May 26, 2021

Michael Surrey on Animating for Disney and Dreamworks & Making Trouble with Danny McBride

Animator Michael Surrey is the artist behind some of Disney’s most iconic films, including Beauty and the Beast, which was the first, full-length animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Michael went on to animate the title character in Aladdin, Timon in The Lion King, and Clopin in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, among many others. After 18 years at Disney, Michael animated for Dreamworks, where he worked on Shark Tale, Tangled, and the Oscar-nominated How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, among others. He is currently Creative Director of Story and Animation at Spire Animation Studios, where he is developing the animated feature Trouble, with Danny McBride.

aladdinDanny McBride Vice Principals






What you will learn:

  • What called Michael to California 30 years ago and what Disney film inspired him to work for Disney. How an unconventional summer job (animation posing artist for the Care Bears TV series) opened his mind to the possibility that animation could be a career. [0:00-11:52]
  • Michael’s earliest memories of drawing and being asked to draw pictures and pen “tattoos” for fellow classmates. How fundamental school was in transitioning from drawing to animation. The commitment it took to overcome rejection before finally being accepted to an animation school. [11:52-17:26]
  • Michael’s perspective on Disney’s animation style when he began working for the studio, how many drawings and time it took to create just a few seconds of film, and why initial animation concepts often have to be simplified over time. [17:26-24:50]
  • What it was like for Michael to work on Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin early on in his career at Disney, and how the  passionate, collaborative work environment at Disney shaped him as an artist. Why he appreciated the openness Disney had to employee input on story changes and why it makes for a stronger finished product. [24:50-32:43]
  • How knowing who will voice a character before its creation can affect the artist’s approach when animating the character. The best and worst parts of his day as an animator. [32:43-41:58]
  • Why Michael left Dreamworks to become Creative Director of Story and Animation at Spire Animation Studios. Why we are currently in a renaissance period for animation and the importance of having a progressive work culture. [41:58-49:55]
  • Why he is excited to be working on Spire’s upcoming project, Trouble, with Danny McBride, and why he believes there is a wide audience now more than ever for animation. [49:55-59:49]


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