We Interviewed Daniel Gonzales - Character Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Posted at Dec 10th, 2013 by AnimDesk.

We Interviewed Daniel Gonzales - Character Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Daniel Gonzales is a former PIXAR Animation Studios animator who currently works at Walt Disney Studios as a character animator. He has been involved in different 3D animated film projects such as: Wreck-it Ralph, Frozen, Toy Story 3 and soon to be released Big Hero 6.

Born in San Diego, USA; Daniel moved to Oakland for college and finally ended up learning art (and animation) at California College of the Arts. Starting as an intern at PIXAR Animation Studios, Daniel started to work on Toy Story 3 doing promotional pieces.

Finally after 3 years at PIXAR, Daniel had a chance to move to Disney in order to pursue his new opportunities to be work on new and upcoming feature films.

Daniel Gonzales - Character Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Thank you very much Daniel Gonzales this interview, we would like to start with you by telling us about yourself, Where are you from, and how do you summaries the growing up part?

I was born and raised in San Diego but when I was 18 I moved to Oakland for college. I attended California College of the Arts. I grew up in a neighborhood of San Diego that wasn't the best nor safest environment. I had a single mom, my brother and both grandparents in my home. I loved my life no matter how rough it was at the time because it was all I knew.

Growing up, did you draw a lot? What style did you like the most? Did you have a favorite movie?

I did draw a lot as a child. My mom once told me a story of when I was in pre-school; In pre-school my teacher one day brought in and set up an easel and finger paint station in class so we could use during play time. After a few weeks my mother happened to be in a conversation with my pre-school teacher. The teacher brought out many finger paintings and laid them in a row in front of my mother. Each drawing was of a figure and lined up in order from very messy drawings to very impressive drawings for 4 year olds to produce. My pre-school teacher told my mother that these paintings aren't from multiple kids, but they were MY paintings and that I was improving at a crazy rate with out any help from any one. My mom told that story to me a few times and always reminded me and encouraged me to pursue my talents.

Growing up I would draw at school, on my homework, during class and on my free time. I was attracted to traditional works of art and my style has stayed very much academic my whole life. I like figure drawing and still lifes very much very much.

I never had a movie I would call my favorite, I liked many movies as a kid: such as Jurassic Park and Mighty Morphing Power Rangers.

Did you go to Art School when you decided to learn animation? Which one was it?

I went to California College of the Arts (CCA) to become a painter! I initially was a drawing/painting major but I found animation through electives and by giving it a chance. I never thought I would become an animator but around my sophomore year I made the switch and declared animation as my major. The moment I realized I could always stay a painter and make my own paintings on the side was when I decided to become an animator.

Daniel Gonzales - Women Drawing

How and when did you realize that you wanted to become an Animator?

I took an intro to animation class as an elective, and after taking a look at my work teacher encouraged me to take more classes and give animation a chance as a major.

It blew my mind that I could make my drawings come to life. My whole life I drew to capture moments, but now a whole world dedicated to creating moments was in front of me. It was too much to bear and I really wanted to be a part of it. In high school I was a chronic flip book maker but I never realized there were actual jobs out there in the world for animation.

Did you have a natural talent or was it a skill you had to push yourself to learn in order to acquire?

Drawing always came natural to me, but I wasn't born a great artist, I improved because I constantly worked hard at it. I was once told by one of my early mentors that raw talent is great but by itself it amounts to nothing. Talent needs to be honed and fined tuned to fully see it's potential. Hearing this really changed my view on life and I realized that even with a talent there are no easy roads to take in life and one must always work hard to reach their goals.

By the time I went to college I could 'render' a pencil drawing photo realistically. But I soon came to discover I wasn't developed yet mentally as an artist and there were many things I had yet to learn. The teachers in my art school really did make a difference.

By being aware of how much I have learned I can take a step back and realize how little I truly know. I am always learning and will never stop studying and creating art.

What was your first work you ever worked on? How did you get it at first?

My first gig was working on toolkits and promotional work for Toy Story 3 at Pixar Animation Studios and it was a lot of fun. I got the opportunity to work on promotional because I had completed an internship at Pixar the summer before.

How did you end up working and animating for PIXAR and then finally for Walt Disney Animation Studios? What steps did you take in order to accept there?

I arrived as an intern at Pixar through hard work and with the help of my teachers in college. My teachers were amazing animators and I learned so much from them everyday. They encouraged me to apply for the internship at Pixar.

After working for Pixar for 3 years job opportunities opened up at Walt Disney Animation Studios. I applied and soon after I moved to Los Angeles to accept the job. I would say three very important steps that have opened doors for me are: always making my work the best it can be, being humble about the work I do, and making friends wherever I go!

Tell us about working with PIXAR, they seem to have an amazing array of animators there, how did you feel when you joined?

I was so green it was embarrassing haha! I can look back now and see that I had no idea where I was at and the importance Pixar had in the industry. I was only 20 years old, and I didn't know anything about anything. I did learn an invaluable amount of knowledge from everyone there and I am so grateful for the mentorship and the opportunities they gave me. They are an awesome team and are among the best animators there ever was.

I remember feeling a bit over whelmed when I first set foot inside Pixar Animation Studios. I didn't know what an animation studio was and I didn't know how animated films were made. When other interns geeked out over well known animators I couldn't relate because I had no idea who they were. I came from a life where nobody I knew graduated high school and everything on TV was an intangible fantasy and was always a world away.

I took comfort with my mentors and they guided me and taught me how to use the computer and animate on it. They became my friends and I owe a lot to them.

Although Disney now owns PIXAR, why did you decided to switch between the studios?

Opportunity! Both Studios have amazing animators and the chance to work under both roofs was very exciting to me.

Was the process of animation different in Disney Studios than in PIXAR?

The end result is always the same: Beautiful Animation! In my opinion Disney tends to go more pose to pose while one could say Pixar leans towards layering. Though it really depends on how the animator prefers to animate. Neither house forces you to learn a certain 'style' of animation. They both instead teach you and help you to grow as an artist.

What is a typical day looks like for you at Walt Disney Studios compared to PIXAR?

Both workplaces are very similar.Both cater to artists and help you do the best work you can do!

When do you wake up and what do you on average everyday at the studio?

Like any other job you wake up and drive to work. You step in and you get right to it. There are deadlines and shots to be completed. It can be very relaxed and full of fun behind the scenes but it also gets very busy at the studio. Everyone works really hard to make the movie the best it can be.

What part of your job do you like best and why? What makes it so awesome?

I like that all day I am working on art. I've worked other jobs in my life such as cashiering and wrapping Christmas trees. These experiences have given me perspective of how lucky I am to have such an awesome job.

My absolutely favorite thing about my job is after our film is released and I go to a public theater to watch our film. I love walking out and listening to the laughter and the small children talk about the movie and say how fun it was. It is the best feeling in the world to know you made a complete stranger very very happy.

How animators collaborate with each other at the studio? Do you guys also bond after work?

At work we all become friends and I see them all as a second family. We do also hang out outside of work. Studio is naturally a collaborate environment so every one has to collaborate and work together to create memorable characters and stories possible.

What are some of your favorite projects you're proud to have been a part of?

I loved working on “Wreck it Ralph”. It has been my favorite project so far.

What's your animation workflow looks like while animating? Have you adopted some cool methods while animating?

I put on some music while I work and I just start animating. The way I animate depends on the shot. Sometimes I will use pose to pose when it is a very physical shot and if its not I will layer instead. I don't know if any of my methods are cool but they are effective for me.

Does Disney provide constant training to animators? How do they keep the level higher after every film?

As artist we are always studying and learning. Disney Provides lectures and drawing classes constantly so that we can improve our skills. Our drawing studio has live models available when ever we feel like taking a break and drawing. I love that the studio understands that artist are like fine kitchen knifes, they have to be resharpened and taken care of or they become dull and rusty. We also do a lot of research before a film. For the film 'Frozen' we watched a musical every week for months!

And between the animators, we are always learning from each other and we also sit down and show each other how we animate and trade tips and tricks. We act as a team and more importantly a family. The department is very tight knit, we constantly study as a group and speak to each other.

Do you find yourself watching a film you've been apart of at home, cinema, or at friends place?

Sometimes I do, it's a very surreal experience!

Do you look for imperfections in your work or just enjoy the film while watching?

Imperfections in your own film will ALWAYS stick out to you so it is hard to ignore them. Over all I do try to enjoy the film as best I can.

Tell us a little about the tools that you are using, what's your preferences? Plugins? Methods?

I can't say much about the tools we use because that is property of Disney but they are awesome and we are always improving them and creating new ones!

What is your favorite 2D animated film and why?

Bambi is my favorite film because the colors, music and its' art are amazing. I think it is a very artsy film and I love how all the components of the movie work with each other to give a very unique viewing experience.

What are your thoughts about Japanese Animation? Are you a fan or prefer good old American Animation?

I like all animation; matter of fact one of my favorite Japanese animation is "Akira". You must understand every region around the world that does animation, they all have something new and unique to bring to the table that other regions do not. Japanese story telling is different than western story telling and their style is also unique! Brazilian, Japanese and even French animation, they all have something unique about them that need to be recognized and appreciated. I don't think any region's animation should have 'good old' preceding it.

What is the most difficult part for you about being in the animation business?

Most difficult thing about the animation business for me is... That I wish everyone who wanted to be an animator COULD be an animator!

Have you ever had a character/scene that was too difficult for you to animate?

There are many difficult scenes that will cross an animators path but they must never say it is TOO DIFFICULT to animate. I always have the mindset that I can animate anything and if I come across something that is hard, I will research and find a way to animate it no matter what. To be successful I feel you have to always give everything 110%. Even if the odds are stacked against you or you have a bad job it pays off to always do your best. You will be viewed as a hard worker who always does their best! When the time comes where your dream employer looks at what you have accomplished, you will be proud that everything they are looking at in your portfolio/reel is your best work that you struggled hard to complete.

We've seen the amazing work Glenn Kean did on "Tangled". Do you think "Frozen" is better? Some say the animation, characters and scenes are over-used and copied, what are you thoughts?

"Frozen" and "Tangled" are two different movies with much strengths that make both movies great pieces of work. People will always have an opinion and that's what makes art great. Once the movie comes out I feel that people's opinions might change.

Daniel Gonzales - Character Animator on Frozen

Who influenced you the most in the animation industry? Who is or was your ultimate Mentor during the early stages?

I had three very important animators early in my life, Mark Walsh, Andy Beall, and Andrew Gordon. I wouldn't be the animator I am today if it wasn't for these three.

What are your thoughts about animation nowadays? Do they become harder to produce or animate due to higher competition between the companies?

Animation will always be an evolving medium. I'm very excited for its future. I think competition is very healthy; it inspires one to improve and become better. There are so talented people out there you never know what kind of short film will show up and surprise you.

Personally my biggest wish when I see new animated film come out in theaters is that its a box office smash. That it is the best and newest thing since slice bread. I wish this because when you peers are making wonderful films it inspires you to do better and want to create something worthy of inspiring others. There is nothing wrong with competition, I actually want there to be more competition

Have you ever thought about going solo? Becoming an animation entrepreneur and create your own film, online school?

No, I love being a part of a team and the sense of camaraderie. I still work on my own projects.

What are your thoughts about online animation schools? Do they mass produce Animators or really make a change?

I always say it depends on the student, I didn't come from the most prestigious animation school but I made the most out of the place where I found myself and I pushed myself to be the best I could be.

One can not blame the animation schools for mass producing animators any much more than one can blame students for wanting to become animators. Every school out there wants what's best for their students and every student has the right to chase their dream. The bottom line is in my opinion: Can the student find the right way to study, be determined, and successfully wrap their head around animation principles? Teachers can only guide students to a right path, the student must then do the work and put in the time with the right mindset.

2D animation vs. 3D animation what are your thoughts on this endless battle?

Battle? I do not think it's a battle; I can embrace each one for its strengths and weaknesses.

If you could name one 3D and 2D animated film, what's your favorite of all time?

3D film would have to be the original "Toy Story" and for animation I would pick "Bambi".

We really liked your animation experiments you've done on YouTube. What inspired you to do it?

They were just practice, I always do test and experiments because I am always going to be an artist at heart. I see animation as a medium and mediums must be pushed, broken and experimented with.

How much time did it take you to make the final 2D/experimental animated clip? What methods did you use?

Animation always takes a lot of patience. Clips can take days or months depending on your drive.

Do you have your own studio at home? Including a Disney animation disc and a light table? What about a camera and a scanner? What other equipment do you use for animation?

I do not animate much at home, I prefer to paint and draw on my spare time.

Have you ever thought about teaching animation on online animation schools? Sell your own products? What are your thoughts on that?

I do not think I will ever sell products, but I have helped out in online schools such as Animation Mentor. I have also taught on sites like SKILLSHARE. I love teaching and I am still young enough to remember how it feels to be a student so I can relate to many problems they might have. I feel if I would make it a business to make money off products I would make or me teaching, I would make sure I would be giving more than I would be taking.

Tell the audience and us a little bit about your latest projects, what are you working on as for 2013-2014?

I'm always working on my personal art and the next Disney movie that has been announced is called "Big Hero 6".

If you could choose to work with any artist (past, present) from the animation business, who would it be and why?

Walt Disney himself!

Lastly, is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation or gaming business?

Let your work speak for itself!