From Humboldt to Frozen 2: Ford tells how he got into animation

HUMBOLDT — While growing up in Humboldt, Andrew Ford had to make a decision – arts or sports. Now as a Disney animator, it’s clear what choice he made.

“When I was growing up in Humboldt I was kind of torn between art and Phys Ed. I loved playing sports in high school – football and basketball,” Ford said.

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“I think growing up in Saskatchewan where we have kind of long winters and you’re looking for indoor activities to do, I just loved drawing as a kid and I loved poring over comic strips. Like the newspaper, the Sunday funnies.”

After high school, Ford went to Saskatoon and played with the Saskatoon Hilltops football team while attending the finance program at the University of Saskatchewan.

During his time at the finance program, he worked on his life drawings and built up his art portfolio to apply to animation schools in Canada.

That led him to being accepted to Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver, a school recommended by a teacher at Humboldt Collegiate Institute

“I kind of learned how to do it from there and worked in Vancouver for a while and kept working at it until I got into feature films.”

Under an internship as part of his education, he worked for Electronic Arts, where he worked on a Need for Speed video game.

At home he would work on his own personal projects.

“Which is kind of what feature film studios look for because they want to see your voice, they want to see where you’re at and they want to see your sense of humour.”

His friends would give him notes on his personal projects, and he would go back and improve them.

Over the years his portfolio over personal work built up.

“Through there I was able to get to Reel Fx, which is a feature film studio that was in Dallas Texas at the time,” Ford said.

There he got to work on his first major film, Free Birds.

As he worked there he began applying to Disney and Pixar .They eventually gave him a job.

“So it worked, and I got in for Zootopia.”

His first major award was an Oscar for Zootopia, but other films he worked on include Moana, Wreck-It Ralph, The Book of Life and Frozen 2.

Ford said one nice thing about working at Disney is there’s a wide audience who gets to see his work.

“People all over the world see this movie, which is exciting because it means you know your work is going to be seen by a lot of people but it also comes with some high expectations. Every Disney movie needs to be of a certain quality.”

As a result of this, often times frames need to be redone.

“Hopefully not too often, but part of our job is getting notes. We will take all of that information and we’ll do a very first path that will get to show directly to the directors, and they will have some notes – usually about the acting and want to make minor changes.”

While the director notes may be about the acting or their vision, the animators have supervisors on-hand who gives animation specific notes.

When the animation process begins, the animation team is given 2-D rough storyboards. The animators don’t necessarily know where the story is going or what scene they will work on next.

“We get maybe one to five or six shots in a row we get to work with,” Ford said. “We will get kicked off by the directors and the directors will tell us, ‘In this moment the character is coming from this place emotionally and we need to get somewhere else.’ So in the beginning they might start off sad and they end they have to be happy.”

Ford said the animators may have seen a version of the story that’s no longer accurate and has been rewritten, so the director’s guidance is important to keep up to the current script.

“That first kickoff with the directors is very important because they tell us the emotions of the characters at that time.”

Despite the very-directed nature, he said there is still an opportunity to put in your own ideas and acting choices.

“The first time we show our shot, it’s kind of an opportunity to put in what we think works. Part of being an animator is observing from real life.”

Ford said he based the Wreck-It Ralph laugh on his real life brother’s laugh.

“He has a very unique laugh where he leans backwards and puts his hands on his hips,” he said.

“I think he appreciates it, I think he likes it. He has three little girls, so he watches it with them. It’s just another little hint, or another level you can enjoy a movie on.”

Ultimately, if a draft is accepted it needs to align with the director’s vision.

Ford said growing up in Humboldt had everything to do with where he is today.

“It’s a community full of support. I know we’ve seen that over the years with of course athletics, the Humboldt Broncos. The community definitely supports athletics and the arts and my parents were exactly the same. I never thought I couldn’t do anything, they were always encouraging.”

If he could give advice to people who want to get into animation is to focus on the journey.

“I really wanted to get into a major studio and it’s almost like my happiness would be based on getting there, but looking back on it, it’s really good to enjoy the journey. Like anything, you’re not going to be good at it right away. You need to practice and you should really enjoy that process of practicing, because you’re going to grow a lot, you’re going to meet a lot of people. It’s just a really fun time to grow.”

Ford said you don’t need to wait for a major studio.

“Shoot your own animation movies right now, or shoot your films, or commercials with friends. I think it’s available now. Don’t wait for anyone to tell you you can, just go do it.”

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