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'Because There is Magic in It'

September 21, 2018

This article was written by Scott Jackson and published in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Read the original article .


As a former Disney animator, Za Vue knows the secret to great animation.

With more than a decade working in Disney's Florida studio, Vue has worked on movies like "Pocahontas," "Tarzan," "Mulan" and "Brother Bear."

In a guest lecture on the University of Idaho campus Thursday, Vue outlined the five core principles she looks for in animation and design.

"Obviously, the first one is design, which encompasses drawing, composition, lines, all of that good stuff," Vue said. "Then after that, I think about color, value, brushwork and edges."

Although she considers these to be essential components, Vue said there is a secret, sixth principle that gives the piece its soul - personal style.

Vue said this component specifically must be handled delicately. Even advice or guidance could have unforeseen effects.

"It's more about seeing the raw talent and not trying to force them down a certain road," Vue said. "Those five principles are just tools. They don't tell you exactly what it should look like."

Vue said when she took a job with Disney straight out of college in her early 20s, it was still early in her career and she was able to adapt to what the studio asked of her. In her years working on movies that have since been fondly enshrined in the memories of millions - perhaps billions - she said one of the great advantages afforded to her was the chance to do an enormous amount of drawing.

"For the next 10 plus years, I worked in the cleanup department, where I drew from morning until night," Vue said. "They say that you need 10,000 hours - I think I logged about 20 plus thousand hours in just drawing alone."

Each second of a standard film, Vue explained, requires 24 frames of drawing - meaning any given minute of animation requires 1,440 different images, each of which may take an hour or more to draw.

By way of example, Vue described a particularly challenging scene from one of her favorite movies that she worked on.

"There was a scene in 'Mulan' - I think there was a scene where all those bad guys broke out of the ice - there were like a gazillion bad guys and our crew - I think we only had like seven people," Vue said. "It took us months to get through that scene, and when it finally went out of the department, we were like, 'Oh my God, let's go celebrate!' "

Vue, now an instructor at the Portland Art Institute and renowned plein air artist, said there were a number of advantages and lessons afforded to her in her time at Disney, but she is most grateful for the amount of work she was able to put in.

"You have to work on your flaws for years and years and years," Vue said. "One day, it is like breathing and it comes very natural and intuitive, but until that happens, there is no magic bullet, you have to just dig in and do the work."

Vue is quick to note that she was luckier than most artists, but work and luck go hand in hand. If an artist doesn't prepare and work hard, she said, they may not be ready for a great opportunity when it appears. Though the work can be daunting, Vue said, there is something fantastic in telling stories through animation.

"We do it because we love it, not because it's easy - because there's much easier ways to do things, including telling stories," Vue said. "You can take a video, you can tell a story, but why do animation, why do stop motion, why do CG? Because there's magic in it."


About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 12,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky Conference. Learn more at