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For someone fascinated by animation but unsure how to proceed, the future can seem daunting and scary. Where’s a potential animator to turn? Why, to other unsure, daunted animators, of course! The Animator Letters Project allows experienced artists to write about how they got their start, as well as about what they find important in their field — and in life.
— Pete Docter, Chief Creative Officer at Pixar Animation Studios

Ever feel like you’re alone and the path to your creative dream seems confusing and nearly impossible? We’ve all been there. Animation is one of the world’s most rewarding creative professions, combining art, acting, design, music and storytelling. But how do you get in? And once you’re there, how do you keep the creativity going? The Animator Letters Project gives you a direct line into the personal experiences of your fellow animators and storytellers. It’s a great resource not only for animators but also for any individual who is determined to live a creative life.
— Byron Howard, Director of Zootopia, Tangled & Bolt at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Brenda Chapman, (story artist and director extraordinaire) asked me if I would contribute to Willie Downs’ “The Animator Letter Project” and, of course, I would do anything for her, but, I believe these messages from those that came before may have value for those that come after. I hope you can laugh at that phrase because none of us takes ourselves that seriously. We are all artists that want to create and have been fortunate to have been able to in the company of other like-minded souls. We have shared heartbreaks and triumphs and, I hope, are still humble humans. May we light your fires, rally the cry for the “good fight”, and simply say that if we can do it, surely you can, too!
— Roger Allers, Director of The Lion King at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Here’s the crazy thing about animation. Sorry, ONE of the crazy things about animation. As an art form, it’s in its infancy. The span of time between Gertie the Dinosaur, Mickey Mouse, Jurassic Park and Avengers: Age of Ultron is shockingly small, (100 years) compared to how long other art forms like music, painting and theatre have been around…a conservative estimate would place the birth of painting, for example, on the walls of caves 40,000 years ago. And here’s the thing. There are people alive and kicking right now who may have been too young to have been the original pioneers of this form, but they studied at the knees and stood on the shoulders of the giants of that first generation. And NOW you can hear what they, and THEIR protégés have to say. What is their take on animation, the art form, the history, the industry, the people, the highs, the lows…? The Animator Letters Project captures it all in first person accounts. A gold mine of knowledge, trivia, trash and treasure, there for the taking. If you’re just starting out in the biz or if you’re a grizzled veteran or somewhere in between, there’s something here for everyone.
— Gary Trousdale, Director of Beauty and the Beast & The Hunchback of Notre Dame at Walt Disney Animation Studios

When I mention The Animator Letters Project to people, the first thing everyone says is “Thatʼs a great idea! Why hasnʼt anyone done that before?” And theyʼre right. Itʼs such a simple and pure notion, how could it have gone untapped for so long? I guess weʼve just had to wait for someone as insightful as Willie Downs to come along and make it happen. Here are accessible and practical words from industry professionals that all of us can benefit from, no matter what level of experience you happen to be at. Itʼs so important that we all communicate our creative discoveries with each other and, thanks to Willie and The Animator Letters Project, we have this wonderful forum to do so.
— Steve Anderson, Director of Winnie the Pooh & Meet the Robinsons at Walt Disney Animation Studios

For a young person contemplating how to land the coveted “dream job,” the road to the future can seem bleak, long and downright scary. That’s one of the many reasons mentors are so important. An experienced voice of reason can make all the difference in helping someone get a start in an industry, which is why I am such a fan of The Animator Letters Project. I plan to write a letter to Willie, and if you work in the animation industry, I urge you to consider participating, too.
— Brenda Chapman, Writer and Director of Pixar’s Brave & The Prince of Egypt

You know, when I went to art school in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, there were no animation schools or classes for this art form. Even now with over 720 animation programs in colleges throughout the English speaking world, most of those programs do not give any insight as to how their animation students might get into this unique industry. Willie Downs’s idea to bring in professional animators to write a letter to aspiring animators is truly a great concept, and will undoubtedly help give those aspiring artists some insight to how they might proceed when school is over. We should all reach out to our animation colleagues to participate in The Animator Letters Project. We all have a story of how we entered this vocation.
— Gary Goldman, Producer, Director, Animator at Don Bluth Films, Inc.

I am always intrigued to hear other people’s life stories and even more so when it is their version of a similar journey I have made. So while it is a fantastic motivator for those starting out in the world of animation, The Animator Letters Project is a fascinating read for me too. It makes me smile or recall similar moments in my career when reading the other artists observations and shared experiences, it is a wonderful insight.
— Merlin Crossingham, Creative Director of Wallace and Gromit at Aardman Animations

If only there had been something like this when I was growing up. The people I admired in this industry seemed untouchable. Not anymore, thanks to Willie and his Animator Letters Project. Willie has brought people, whose dream it is to get into animation, so much closer to having that dream fulfilled. And thanks to all those professionals out there who have contributed to this project. You haven’t forgotten where you came from. I hope everyone in this industry contributes to this project. Thanks again Willie for giving this opportunity to our future talent.
— Dale Baer, Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Arriving at the Walt Disney Studios in the fifties provided incredible access to the Disney Masters. The talented animation veterans shared their knowledge and we were the lucky recipients of their years of experience. The Animator Letters Project does much the same. It is a meaningful endeavor that should be encouraged and celebrated.
— Floyd Norman, Former Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

I started in animation (pre-Who Framed Roger Rabbit) in a time when I was being told by industry insiders that I should “choose something else to do with my life if I ever wanted to be married and have kids”. It was a dark time for animation. I blindly pushed forward because I knew there was nothing else I could do with my life but draw for a living. I had failed at everything else and the animation passion wouldn’t go away. How would I have known that less than two years later, the industry would be booming and hiring like crazy? During that time, I sure wish I had a site like “The Animator Letters Project” to go to for words of wisdom and inspiration. We need it now as much as I needed it then. Thank you Willie for being the guy to do it- today’s animators say “thank you”.
— Tom Bancroft, Former Disney Supervising Animator & Author of Character Mentor

When I was a young student of animation the goal of a professional career just seemed so far away sometimes. I often wondered how my idols Ollie Johnston, Freddie Moore or Chuck Jones made it to where they were. Thanks to “The Animator Letters Project” and the work of Willie Downs there will be a new generation of animators that will have to wonder no more. The inspiration, advice, and stories are there in every letter. Stories just like mine. Just start reading.
— Tony Bancroft, Director of Mulan & Supervising Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

Who should read The Animator Letters Project? Anyone. Everyone. You don’t have to care a single bit about the art of animation, these letters can be treasured by literally anyone from any walk of life who is searching for motivation.
A lot of people have dreams. Some people follow those dreams, but they simply follow them around without actually getting any closer. This is a collection of wisdom and journeys from people who didn’t just follow their dreams – they hunted them down, caught them, and then refused to let go. What could be more inspiring than that?
— Shawn Kelly, Lead Animator at ILM & Co-Founder of Animation Mentor

Willie Downs has accomplished what few would dare dream–he’s gotten animators to communicate in words rather than imagery. Words of encouragement, none the less! Too often, the emphasis in the animation industry is on job openings, technology, and the competitive side of things. It’s nice to have a place for animators to share their knowledge and experience, putting industry aside for community. If you’re a professional animator, please consider contributing to The Animator Letters Project. It only takes a few minutes to hand-write a letter, but you never know who you may inspire!
— Austin Madison, Animator at Pixar Animation Studios

The Animator Letters Project is a great opportunity for seasoned animators to share, pass on knowledge gleaned along the way and express words of encouragement to younger artists and those new to the craft.
— Ron Husband, Former Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

For any budding artists dipping their toes into that vast pool known as the animation industry, The Animator Letters Project will give them that little push they need to jump right in. Willie’s Big Idea is already such a positive influence on so many young talents that it’s a no-brainer for any professional animator in the industry to contribute.
— Jeff Joe, Animator at PDI/ DreamWorks Animation Studios

I like to help others. I’m not sure if it’s still the director inside me but I like to give a little guidance and direction when I can. Words of advice have always helped me throughout my career and I jump at the opportunity to do it when I can. The Letters to Animators was a perfect way for me to do this.
— Mike Gasaway, Owner of Animflow

The Animator Letters Project is such a great and unique project! Its inspiring for me to read about how my peers accomplished and struggled to get to where they are. The stories being told are what we all go through, and it’s great to know that we are all in this together.
— Benson Shum, Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

The Animator Letters Project is such a great way of letting you connect personally to some of the best professionals in the animation industry. Seeing pen to paper really humanizes people that can otherwise seem like celebrities in the eyes of students. These letters give budding animators all over the world a way to keep going, and a way to see that they too are no different, and no less capable of becoming great animators as well. Thank you Willie for giving the animation community such an amazing resource!
— Kent Alfred, Lead Animator at Reel FX Creative Studios

There are two things that are essential in starting out on a career in the entertainment business apart from one’s own dedication and passion. One is honest, constructive criticism and advice from professionals; the other is encouragement from the people who have travelled the road before. The Animator Letters Project has plenty of both and is a valuable resource for aspiring animators.
— Andreas Wessel-Therhorn, Former Animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios

For me, animation was that unreachable dream that only came true for some lucky people. I remember this fear, a tightness in my gut every time I thought about it. I wanted so badly to become an animator, but it just seemed so impossible. “I’m not even the best artist in my own school,” I thought. “How can I ever hope to be an animator?” and for years, I gave up altogether. I wish there had been something like The Animator Letters Project to give me hope and point me in the right direction. These amazing letters from professionals in the industry will inspire and instruct up-and-comers, giving hope where, for a teenaged me, there was none. You’re not alone, dreamer!
— Travis Howe, Animator at ILM

A place where aspiring animators discover that even the best of us stumble and stutter before we strut. A place where we pick ourselves up off the floor and give it one more go. Because ‘they’ faced the same challenges. Because ‘they’ made it. A place called The Animated Letters Project.
— Rusty Gray, Animator at Digital Domain

I’ve been aware of The Animator Letters Project since its inception and have been happy to share it with my students, friends and colleagues. Willie Downs has dedicated himself to developing the project as an inspirational resource for everyone striving to reach a professional level with their skills and breaking into the animation industry. Even if you’re already in the business you can appreciate reading through the collective wisdom embodied in the motivational handwritten notes that many of today’s great animation artists have contributed for the benefit of us all. Thanks very much Willie for the initiative you’ve taken to get The Animator Letters Project going and thanks to the animation professionals who’ve reached out to us with their written word, personal stories and encouragement.
— Charles Zembillas, The Animation Academy,

The history of animation is a history of mentorship. Since the days of John Bray and Winsor McCay, experienced animators have taken newcomers under their wings. Every veteran artist in our field has stories of what they have learned from “the greats”.
The Animator Letters Project brings the tradition of mentorship into the twenty-first century. The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE enthusiastically supports The Animator Letters Project.
— Steve Hulett, Business Representative at The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE