I got this question a few weeks ago:
“Hi Trent! I’m currently an animation student and I’m planning to apply for Disney’s Talent Development program (story or animation) for next summer. Right now I am working to build my portfolio, but what I wanted to ask is that do you mind sharing some of the portfolio work you submitted for the program? Any tips would be great as well. Thank you! I enjoy your blog very much :)!”
Thanks for the question! With our recent job openings in “The Talent Development Program,” I thought this might be a good opportunity to answer this question and share my application process!
I applied for “Talent Development” over the span of 4-5 years, in multiple disciplines including Story, 2D Animation and CG Animation! I first discovered the program in 2008 when I attended the “Ottawa Animation Festival”. This is where I started a long lasting relationship with Eric Goldberg, Dawn Yamazi (Dawn Rivera-Ernster) and Matt Roberts. I knew from the minute they told me about the program that I had to do it one day; it would become my main goal for the next 4-5 years, my motivation and my obsession!
A program where you get paid for 6 months to get trained by the best professionals in the business and an opportunity to be hired at the conclusion of the program! It’s like the BEST school in the world…what a dream job!
Over the next few years, I would apply bi-annually and get rejected time and time again. Every year I would go to multiple conventions or festivals to meet up with the Disney recruiting team and get more feedback on my work. This was instrumental in my progress during those years. Every ounce of criticism and encouragement they delivered, motivated me to push harder and obtain that goal. Every job that I took was for the purpose of gaining experience and skills that reflected my feedback from the Disney recruiting team. When they told me I needed to improve my draftsmanship, I took drawing jobs. When they told me to I needed to learn Maya, I learnt 3D and took only CG Animation jobs. When they told me I needed more experience, I worked harder at personal tests and tried bigger studios and higher quality projects. Their feedback drove my career from 2008-2012.
One of the notes I received in early 2012 was to tailor my portfolio 100% towards Disney Animation and what they are doing…it seems obvious, but I wasn’t doing that! I had read online about a project at Disney Animation called “Paperman” and speculation that it was a hand-drawn/ CG hybrid. I knew right away how I could craft my portfolio towards what Disney was currently working on, so I began a short dialogue piece that had a 2D and CG character (seen above). I had no idea what the plot of “Paperman” was, nor did I know its visual style. I figured that worst case scenario, it would demonstrate an understanding of both mediums and be a fun side project to work on.
I attended Siggraph in LA about a week prior to the application deadline for Talent Development (which happened to be my last year of eligibility). I had a demo reel review with the amazing Hyun-min Lee, she had just wrapped up on “Paperman” and happened to play a major role in it’s look and success…HOW LUCKY WAS I! I showed her my demo reel with a work-in-progress 2D/CG test at the end. We talked for over 30 minutes, she was so gracious with her time, gave me amazing feedback and pushed me to complete the test for the deadline. So I went home, and spent the next few days obsessing over the completion of that test.
That fall I was accepted into the program as a CG Animator and got the call from my buddy Matt Roberts (the best animation recruiter in the business). I was ecstatic! All those long nights of working on personal tests, attending festivals and moving around the country for jobs had finally paid off! Long story short, it’s important to put yourself out there and attend these festivals or conventions where you can get personal with recruiting teams. Disney is SO approachable, and I continue to have a great relationship with Dawn, Matt, Eric and Hyun-min. Never give up on that goal, some people will get accepted on their first application or upon graduation, and others like me will have to work harder and longer to obtain that same goal, we all learn and grow at different paces. Lastly, it was always Disney for me and always the “Talent Development Program.” Have that focused goal and tailor that portfolio towards where you want to work, and you will make it!
I know that was a long answer for your question, but when I was applying I was desperately searching the internet for answer and tips and found nothing. Hopefully this will give you a little insight into my journey:) On a side note, I think the bar for “Talent Development” has risen in quality over the past few years, I’m not sure that my reel would be accepted now, so don’t get discouraged and just keep at it:)
You can find the open positions here, I encourage everyone to apply for this amazing opportunity, there’s none other like it in the industry!