You know how the The Disney Elite recently launched our series of ORIGINAL INTERVIEWS with past and present Disney animators? Well, we’re pleased to announce a SPIN-OFF SERIES of interviews – with FUTURE Disney animators!
First up is the incredibly inspirational Tracey LaGuerre. I first saw Tracey’s work when I happened upon her rough animation short, The Root of All Trust Issues on tumblr. That led me to LaGuerre’s YouTube channel and all of her student films, goofy shorts and various animation tutorials. It was all awesome. How had I never heard of her before?
A quick Google search revealed that LaGuerre was a second year student at CalArts’ Character Animation Program. This is pretty big achievement in itself, but then I read that LaGuerre had ZERO ACCESS to art education in her public school. She was entirely self-taught!
On top of that, I learned that LaGuerre had received the 2016 Women in Animation Student Award, the 2015 AIGA World Studio Student Award, AND was currently teaching Art Education programs in low income communities though the CalArts Community Outreach Program.
Reading all that, I thought – Who IS this wonderful wunderkind?! I’ve got to hear more of her story! That brings us to today, to this interview, and to what I have no doubt will be the first of many, MANY Tracey LaGuerre interviews animation fans will read over the next few decades.
Remember, you heard it here first…
The Early Years
The Disney Elite: Hey, Tracey. If you don’t mind, I’d like to start by getting a little of your backstory. Would you please tell us a bit about your background? Where did you grow up? Was your family full of artists, or were you the lone wolf in the pack?
Tracey LaGuerre: I’m from upstate New York. There aren’t really any other artists in my family. My mom plays the guitar and she used to do theater in Haiti, but just for fun.
Growing up, I was really the odd one out. There wasn’t a lot of diversity. I got bullied a lot and I was far away from my family’s culture, so going between home and school felt like two different worlds. Art really felt like the only language that bridged the two experiences. I’d make comics and keep sketchbooks, just trying to find a way to say what I was feeling without having to deal with being misunderstood. My mom has always been really supportive of my work. She still has all my embarrassing old sketchbooks from, like, the 4th grade.
The Disney Elite:
Growing up, who were some of your artistic inspirations?
Tracey LaGuerre: Growing up I was a DeviantArt kid. I love anime. I’m a huge fan of Chris Sanders. I was really into Loish. I think when I first started out I was really worried about technique, but if I had some direction I would have just recorded things around me and spent time drawing what I see. I would have gotten better a lot faster.
Things like that are the reason I make my YouTube videos. There is so much I wish I could tell my 14-year-old high school self, and I know other kids are going through that, so I try to share those things.
The Disney Elite:
You didn’t have access to art education in your high school, yet somehow managed to get accepted into one of the most – if not THE MOST – exclusive animation programs EVER. What sorts of tasks/projects did you give yourself to hone your skills?
Tracey LaGuerre: I took some summer portfolio classes, reached out to artists who were better than me – as well as artists who had the career I wanted – and asked for advice. I drew a lot, too. So much drawing, so much doodling, so much sketching, so much art supplies.
I decided I wanted to be an animator when I was 8. We had to do this school project about what we want to be when we grew up, and I took it way too seriously. I was really good at tech and math and science, but I didn’t know any careers for that. I watched the DVD extras for Monster Inc. where they talked about working at Pixar and decided I wanna work there.
Tracey LaGuerre (cont.): I didn’t know how to get to my goal, really. My guidance counselor had no idea what I was talking about. She kept trying to convince me to be a nurse. After some digging I learned that an art degree is a step in the right direction. Then, in middle school, the art program began to be phased out. By high school, I was stumbling in the dark on my own, trying to make a portfolio and pick an art school.
I didn’t go to CalArts straight out of high school. I took the long road. I didn’t even know CalArts existed ‘til after my freshman year of college. I picked my college at 16, and it wasn’t the best choice. I wasn’t happy there. I visited some friends out in California for spring break, and they took my on a tour of CalArts and it was love at first sight. After that, I started applying.
The Disney Elite: Your video, ‘How to Get Rejected’, is a super-cute bit of autobiography – and inspiration! – detailing your repeated attempts to get into CalArts. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna embed it right here.
TOMORROW: In Part 2 of our interview, Tracey tells us about her life thus far at CalArts – the classes, the workload and the unexpected surprises. She’ll also offer some GREAT advice for folks thinking about going to art school. If this sounds like YOU, make sure to come back + check it out! I hope you’ll join us!