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Animation Authority To Be Honored at UCLA

Walt Disney Pictures


Randy Cartwright has held a lot of titles.  Animator.  Digital Production System Developer.  Cinematographer.  Writer.  This man’s extensive career may never have happened if it hadn’t had been for a 6th grade math class.

"A friend of mine had drawn a little flip book in the corner of his notebook," recalled Cartwright.  "I was kind of intrigued and spent that evening drawing arrows going across the page and bombs blowing up and airplanes flying by.  By the next day I decided that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Cartwright’s youth was spent drawing characters and making stop motion films with his family’s super 8 camera.  After graduating from high school he attended UCLA to maximize their advanced animation program that would allow him to finish an animated film idea he developed in high school.   On June 5th Cartwright will be honored with the Outstanding Contribution to Animation Award by his Alma Marter at the UCLA 2010 Festival of New Creative Work. 

Over the years Cartwright has worked on many successful and critically acclaimed animated movies such as “Shrek,” “The Lion King,” “The Polar Express” and “The Princess and the Frog,” to name a few.  However his reach extends beyond animation to computer programming, a skill he particularly enjoys.


“I got involved in programming computers in 1981,” said Cartwright.  “I was the artist involved in developing the Disney Caps, Ink and Paint system, that’s the first animated digital paint system.  We used it for everything: ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Aladdin,’ ‘Lion King,’ all the way up through ‘Home on the Range.’  I was working on that with the other programmers because I love getting in and forcing computers to do what I want them to do.”

Although Cartwright has been involved in traditional animation for years, he enjoys working in the world of computer animation.  He relates computer animation to stop motion: there is an established character that the animator is responsible for posing within an environment, as opposed to designing everything from scratch.


“With drawn animation you start with a blank piece of paper and everything comes out of you,” said Cartwright. “With a computer scene you are given an environment and you are given the joints and all the things the character can do; whether his face can move or stretch, and you are manipulating all these different parts of the character to create each frame.”

Cartwright believes there is a spot for both traditional and computer animation in contemporary film making.  The elements of the story dictate the method applied: if a story is more character-driven, hand-drawn animation is an appropriate technique.  If the story relies heavily on spectacle, CG animation should be utilized for its more immersive quality.    When speaking about motion capture, however, Cartwright indicates it’s hard to determine exactly what category the technology falls under.

”It confuses everybody because it’s acting but it’s animation but its computer generated, and no one is quite sure of where to put it,” said Cartwright.  “So far all motion capture, after the actor has acted it out, goes to an animator that has to refine it.  None of the motion capture, the raw data, is really accurate enough to be used in the final movie, so it’s always a collaboration between an animator and the actor and the computer people.   It’s this big mish mosh of this skills that create something.”  

Cartwright’s first foray into motion capture was “The Polar Express.”  The technology only captured broad body movements so a great deal of animation was necessary, primarily in the complete creation of the character’s faces. Cartwright explains how “Avatar” has advanced motion capture and blurred the animation line.


“In ‘Avatar,’ the actors did have little cameras that were attached to their helmets and aimed at their face, so the animators had video of the actors’ faces, and would touch up the data to make sure it matched up closely to the performance of the actor’s face.  There is a little bit of interpretation, but mostly it’s pretty technical. You probably want people who are real skilled at technically duplicating things that they see on video and making sure that the computer model is doing the same thing.  Then there are things like the flying creatures; that is pure animation that has to be blended in”

As he has done in the past, Cartwright explores many different roles within animated productions.  Most recently, his main focus has been on story development.  On his last picture, “The Princess and the Frog,” Cartwright spent two years working on story development before spending a year on animation.  Regardless of his role, he’s always looking for strong characters and story lines an audience can empathize with in the projects he takes on.  He uses the original “Shrek” as an example.


“Shrek and Donkey really believed the crazy world they were in, and they were actually going through some believable emotions and situations,” said Cartwright.  “Donkey would really get upset with Shrek over the way he was behaving, and it had that element of genuine emotion that really made it what it was.  I like the things that have heart where you really get involved with the character and feel for their situations.”

To learn more about the UCLA 2010 Festival of New Creative Work, please visit: