SCAD’s animation department has found a champion of a chair in Chris Gallagher, who assumed his new role over the summer. Through this column, I invite not only animation students but the entire SCAD community to listen in on my animated chats with Chris.
I have only met with Chris twice, but the amount of animation education received on my end has been overwhelmingly enlightening. He has been an open book for all my questions about SCAD, his work with Walt Disney Animation and what all those animators listed in the credits of “Moana” actually do.
During his time at Disney, Chris was an animation technical director (TD for short), which means he was, in very general terms, the overseer of the animators and the liaison between the multiple creative departments that work on an animated film.
The average process of creating an animated film such as “Moana,” from initial pitches to theatrical release, can be anywhere from 4 to 10 years depending on concept and development. Throughout that time, hundreds of hands touch the film in some way, though perhaps for only portions of the process. Chris’s role as a TD, for example, would not be needed until after a script was written, storyboards drawn up and voices recorded.
Because it takes a small army to bring animated films to life, creative comparisons are constantly made between artists and technical directors alike. I explicitly asked Chris about self-judgement, because in an environment such as SCAD where creativity is nurtured and encouraged, artistic comparisons are inevitable.
When it comes to students who might be envious of one another’s work, Chris said recognizing that jealousy is important. In his classroom, he does not want to discourage anybody.
“There’s always going to be somebody that’s better than you,” Chris said. “I want people to say, ‘Ok, I’m really passionate about this, but I’m not the best at this.’ I want somebody who’s very self-spoken, very humble. Those are the things that set you apart from everybody else.”
Chris recommends focusing on the qualities that cannot be taught. “Maintaining self-confidence is very difficult as a student,” Chris said. “If you’re both going on sheer skill, do you have the actual intangibles that you can’t show in your artwork? Ask yourself, ‘What are some things that I am really good at that nobody else is?’ Everybody has that.”
What students should not do is look down upon their peers, because each artist is unique and practices differently. The “intangibles” he refers to are not only exclusive to individual personalities, but they come from self-evaluation, another challenge artists face.
“It puts you in a very vulnerable place,” Chris said. “Just remember to keep learning and making sure you’re not just resting on what you’ve done before. That’s one thing I learned at Disney.”
Chris ended our conversation with another tip he learned from his time as an animation TD for the Mouse: “You should never compare yourself against the worst. Look at the best person and ask how can I be better than them.”
Written by Emilie Kefalas.