The way someone skips, moseys or dances across a room says a lot about them. When translated onto the big screen, movement is what brings characters to life and makes them memorable. Don Crum understands the power of animation and its impact on audience perception.
He has animated on several films for both Disney and Pixar, including Mulan, Beauty and the Beast: Special Edition, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, Cars, Ratatouille, Wall•E, UP, Cars 2, Toy Story 3, Brave and Monster's University.
“Animators are responsible for making a character act,” explained Crum. “Their personality emerges through body language—posture, walk, facial expressions, gestures and so forth. Without it, characters are lifeless puppets. We bring them to life.”
“Mulan was the first movie I worked on, so it was a new and unique experience. I’m still proud to have been part of such a great film… Brother Bear was the last film I did at Disney before transitioning over to Pixar. I’ve always loved wildlife, so the opportunity to animate all of the animal characters was a treat.
“Ratatouille was another of my favorites! During that production I began to feel more adept at using the computer as a tool, and I enjoyed working with director Brad Bird. Since he had a background in animation, Brad was able to clearly communicate what he wanted to our team of animators. Plus, I found the design of the characters very appealing….
"I also have to mention how much fun I had animating Dug from the movie UP. He ranks high among my favorites."
Crum’s career in animation began almost by chance. While an industrial design student at CCS, he decided to sit in on a presentation by Disney.
“You could say I was at the right place at the right time,” said Crum.
The studio was visiting top art schools in the country scouting out talented artists. As the presenters described the skill set they looked for in artists, Crum began to take interest. Disney looked for strong drawing skills. They stressed the importance of understanding structure and anatomy of human and animal forms, and an artist’s ability to create drawings that expressed life, motion, weight and personality. This type of drawing had appealed to him ever since he started taking figure drawing and anatomy classes at the College, which Crum took consistently over the four years at CCS – exceeding the requirements of the industrial design curriculum.
With animation still in the back of his mind, Crum graduated and took a job in industrial design at Polivka Logan in Minneapolis. He designed exercise bikes, inline skates, surgical instruments, water purifier pitchers, blood sugar testers, electronics and other consumer and industrial products for two years. In February of 1996, he made a call that changed his life. He phoned Disney to ask about an internship. By September, he was working at the Florida studio.
“Like many animators, I started as an ‘in-betweener,’ which means another animator would create the key frames and I filled in the frames that moved the character from one key frame to the next. By the time we started Brother Bear, I was promoted to full animator and started doing scenes on my own.”
The Orlando studio closed in 2004, and Crum relocated to California after he was offered a position at Pixar. This was a challenging transition for the artist, as he was used to doing animation by hand and now had to rely on the computer as his primary tool.
“I believe in ongoing education, regardless of where I am in life. I enjoy learning how to utilize new tools for animation and finding ways of improving my skills in other areas."
"Learning how to use industry software was part of the process. Now, I’ve moved on to painting and sculpting classes. I feel this commitment to lifelong learning makes me a better artist overall.
“I developed this approach as a student at CCS. I had actually transferred to the College after taking four years of industrial design courses at another school. It took me four more years to get my degree from CCS. But it never felt like repetition; it felt more like a graduate program. I was inspired by the other students and took advantage of the opportunity to do other types of art—wood working, furniture making, figure drawing, photography and sculpture. It’s amazing how much of my experience at CCS transfers into my work today.”