you again, this letter has a firm place on my pin board.


    1. Stephen Anderson

      Hi India! I’m glad you found my letter inspiring. Thank you!

      Everything we do as artists and storytellers must reflect the world we live in. It’s all an interpretation of life. So my inspiration comes from my observations. The people I see, the people I know (family, friends), the things they do. Also observations about myself. My thoughts, feelings, worries, fears. And then questions about all of it. Why do I do what I do? What makes me feel a certain way? What do I think may have motivated someone else to behave the way they did? These things lead to characters, situations and themes that may ultimately lead to a story. Or maybe not. But it keeps my mind going.

      As far as keeping the juices flowing, these kinds of observations do that for me. But also writing them down. Or sketching them. I love sitting in a public place and doing quick sketches of the people around me. I love to doodle weird characters. I bring that up because for me, it’s a way to draw “incorrectly.” I love to stretch and pull facial features and body parts in very odd ways. We’re so conditioned to draw “correctly” that it’s very liberating to have an outlet to break the rules. I keep a journal and try to write as often as I can about thoughts, experiences, ideas, etc.

      These are things I do. There’s so many different ways to do it. Whatever you choose to do, if you can stay fearless about it, that will help. Not afraid to “mess up”, to draw a bad drawing, to write down an offbeat thought. These things are for YOU, not for anyone else. Hope this helps. Thanks for your question!

      1. india Barnardo

        Thank you for such a great answer.

        I also love drawing people in public, capturing a flash of a moment where people are completely unaware of you observing them. But I love the idea of the weird characters and the written journal. I can totally see how that helps you to look outside the box. I’m definitely going to have a good experiment with some new techniques.

        It really does help, thank you for the inspiration. 2013 is going to be a good one!

        I hope you have a Happy New Year.


  6. Mahesh

    Inspiring letter Steve, I want to say thanks for taking time to write this incredible letter.

    I have a question actually we ( me and my friends), Meet The Robinsons is our all time favorite movie. It’s sad very few people either know about or talk about it.
    Meet The Robinsons has amazing emotional scenes , It carries beautiful message within it.
    But what makes it stand out is awesome Storytelling*

    Its the best so far in 3D animated movie ever made. Period!

    We are thankful for this magnificent movie and every time we see it, it inspires to be more, to dream more, to love more, to hold closer the people we care..

    I love stories and have written some articles about story, in fact I have chosen this career because I want to tell or be part of industry that tells incredible moving stories that give this beautiful unique emotional experience.

    My question is, Meet the Robinsons has unique storytelling structure, usually most of the movies (all) have Linear storytelling to simplify for kids.

    Do you think we will be seeing any more projects where the movies won’t be treated as for kids only?
    More mature storytelling, not extreme like Memento but something like Paprika

    Meet The Robinsons even handled time travel superbly but we don’t see that kind of brave storytelling in any movie.

    I’m sorry I can’t stop myself but here’s another question.

    What was the most memorable part of making Meet The Robinsons?

    Once again, Thank you so much for taking time do this Q&A.
    I also want thank Willie for this awesome project.
    Keep going Willie, you Rock.. :):)

    1. Stephen Anderson

      Well, I am thrilled to hear that “Meet the Robinsons” had such an impact on you and your friends! It was a very special story for me and I am so proud of the movie and of the incredible group of people that made it. They gave their complete support and passion to the film and I don’t know how I ever would’ve gotten through it without them.

      In general, I’d say THEY were the most memorable part of MTR! As far as an actual moment though, I’d say it was our very first storyboard screening of the movie. It was in ’03 and the studio was really down in the dumps. Our movies were underperforming, we were being beaten by Pixar and Dreamworks and our future looked pretty bleak. It was known throughout the building that we were developing Wilbur Robinson into a feature but folks knew very little else about it. So when we screened it, it was a really honest gut reaction. And they all had such a positive response to the movie – the humor, the characters, the emotion. It completely changed the mood in the building. People were excited about what was in development again. There was a feeling going around that all of the talented people at Disney had left and gone to Pixar. This made folks feel differently. So much so that it inspired an email-writing campaign to the head of the studio telling him that we had to make this movie (it hadn’t been greenlit yet). That, to my knowledge, had NEVER happened in the modern age of Disney – that the people that made the movies actually rallied around a project and spoke up as a community to the powers-that-be. And as a result, we got the greenlight. The people won! I don’t say any of this to pat myself on the back or anything. Just to say that it was a very strong, communal and emotional time and our little movie was lucky to have been a part of it!

      I definitely think there’s a huge change afoot in mainstream animation to shake up the stories we tell and the way we tell them. I thought last year’s “Rango” was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Two films that I was blown away by recently are “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “ParaNorman.” I found the storytelling to be sophisticated and representative of a real filmmakers’ vision.

      Thanks so much for your question!

  7. inlovewithfiction

    Hello Mr Steve Anderson!

    First of all, following up all the appreciation you have already received for the letter, I would also like to thank you for having shared those thoughts so many of us relate to. It is a struggle, many times, to look at the work from other artists and not have that haunting thought in the back of the head saying that we will never be as good as them. I like having artists that are better than me to look up to, because I learn from them and they set the standard to which I should be thriving for, but the main, most difficult goal is to respect myself as an artist and look up to the artist I can be..

    I am an aspiring visual development artist, amongst many other things (I aspire to be), but my ultimate career goal is to become a director. Directing, though, seems like such an intimidating job, with so much depending on you and so many people looking up to you, that it frightens me whenever I imagine myself in that position. I feel as though the pressure would block my creative juices completely and I wouldn’t be able to deliver as well as I should. So, I’d like to ask you, how much of a struggle (or not) was your directorial debut? Have you always seen yourself becoming a director one day? And what tips can you give to all of us aspiring directors?

    Thank you for dedicating your time to us fans and artists and animation lovers, and thank you for your inspiring contribution to the industry! c:

    Lara M.

    1. Stephen Anderson

      Hi Lara! Thanks for your question!

      First off, I’m happy to hear that you want to be a director! What I love about your comments is that you expressed your passion and ambition yet you did it with humility. That is a rare thing. And it’s an important thing for an animation director. One of the best pieces of advice I was given, when I was just beginning my first feature, was from the woman that was running our development department at the time (and had been a producer before that). She said that one of the greatest skills a director can have is the ability to say “I don’t know.” Being the director does not mean that all the answers come from YOU. Quite the opposite. You learn quickly that the answers you have inside of you run out pretty fast. Once that happens, you either panic, pretend you’re the smartest person in the room OR you turn to your crew. “I don’t know what to do here. What do you think?” You will be amazed at the smart and creative solutions that you will get from them. And then together, you will solve the problem. So yes, there is pressure…..but there really isn’t when you have a strong team around you that you can lean on and collaborate with.

      By nature, I’m an introvert. And I chose one of the most extroverted jobs in the world! So yes, I have struggled, and continue to struggle, with finding a balance between doing this type of work and not losing myself. But it’s the thing I’ve dreamed about doing for most of my life so I’m not willing to give it up because I have a personality that isn’t necessarily a perfect fit (although I do have those days….).

      The biggest piece of advice I’d give directors, and anyone who wants to make movies of any kind, is to get comfortable with collaboration. I touched on it in the first paragraph. And it’s something of a cliche these days. But making movies, animated or live-action, requires armies of people. You want those armies to give 150% to the creation of the story. For that to happen, they have to believe in what they’re doing. And for THAT to happen, they need to feel part of the team. They need to feel listened to. And that comes from the top. I believe in animation, it’s the directors’ job to eliminate fear from the process. When people feel free to comment, suggest, express their thoughts, etc., the movie will be great. Hope that all makes sense! Best of luck!

      1. inlovewithfiction

        Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!
        And thank you, in particular, for these comforting and revealing words you gave me; I’ve been struggling and starting to feel pessimistic about working on my personal project (it’s difficult to come up with the very first shot of the film), and this has given me strength to go back to it. I like working in group, but am admittedly a bit selfish about this particular project.. I will grow out of that by starting to talk to friends about it and asking them for opinions and ideas.
        Best wishes for your future and I’ll be looking forward to your next film!

  8. urnix5

    hi mr anderson 🙂

    i’m a college student studying game design. i have always wanted to be an animator, to produce great stuff that moves people. i love watching all those cartoon/animation films, at my age where all my friends are going for commercial films.

    it’s true that i always feel what you have written in your letter. i’m worried if i will ever make it. i now still at the very beginner of art, not even animation. i feel better after reading your letter.

    here’s my question: nowadays everybody is rushing, there are so many work in school that we hardly find time to improve on other aspect and do our own projects. is there any tips to balance? thanks.


    1. Stephen Anderson

      Hi Xinru. Thanks for your question! I think we all worry about making it. But what does “making it” really mean? Different people will define that in different ways. For some, it means making a lot of money, for others it simply means working in your chosen field. There are so many ways to determine that. What does it mean to YOU, though? That answer will tell you what your path in life is. Make sure you don’t get stuck working toward other people’s idea of success.

      Balance is a tricky thing. I’m not sure I have any tips on it because it’s something I struggle with constantly. Work, family, play, personal projects….these are important things in our lives. How to give them all equal attention, I don’t know. What I will say is that we can’t do great creative work without living our lives. Everything we do must reflect the human experience. And the only way we can know what that is is to get away from our desks and our computers and enjoy our relationships and our activities. These things will help us understand our world and how we feel about it which will then allow us to express that once we return to our desks and screens.

      There’s also the concept of being “present” in a situation. This is something that people talk about a lot these days. Whatever you’re doing, be totally present in it. Don’t think about your work while you are out playing, don’t think about your personal project while spending time with your family and friends, etc. Finding a way to balance the time you spend is certainly worth working on but what’s also important is committing yourself fully to the people you are with and the experiences you are having. You may not always have a lot of time to spend, but the time you DO spend will be richer and more satisfying. Easier said than done, for me. I have to remind myself of this all the time. But we all must keep plugging away. I hope this was helpful. Good luck with everything!

  9. Tehmeena

    Very inspiring listen to your letter link Mr Steve, you are really lucky working in such a fantasy world !
    Sir, I need your help
    Im so much in to animation stuff i love to become one but I am stuck or u can say Im in a rut I’ve collected resources to learn animation and drawing but sometimes i think about my age (31) and i m a mother of two so have some responsibilities too i need a guidance from u and i hope you’ll help me if u might understand !
    i dont know from where to take start plz any advice for me plz Mr Steve and one more thing i want to mention i cant afford to go to any animation school so plz guide me accordingly!
    Waiting for your reply Sir!
    Tehmeena Zeeshan

    1. Stephen Anderson

      Hello Tehmeena! Thank you for sharing your passion for animation with me. Hearing that makes me feel confident that one day, you will be an animation artist! I always feel that if someone wants something bad enough, they will achieve it!

      The first thing I would say (and this is probably something you do already) is draw all the time! Keep a sketchbook with you and draw whatever comes into your head as well as the people and places that you see around you (your two little ones are great sources of ideas, I’m sure). Don’t judge what you draw. Don’t worry is it’s “good” or not. Just put yourself down on paper. This is a great way to give yourself creative satisfaction as well keeping you loose and free.

      Have you heard of Animation Mentor? It’s an online animation school that is mentored by industry professionals. I’m sure there are other types of online courses as well. If you haven’t looked into this kind of thing, I would recommend it. Animation school from the comfort of your home!

      Have you decided what area of animation you would like to pursue? Do you want to animate, do storyboards, visual development, character design, etc.? Making this decision will help you focus on the type of learning you’ll need to seek out. And it may help things seem less overwhelming! Instead of a huge mountain of learning in front of you, you’ll have a smaller hill to climb. Hope that makes sense.

      Another thing I’d suggest (if it’s convenient for you) is to put a portfolio together and send it out to studios. Not necessarily to get hired but as a way to get feedback. Studios will look at them and send you their thoughts on ways to improve your work, what types of work they look for, etc. It’s a great way to get industry insights without having to go too far out of your way.

      I hope these thoughts are helpful! Don’t get discouraged about your age or your situation! Keep that passion going and never give up! You can do it! Take care!

  10. Kelly Smith

    Is there any way we could get a Disney story that portrays the younger female ugly and mean and the older female pretty and nice? Yeah, thad be great 😉 😉

  11. Willie Downs

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks again for taking the time to participate in this Q&A and answer questions. I have a question for you as well. My dream is to one day become a director of an animated film at Disney. I say Disney because that studio alone has had a huge impact on my life. The films that Disney has been making since 1937 are nothing short of magical and that’s exactly what it would be if I ever got to direct a film under the studios roof. I have a passion for animation and think it would be incredible to oversee the entire process of making an animated film from story to character development to animation and lighting. Of course, I see that majority of the directors at Disney are CalArts alumni. Not graduating from CalArts, and being an Animation Mentor alumni (once I graduate that is) do you think it’s possible to ever make it into a directorial position, or what role does the education play in it? In which ways did you prepare yourself to become a director- or did you ever see yourself directing a film early on or did it just fall into place over time? Is it a matter of being in the right place at the right time or is there a method and a plan to get into that role? What would be the best advise you can give to someone like myself who would love to one day become a director? Do I work as hard as I can to get into the studio as an animator and then push myself to learn all I can about the film making process? I would love to hear your story about how you became a director. Thank you very much Steve- I hope this question isn’t too hard, I know it’s a pretty broad question to ask. I just want to do everything I can to set my sails in the right direction so that maybe, just maybe, I can one day direct a film at The Walt Disney Animation Studios.


    Willie Downs

    1. Jennifer Ruskowsky

      Dear Mr Anderson,
      Firstly, I would like to thank you for your kind and inspiring words. Often times I feel all alone on an impossible journey, that I will never make it or are not good enough. It’s encouraging to know that if you try hard enough and want it bad enough, that “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them – Walt Disney”. My dream is to one day become a animator at Disney; the films so magical that they can relate to many different people of many different cultures, religions, and ages.

      I do have a few questions to ask…
      I grew up in rural Alberta and had a fascination with animated pictures. However, being in Alberta, Canada means that there is limited creative schooling. I am currently in my second year of Digital Media and Design with the intention to take more animation specific classes in the future.
      I was wondering, do you think it’s possible to be hired from a Canadian University like VFS or Sheridan (those are the two I have been looking at)?
      I also noticed there are many different types of animation, what are the more commonly hired animation roles?
      How can one increase their possibility of getting hired by such a renown and prestigious company like Disney Animated Studios?

      I wanted to know which character was your favorite in the films you directed or had a hand in, and why that character stood out/was personable to you?
      Which is your favorite Disney movie of all time and why?
      When you started was directing the path you intended to travel? And what are the rewarding and hard parts of your job?
      And finally… when you were hired at Disney, what was your first day of work like?

      I am eagerly awaiting your reply.
      Thank you for taking the time out of your already busy schedule to answer our questions. It means a lot to me to hear some inspiring and motivating words from such a experienced and truly amazing director. I enjoyed all the movies you directed. Meet the Robinsons was by far my favorite and was truly a Disney Masterpiece.

      – Jennifer Ruskowsky

      1. Stephen Anderson

        Hi Jennifer! I’m glad the letter was helpful! Yes, I believe that passion will always drive us to the things we want to achieve. Keep holding on to your dream and you’ll make it!

        I think it’s absolutely possible to be hired from a Canadian university. There are MANY Sheridan grads, as well as other Canadian schools, in the industry today and at Disney. On “Meet the Robinsons,” many of our top animators were from Sheridan. All that matters is your abilities. Where you got them is not important.

        Obviously these days, CG animation is the most sought after. That’s not to say that a background in drawing and design is irrelevant though. I think it’s always good to have those fundamentals in your toolbox. As an animator, I believe the best thing to show a studio like Disney is personality! Acting, performance, etc. That is the stuff that is the hardest to teach. It’s easy to learn software and the technical stuff. But having heart and soul in your work will make you stand out. So I’d say work on that in your animation. Is my character thinking, reacting and expressing a full range of emotions convincingly?

        My favorite character I’ve worked with has got to be Lewis from MTR. Because I was adopted and always questioned who I came from, when I was a child, I could really relate to this kid and his quest. Also I’m like Lewis in that I’m happiest at my desk, creating stuff. He and I are both introverts and have a bit of a short fuse when things don’t go right. 🙂

        It’s tough to say which is my favorite Disney film but I guess “Pinocchio” would be my pick. First off, it’s such a gorgeous film, from a production standpoint. Everything is just top notch. There’s great humor, tenderness and suspense. And I also marvel at how every scene is full of entertainment. I specifically think about the opening 15 minutes or so, from the titles through Pinocchio coming to life and then going to sleep. There is entertainment from the characters, the voice tracks, animation business, background detail like the clocks and carvings. It’s just packed with amazing stuff!

        My first dream was to be an animator at Disney. My second was to be a director. So yes, from an early age, that was the path I wanted to take. The hardest part for me is just how stinkin’ long it takes to make these movies. They take forever. It’s really tough to keep any kind of spontaneity in the film itself as well as the making of it. But to me, the best way to do that is the crew. THEY keep it fun and fresh. When they bring their ideas to the table, they give me new things to think about and new possibilities for the movie to get better. Things I could never think of on my own. So for me, the crew is the most rewarding part.

        My first day at Disney was rather odd and lonely. I was hired as a story artist on “Tarzan” but it was SO early in the process that the directors hadn’t even signed their contracts yet. So for a while, I was the only crew member. A few days later, I had my orientation and THAT was the really exciting day because we got to tour the studio lot! The old animation building, the soundstages, the Dopey Drive/Mickey Ave street sign, etc. I was euphoric! I couldn’t believe I was there! And still to this day, I take a walk over there almost daily and I get such a warm feeling walking the streets that Walt built.

        Thanks for your great questions and thanks for the kind words about MTR! I’m thrilled that you liked the movie! Take care and best of luck to you!

    2. Stephen Anderson

      Hey Willie! Thanks for your question. In my opinion, the only role education plays in getting a director position, or any position, is how good it made you. My experience has been that it’s always about the person and not where they went to school. Yes, there ARE a lot of CalArtians directing at Disney but then there are folks like Nathan Greno and Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Kevin Deters (“Prep and Landing”) that went to other schools. Back in the “old” days, we had Roger Allers (“The Lion King”) who was also not a CalArts grad. So I wouldn’t worry about it. Whatever you’re doing and wherever you’re studying, just learn it and be the best you can be!

      I did want to be a director from an early age. To be honest, it was the films of Steven Spielberg that really ignited that passion. He was the first director I was really aware of and I began to understand what that title meant through interviews and documentaries about his work. So from then on, that was my real dream. As far as preparation, I really just read as much as I could about filmmaking, screenwriting, acting, etc. I didn’t know how else to do it and I still wanted to be in animation so I wasn’t going to forgo animation training for film school. Ultimately, I absorbed everything I could about the process of making movies.

      Also, I took on a lot of leadership roles growing up. At the time, I didn’t think about them as preparation for directing. I just enjoyed being in that seat. And that leads into your next question about the best advice for becoming a director. Leadership! I think that’s the MOST important skill anyone can have! It’s become a cliche but we all know that making any kind of movie is a team effort and animation in particular takes an army of people. Being able to lead, inspire, motivate, engage – these are invaluable to doing the job. Without your team, you are nothing and you have no movie. They are your greatest asset and it falls on you, the director, to make sure they’re all behind you.

      So on that note, pursuing leadership roles in the industry/studio is the best short term goal. Work towards becoming a supervisor or a department head. Or find a project you can spearhead on the side. Whatever you can do to demonstrate your ability to lead a team. This was part of my journey. I was story supervisor on two movies, prior to directing, and that showed the studio that I had the potential to lead.

      Thanks Willie! Hope that helps!

  12. rich treebus

    Steve –

    If Brad Bird and Glen Keane got into a fist fight …. who would win?

    Does this sound like a good idea for a film? – Ace Hunter is the leader of Megaforce, an elite group of American soldiers who travel the world to fight Evil on their flying motorcycles. In this case, Evil is represented by a third rate dictator who they must blow to bits.

    Who is your story idol?

    1. Stephen Anderson

      I love Glen to death but my money would be on Brad. He’s tough.

      That’s a great idea for a film! Go make it! I’ll be first in line!

      After reading your pitch, YOU are my story idol!

  13. Vela

    Very honest and comforting to read. Because it speaks the truth….what really matters. As a freshman in Calarts’ Character Animation I think I should probably try re-reading this article, and any others like it, on a daily basis. haha. Thanks for posting.

  14. S

    Reblogged this on The Funemployed. and commented:
    Love this. Trying to work in a creative, subjective space can be difficult. Especially like Anderson’s push for us to compare ourselves to… ourselves. The people we were six months ago, a year ago. Not to others.

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  17. purplekjo

    Hello Mr. Steve!
    Thank you for your insightful letter. I’m going to print it out and post it in my studio. Oh… and put the advice to good use too!
    I have a degree in 3D Animation but followed a path to the art of glass. Currently the torture of glass… but hopefully the 3rd time’s a charm and my commission will turn out… oye! On that note, what are your recommendations for self motivation and also getting out of a rut? Sometimes related, but not always.
    No pressure, but I’m saving a space for your reply on my wall! 😉
    Thanks much for your time and sharing with us.

    1. Stephen Anderson

      Thanks for the kind words! I appreciate the feedback.

      Self motivation is always the biggest challenge, huh? I’m a really visual person so I find it helpful to surround myself with images that inspire me. Photos, drawings, favorite illustrators, etc. Anything that sparks creativity for me. And then if I’m working on a particular project, I like to find things that relate to that specific subject and put those up around my desk or on my walls. This keeps me engaged in the project because it’s all around me, staring me in the face. And it changes the layout of my studio/office so that I’m not staring at the same four walls. There’s something about interrupting the scenery around me that helps my brain stay alert.

      Getting out of a rut is THE other big challenge! You certainly hit on two of the most common and frustrating hurdles to overcome 🙂 I find that when I’m in a rut, it’s because I’m trying to create and critique at the same time. We have both of those people in our heads, our inner-critic and our inner-artist. But we have to learn how and when to use each one. What typically happens is that, for example, we start drawing and the voice in our head says “that’s not right.” So we start over on a new drawing and the voice says “that stinks.” And this keeps going back and forth and before you know it, we’re frozen. Blocked. In a rut. Neither of those entities are wrong. They just can’t exist simultaneously. It is impossible to create and critique in the same moment. What we have to do is excuse the critic while we create. No judgements, no comparisons, no “right or wrong” way of doing anything. Just the pure joy of creating. Then when we’re done, we excuse the fragile and sensitive artist and let the harsh and analytical critic come in and tell us what we need to improve. With that information, the artist can come back in and resume creating. Working on controlling these two sides will help. It’s easier said then done and frankly I think it’s a struggle that will always be there. I still have difficulty with it. But that’s what I think. I hope that made sense! Thank you for your questions!

    1. Stephen Anderson

      Hello and thanks for your question! I’m sure you’ve heard of the CTN convention that happens out here in California every year. It’s an amazing gathering of animation professionals, students, studios, fans, etc. If you’re able to make it out, I’d highly recommend it! There are many portfolio reviews by studios and solo artists. It’s a great way to get critiques and to get your name out there. Plus there are panels and lectures and all kinds of opportunities to meet people who love animation as much as you. In my opinion, it’s probably THE best way to network today. Hope that’s helpful. Good luck!

  18. Alejandra Barrios

    Hello Mr. Anderson,
    first of all I would like to thank you for your sincere words, they are really encouraging. I’m a visual arts student, I’ve always loved animation, ever since I was a kid I want to do it and also I’ve always been the most unconfident person ever, everything about showing my work and even begin something scares me to death and I have come to the conclusion that fear would never go, so I would like to know how could I live with it but not being something that holds me back so I can someday, make it (which is working in something that I love: animation) and also I want to know how do you see the field of animation in another countries other than USA, Canada and countries that are well known for it? I’m from Colombia, I live and study here but I think eventually I will have to leave to actually pursuing a career in animation despite it is actually growing a lot around here, thank you for your answer as well for your great work.

    1. Stephen Anderson

      Hello, Alejandra! My apologies for responding so late!

      I understand what you’re saying. I too have wrestled with a lack of confidence and a general fearfulness about putting my work out there. I think these two things go hand-in-hand. As we grow in confidence, we get less afraid. Confidence is built over time, by doing things over and over again. Sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. My first thought is that you need to keep working, no matter what. Keep doing what you love to do – drawing, designing, animating, etc. Do it over and over. And then try to adjust your point of view a bit. See everything you do as a step in the process of your improvement. Each time you create something, it means you’re that much closer to getting better, which means your confidence will grow.

      It IS important to get comfortable with showing your work, if you want to be part of the animation industry. Again, building up your confidence is key here. You need to feel that your work has value so that you feel safe putting it out there. I would recommend showing your work to people you trust. I’m sure you have friends and family that will be supportive and non-judgemental. Start with them. And do that over and over until it feels normal and non-threatening. Then gradually start showing your work to others. Before you know it, it won’t seem like such a big deal anymore.

      As you point out, sometimes just starting a project can be intimidating. Staring at that blank page or screen, waiting for ideas to come. Over the years, I’ve realized that the best way to start is to just start. Just do something. Start drawing. Doodling. Move your pencil, pen, stylus, etc. Put something on the paper as fast as you can. It will get your brain going and it will eliminate that scary blank void. And I guarantee it will lead to something. The biggest problem is when we dwell on our lack of ideas, or our fear of starting, and before you know it, we’ve paralyzed ourselves.

      Ultimately, fear will never go away. It’s our worst enemy and the supreme enemy of creativity. I think it’s a constant struggle that lasts a lifetime. It boils down to how we choose to deal with it. Do we fight it or do we let it beat us? You have to keep fighting it. Take a deep breath, tell yourself that you know what you’re doing and then draw, write, paint, etc. If you don’t like it, do another pass. Then another pass. Keep refining and finessing. But don’t let those voices in your head get the better of you.

      As for your second question, I have to confess I’m not that familiar with the state of animation in other countries. I’m sorry I can’t give you a good answer on that one!

      Thanks for your question and best of luck! You can do it!

  19. Jasmine Rossetto

    Dear Steve,
    I have 5 questions for you.
    1. I was wondering what you’re original goal was when you got into the Animation industry, and how that has changed (if it has) up to now?
    I’m asking because since I was very young I said that I was going to be an Animator, but the more that I find out about it, I’m not sure, only because there are so many aspects of an Animated movie.
    2. Does a person just try everything and see what they enjoy most? The people I really admire are Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg (this list is much much longer but those names came to my mind first) who are wonderful Artists in their own right.
    3. Do you think that the Job of an Animator has changed alot since you started?
    4. Is there anything you would have done differently in terms of training and reaching your goals?
    5. Last question – what do you like most about what you do and what do you like least?
    Thank you in advance, I was reading your bio on wiki and kind of knocked over by how much you’ve done, I also love Meet the Robinsons for the story, gorgeous design of the environments and colours of the film.
    Kind regards,
    Jasmine Rossetto

    1. Stephen Anderson

      Hi Jasmine! I’m so sorry for such a late response!

      1. Well, I started out wanting to be an animator. That was my first passion. As I got older, I also started getting interested in screenwriting, directing and just moviemaking in general but I stayed on course and pursued my desire to animate. But after doing it for a bit out in the world, I realized it was something I wasn’t cut out for. I didn’t have the technical skills, or the patience, to really be good at it. I enjoyed posing out the action but after that, I lost interest. Lucky for me, the studio I was working at made a shift into television and needed people to storyboard. So I jumped on to that and then eventually, they let me be one of the directors too! So I ended up in that world after all and it’s where my true passion lies!

      2. In terms of people trying out different things to decide where they want to land, it kinda depends on the person. Some are good at multiple things and are able to hop around and find their home. Others get hooked on one particular area and stick with it all the way. I think it’s a personality thing. Some folks are very tunnel-vision about their pursuits and others like to experiment and explore.

      3. Certainly from a technical standpoint, animation has changed a lot, what with computers coming into the mix. But aside from that, I think performance will always be performance. All of the fundamentals of acting, expression, gesture, body language, and learning how to express those clearly and effectively, still apply. New techniques and tools will always be a part of our evolution. But human nature and behavior never changes. Mastering THAT remains an animators’ greatest strength.

      4. In terms of my own training, I do wish I’d had more all-encompassing art training – painting, perspective, etc. I went to CalArts right out of high school and, while it was an amazing experience, it was very specialized. I think I would benefit from having a more solid foundation in the fundamentals. As it is, I’ve felt like I’ve faked my way through a lot of my career.

      5. Two things I like the most about what I do – touching an audience and working with amazingly talented teams. There’s nothing better than engaging people in a story and then pulling them through a range of emotions, ending with them leaving the theater with your story and characters living in their heads, and hopefully their hearts. As much as we make these movies for ourselves, we also do it to make people feel that same kind of emotion and elation that WE all feel when we see/hear a great story. And the only way I can do that as a director, is with strong teams. Collaborating with artists and actors and musicians is the greatest feeling. Working together, sharing ideas and creating stories as a team is what it’s all about for me.

      Hope those answered your questions! Thank you for your kind words about what I do. It’s really inspiring for me to hear. Good luck in your pursuits and thank you for your questions!

  20. Cheryl Davies

    Thank you so much for posting such a beautiful letter. And, thank you for “Meet the Robinsons”… One of my favorite all time movies.

    I love the line where the Bowler Hat guy comes back and sees himself as a little boy and encourages him NOT to “let it go”. I laugh and laugh – i have spent years hanging on to stupid hurts that, when i finally did let them go – i wondered what had taken me so long.

    If you ever have any doubt of your contribution in the world, please know that you have influenced my life greatly with your sense of wisdom and humor. When i need a funny movie to help change my perspective, i happily put on “meet the robonsons” for the hundredth time.

    My own life seems more like dancing than evolution, necessarily. One step forward, two to the side, one back, etc. some evolution, perhaps, and a lot of enjoying the dance.

    … Oh, and i really really love Walt Disney at the end of “meet the robinsons” essentially agreeing with everything in your letter. “Keep moving forward” has gotten me out of a lot of tough spots!

    With tremendous gratitude for you,

    Cheryl Davies

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