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Disney animator talks Oscars, details career start in Fort Wayne

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - When it comes to the Academy Awards, Disney receives nods, often wins for its work in the animation category.

And on its massively successful team, is Fort Wayne native Adam Green.

He tells us the journey to Burbank, California didn’t come easily, but credits the foundation of his animation career, to his education at the University of St. Francis.

Living the Dream

"I didn't have an active goal to be an animator,” Green told ABC21’s Kayla Stewart, “I didn't think that was possible. I didn't think that was a reality. But I always loved animation."

Adam Green grew up on Fort Wayne’s south side, graduating from Elmhurst High School in 1998.

He attended USF until 2002, and went on to work with small studios in Fort Wayne, until netting a job at video game company Activision.

Green spent a few years at Bluesky Studios in New York, before having an impressive enough resume, to get his dream job at Disney’s Animation Studios in Burbank, California.

Photo Courtesy: Adam Green

"I remember I walked in on my first day and I saw famous animators, right off the bat” Green said, “and I was like… This is awesome!"

He quickly started work on one of his first Disney movies: Bolt.

Then came instant classics like Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Moana, and of course, Frozen.

The latter won Oscars for ‘Best Animated Feature’ and ‘Best Original Song’.

"I'm very proud when one of our films gets recognized but I'm just as proud when it doesn't,” Green tells us.

Green works on a team of about 90 animators, each assigned to a small section of a movie, usually 1-2 minutes each.

To break it down, Green tells us a three second shot, can take up to a week to do.

The average movie has 24 frames per second of video - that’s the amount of images flashed in front of a human eye, to give the illusion the images are actually moving.

Movies today however, can range from the industry standard 24 frames per second, to 120 frames per second.

Animators have to draw, or use computers to manipulate images for each of those frames, which could quickly add up to hundreds or thousands of frames depending on how many seconds or minutes are assigned to that animator.

It’s a tedious, detail-oriented job, that requires team work.

"Its an extremely collaborate art form,” Green explains, “I think people don't realize. You know on any given film, if you sit through the credits you see how many people work on it and everyone has an integral part."

Green credits his roots at USF in Fort Wayne, for giving him the foundation to be successful later in his career.

“One of the great things I loved about Saint Francis is that they put such a focus on the fundamentals on the art forms,” Green says, “And then they also have of course the computer animation program and teach you on the state-of-the-art technology that we use here at Disney."

The Next Generation of Animators

“When I came here originally, it was for graphic novels,” Matt White tells us, “And then I quickly switched into animation when I saw everything that was coming around for that.”

White is the USF Animation Program Director.

He attended some classes as a student himself, with Green.

“When I graduated, I always wanted to give back to the University, give back to the community,” White said.

After spending years working locally as an animator, he was drawn back to USF.

“This position opened up and I saw the value of being a part of students’ lives,” White told us, “They take what you teach them and then apply it as professionals in the industry. Then being able to go out to a movie or pick up a game and see their name - it’s always fun to do.”

When we visited White’s class, students recorded video of themselves moving.

Then they were tasked to animate a character to move in a identical way.

“We’re trying to understand the physics of how we move,” junior Abby Chavis says, “It’s a lot more complicated than you would think.”

Chavis tells ABC21, to be a successful animator, you have to love what you do.

“It takes a lot of patience because you have an idea of how you want it to feel, what you want it to look like and especially being a beginner,” Chavis explains, “you’re probably not going to get the result you want. So it’s a lot of going back, taking the critique, and making corrections again, and again, and again.”

White agrees, describing to us, how animators have to be a jack of all trades, “What’s great about an animator - an animator can’t be good at one thing, they have to be good at everything. We have to be storytellers, we have to be artists, we have to be painters, we have to be writers.”

Though one would think animation requires qualities of a perfectionist, its a craft that could easily consume the creator.

“You want to refine it, but its never going to be perfect,” Chavis says, “The thing they tell us here: ‘perfect is the enemy of done’. If you want it to be perfect, it’s not going to get done. So you have to push as hard as you can, but accept it at its final level, and accept that this is good as its going to be for now and move onto something else.”

White is proud of the work his department accomplishments, boasting that by the time students graduate, they will have worked on projects that will either air in film festivals or PBS, like their short ‘Black History Beats’.

Students also get the opportunity to get advice, feedback, and network with the program’s successful graduates like Green, or Chris McCormick, who works for video game company Blizzard.

“That’s one of the great assets of this program. When we connect you with an alumni, you can keep communicating with that alumni,” White says.

Back in Burbank

“I’ve always been interested in animation,” Chavis says, “I’ve always been a huge Disney, Pixar fan.”

And it was a trip of a lifetime for her, and her fellow classmates, who took part in White’s yearly trip to Burbank, California to visit the animation hub.

Chavis described meeting Green, “It was really great to see, to hear about his climb to working at Disney because he came from here, and after college he wasn’t immediately at Disney, it was a long winding road.”

White tells us, “He wants to see more people from Fort Wayne out there. He grew up here, he’s really connected with the community and he wants to see more people out there so we can take our Midwest story and share it as well.”

Though Disney has seen its fair share of success at the Academy Awards, its latest box office hit Frozen 2, did not get nominated this year.

“The joy for me is seeing these characters and these worlds come to life,” Green says, “Awards are completely something else. It’s a whole ‘nother business, a whole ‘nother entity.”

After a decade of working at Disney, the excitement still hasn’t worn off for the Fort Wayne native.

“It feels like a dream sometimes,” Green says, “I don’t believe it. Everyday I drive to this building I kind of pinch myself and say, ‘I work here!?’ Then I get to my desk and realize, ‘Oh yeah… I work here. And I need to get my stuff done!”

Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is an award-winning journalist and photographer who started his career at ABC21. He is a Michigan native and graduate of Grand Valley State University. Daniel welcomes any story idea. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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