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Cameron Black, Disney Character TD

Cameron Black is a Walt Disney Feature Animation Character Technical Director who graduated from SCAD in 2014 with his Bachelor’s in Animation. He took the time to answer a few questions we had about his experience in the industry and what it’s like to work for Disney!

Tell us about yourself!

I’m from Idaho. Currently living in Burbank California working for Walt Disney Feature Animation as a Character Technical Director.

How long have you worked for Disney?

3.5 years.

Did you have a job or internship lined up before graduation?

After graduating from SCAD I went to pursue a masters in visualization at Texas A&M. After a little over a year in the program I was offered a position as an apprentice at Disney and decided it would be more beneficial to my career to accept that than to continue with the degree. After the apprenticeship I was offered a position at the studio and excitedly accepted!

What made you decide to go into Technical Direction, and when did you realize that was going to be your focus?

Creativity takes many forms. I’ve always felt most creatively satisfied when faced with a problem or task that challenged me both artistically and technically. It’s easy to look at what character TD’s do and assume it’s largely a technical job. While this is true it’s also very artistic. It’s not always as easy to see the creativity that goes into creating a complex rig or difficult character simulation but when you finish a project it’s very rewarding.

Cameron was the Rigging and Pipeline lead on a project called Tickled! which was created during the A&M Visualization Industry summer course at Disney. He was also responsible for cloth simulation, rigid body dynamics and prop modeling.

If you could do anything differently when you were in school, what would it be?

I would have learned how to script and program sooner. It’s such a useful skill and I wish I had started learning at a much younger age. It’s not required to be a good character TD but it is extremely beneficial.

What advice would you give to current students applying for jobs and internships?

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get accepted right away. It’s always worth it to get your name out there and receive feedback on your work. If you apply a second time and we see a large amount of growth that can go a long way. We love seeing people apply with new material and showing a potential for growth and improvement is great for those applying for internships.

What has been your favorite project that you’ve worked on in the industry and why?

Frozen 2 has been my favorite film to work on! I got to roll onto this project very early. Since the film hasn’t been released yet I can’t give to many details but one of the characters I worked on was the Nokk. The challenge of how to make a water horse was so interesting and new. There were a lot of challenging issues and not every thing we tried worked. Even if something didn’t work it led to us try and explore new options. I got to work with this character from concept to final and getting to see final renders is an incredibly rewarding experience.

The Nokk from Frozen 2. The Nokk is a water spirit that protects the forest.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

It’s so hard to answer this question! I love what I’m doing now and I want to continue in this path. While I’m interested in leadership roles I also love doing the hands on work and would be happy sticking where I am. The part that most interests me in leadership is mentoring. I’d really like to work with the newer crowd someday and help them on there career paths.

What’s your favorite thing about working for Disney?

The people! Everyone here is is so talented and inspiring. I get to be surrounded by the most talented people in the industry. There’s something special about being on a team of people who are all driven to create beautiful films and tell great stories. Inspiration is everywhere here.

Have you worked for any other companies or had any other Internships before Disney?

I had done a little free lance work before working with Disney. Although at the time I applied this work wasn’t able to make it onto my demo reel. I applied showing student work.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There are no typical days at Disney. If I’m doing Tech Anim I might start the day off looking at renders from the night before. if they have issues I’ll try to fix somethings before dailies. If the shot is in early stages I might just show them during rounds at my desk. Some days are set for director approvals. It’s hard to describe a typical day. So many things can change and get shuffled around during a production. If I’m rigging I might have more time at my desk and and reviews have a different approval structure. A lot more work is done communicating with other departments like modeling or animation.

How did SCAD help you prepare for the industry?

This question is going to be unique to each person. SCAD offers a lot of resources to the students. But you need to also take advantage of those resources yourself. You have access to teachers who have a lot of industry experience. SCAD brings in a lot of industry professionals for talks and even work reviews. It’s up to you to take advantage of this. I’d say SCAD gives you the tools to prepare yourself for the industry. You just need to take advantage of the great professors and various opportunities offered.

This chameleon rig was created by Cameron during his Senior year at SCAD.

What films did you work on at SCAD?

I only worked on a few student films at SCAD. My work on those was also primarily in rigging. I wish I had worked on more group projects while I was there. So many great shorts come out of the group projects and they also make a nice addition to your demo reel.

Are you working on any projects outside of work?

Yes actually. I like to have small side projects outside of work. Recently I’ve been learning unity and have been very interested in VR.

What do you do in your free time?

Recently I’ve been drawing quite a bit more. I always wanted to learn how to draw but never took the time to actually do it. I try to fit in some time everyday to draw. On weekends I have been learning Unity as well. If I’m being honest though, I play video games and relax a lot to. While I like working on personal projects everyone needs some time to just relax.

What’s your favorite Disney character and why?

Stitch! He’s so fun and crazy. I just love his personality.

How do you keep yourself motivated during a large project?

Being surrounded by so many talented artists is motivating in itself. I find staying motivated is actually easy. Looking through others work and seeing the concept art makes you want to work on these projects. I was on Frozen 2 for 2 years and just seeing all the improvements and changes made over time was enough to keep motivation high!

How can students stand out when applying for jobs?

Your reel is the most important thing! Having a flashy resume or crazy website might make it easier to remember you but it won’t get you the job. You want to present your work as best as you can. Show your best work first and be very clear on what you have done. For character TD’s its good to show something new. Every reel has a standard biped rig. Standout by showing something unique. Prop rigs are often more interesting that bipeds. What really stands out is problem solving, show a creative challenge and how you addressed it!

What films have you worked on at Disney?

Moana, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, Ralph Breaks The Internet, Frozen 2

Thank you so much Cameron for taking the time to answer these questions for us! Want to know more about Cameron? Check out his Twitter!

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