Ruben Aquino

Author: Ruben Aquino, Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Feature Film Credits: Winnie the Pooh, The Princess and the Frog, Meet the Robinsons, Tarzan, Mulan, Pocahontas, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid


October 4, 2011

Dear aspiring animator,

I am writing to share some of my experiences early in my animation career.

Unlike many of my colleagues who knew they wanted to be animators since their childhood or teen years, I did not aspire to a career in animation until I was in my late 20′s…

My major in college was architecture (I loved drawing cartoons as a child, but never even considered that as a viable dad encouraged me to be an architect instead); unfortunately, I graduated in the middle of a recession (in 1975), and I couldn’t find a job (builders weren’t building, and architects weren’t hiring)….

So…I switched careers and worked as a graphic artist (at a print shop in Honolulu, Hawaii); the job was not very creative or satisfying, but I kept at it for 4 years….

In 1979, I heard about an available trainee position at a small animation studio (also in Honolulu). I had absolutely no prior animation experience, but I decided to apply anyway. I did a short animation test (my first animation ever..of a humanoid/ frog creature jumping), which the owners liked, and I got the job!! It was a very small studio (only 5-6 people), so I wound up doing a lot of different things (inbetweening, animating, clean-up, layout, test camera, ink & paint, etc.)– it was a great way to learn all aspects of making an animated film. The pay was not great, but I was having the time of my life!!

The following year, I moved to Los Angeles, and got a job at Hanna-Barbera studios (in visual development, character design, & layout). I was laid off after about a year (along with many of my colleagues), but was able to get into the clean-up training program at Walt Disney Animation Studios several months later (in February, 1982).

Soon after I completed my clean-up training at Disney, I worked on a 30-second animation test (of Fflewddur Fflam, from the Black Cauldron), submitted it to the review board, and was promoted to animating assistant. I’ve been animating at Disney ever since….
There were a few bumps in the road before I started my animation career at Disney, but I always worked hard to improve my artistic skills, and always looked forward to brighter days ahead!

I hope my story will be inspiring for young artists who may be experiencing a few “bumps” in their own road–I encourage you to never give up, and to keep challenging & improving yourself as artists/ animators! There will always be great opportunities in the future!!

Warmest wishes,

-Ruben Aquino

Supervising Animator, Walt Disney Animation Studios