Disney Animator to UMass Boston Cinema Studies Students: Learn Everything

Colleen Locke | Thu Nov 15, 2018

Darrin Butters Says Animation’s Mix of Art and Performing Arts a Perfect Match

UMass Boston cinema studies students got a chance to get a sneak peek of the to-be-released computer-animated film Ralph Breaks the Internet and get some insider knowledge and career advice from character animator Darrin Butters last week.

“It’s art and it’s performing, so it’s a perfect match for me,” Butters said about his job at Walt Disney Animation Studies.

Butters joined Disney in 1996 and has since worked as an animator on such films as Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Zootopia. He has found a niche as a performance artist, and he showed examples of how in Wreck-It Ralph, he acted out what stars John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman said, and then recorded himself doing it, so he would have video references. One of the students asked Butters if he had Reilly and Silverman’s mannerisms in mind when animating their Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz characters.

“We listen to [the voice track] over and over again, down to the inhales and the throat clearing,” Butters said. “It’s so great when we have improvisers like John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman because they come up with the most natural language.”

When asked about the animating process, Butters said in traditional animation, each pose is a drawing. He says these days, some animators work more traditionally and use a fully poseable rig to create a full pose every five frames, letting the computer do the “in-between” work, while others layer on the action.

“You do the chest movement [for the sequence] and then [go back and do] the arm movement,” Butters said. “In traditional animation, you do the poses and then you send it to your assistant. We have a lot more detail but we’re responsible for that detail on every frame.”

As for career advice, Butters said when working as a graphic designer before coming to Disney, he would use the office equipment to teach himself animation.

“When you’re starting out, learn everything,” he advised.

Ralph Breaks the Internet will be in theaters on November 21.

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