Paul Briggs | Story Supervisor at Walt Disney Animation

Paul Briggs photo for AICAD website 650-250 pixels
Paul Briggs KCAI ’96 Illustration
Story Supervisor at Walt Disney Animation

When he was a senior at KCAI, Paul Briggs learned from his department chair that Walt Disney Studios were accepting portfolios for an internship. The Texas native scrambled, submitted a drawing portfolio, got the job and started animating on “Mulan.” Except for stints at Warner Bros. and Nickelodeon, he has been with Disney ever since.

Most recently he was story supervisor on “Frozen,” an animated feature released in fall 2013 that revolves around two sisters (trailer below). “I know a lot about that, since I have four of them,” he said. “I think the story is the most compelling one I’ve worked on at Disney.” Being head of story, or story supervisor, means he manages a team of story artists working together to get the director’s vision up onto the screen.

He describes Disney Animation as an incredible place to work. “There’s such a rich legacy with animation,” he said. “Our animation research library allows us to look through all of the old classic artwork. Being able to flip through original Pinocchio animation is a definite employment bonus. What’s more impressive are the amazing artists, storytellers and filmmakers I work with every day. I’m in awe at the talent and level of craftsmanship in the studio. It’s a very collaborative process because you are working with artists from so many different disciplines that are from all over the world. There’s visual development, story, character animation, effects animation, lighting and so on. We’re all making the same film, so we all have to be on the same page. It requires an environment that nurtures creativity and communication.”

Briggs noted that many Disney artists have projects outside of work that allow them to push their creativity even more. “I know co-workers that sculpt, do plein-air painting and create comic books outside of work,” he said. He himself has published books, done large-scale drawings, sketches, greeting cards, furniture design, calligraphy, letterpress printing and design work outside the studio.

Asked how KCAI prepared him for his career at Disney, Briggs mentioned the strong foundation he gained in art training and the support system he experienced with other students. He also said that college is a time when a student can try new things, experience failure and learn from it.

“You develop a better sense of what your strengths are, and you focus on improving and developing yourself,” he said. “KCAI gave me the opportunity to try a lot of different things. Even though I was in illustration/design, I was very into sculpting, ceramics and drawing. Some of my anatomy and figure-drawing classes were crucial to my getting an internship at Disney. Plus there’s a great support system through other students. You’re all going through the same thing, but on different paths, so you have friends who push and challenge your individual work.”

Briggs’ favorite memories of KCAI include meeting the girl who would become his wife. “She’s a painting graduate, and we share a studio at home,” he said. “I also made good friends that I still keep in touch with.”

Asked what advice he might share with high-school students aspiring to a career in animation, he said, “Animation is hot right now, and there’s a lot of it going on everywhere, not only at the big feature studios but also in television, gaming and in foreign countries.”

    He offered two specific tips for would-be animators:

  • “It’s extremely important to understand the basic fundamentals. It’s always obvious when a new portfolio arrives and someone hasn’t put forth the effort in understanding basic principles and methods. Use your time at school to do this!”
  • “The other thing I’d say is tell me a story; show me character; make me care and empathize.”

By Anne Canfield
Vice President for Communications at KCAI