From YTV's 'ReBoot' to Disney: Canadian artists quietly bring your favourite animated films to life

Elisabetta Bianchini
·4 min read
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON - As an evil force threatens the kingdom of Kumandra, it is up to warrior Raya, and her trusty steed Tuk Tuk, to leave their Heart Lands home and track down the last dragon to help stop the villainous Druun. (Disney)
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON - As an evil force threatens the kingdom of Kumandra, it is up to warrior Raya, and her trusty steed Tuk Tuk, to leave their Heart Lands home and track down the last dragon to help stop the villainous Druun. (Disney)

Disney is known as the golden standard in animated storytelling but it's very likely that when you look through the credits of some of your recent favourites, you will see multiple Canadians behind the production of massive hit movies.

Andrew Lawson, Benson Shum and Clio Chiang are just three of the Canadians who worked on the upcoming animated film Raya and the Last Dragon (coming to Disney+ on March 5). Lawson and Shum are animators while Chiang is a story artist.

All originally from Vancouver, their impressive resumes include credits on films including Big Hero 6, Moana, Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, to name a few.

Lawson also worked on one of the most iconic Canadian animated series, ReBoot, a groundbreaking CGI TV series, which originally aired on YTV in Canada in the 1990s and into the early 2000s.

"You're my hero Andrew," Chiang said in a Zoom interview with Yahoo Canada, in response to finding out Lawson worked on the series.

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While all three of them showed an interest in animation from a young age, their paths to Disney weren't necessarily linear.

"I think I was seven when I first saw Little Mermaid, it's like 'Oh man I want to work in that, I want to work on something like that,' but I didn't know that was a profession people could go into," Chiang told Yahoo Canada.

"I have a minor in literature and I actually started in microbiology at UBC [University of British Columbia]. But I think that all contributed to having an interest in story [because] you kind of have to be a student of life to really get a good grasp of portraying it animated, like caricaturing it."

Chiang saw Disney as a "pipe dream" but after applying to an apprenticeship program with the company, the story artist has been in the U.S. ever since.

For Shum, he always wanted to get involved in animation and loved drawing as a kid. Shum attended Capilano University (previously Capilano College) for 2D animation but didn't actually get in the first time he applied. Shum said that actually helped him be more appreciative of the opportunity once he did.

Shum always wanted to work for Disney but didn't think it was possible, being a Canadian.

"At some point I actually forgot about applying to Disney," he said. "I just didn't really think about going to the States until Tangled came out."

"When that movie came out, that kind of brought back all those feelings when I was a kid...and that's when I started to pursue trying to apply for Disney again."

Lawson went to the University of British Columbia as well, majoring in philosophy with a minor in sociology. He ended up leaving to take a 10-month course at the Vancouver Film School.

"I did a lot of drawing when I was a kid and loved movies, and would have liked to have been working in them," he said. "I just never thought it was really possible or didn't really know how to get into it, and so I just went to university, as you're supposed to do after high school."

"I worked in TV for a few years in Vancouver and then I kind of bounced around the globe a lot because it's hard to get into the States... After a while, your work gets good enough and your portfolio gets good enough that someone's willing to bring you in and get you a visa."

'Training your eye to see things differently'

For anyone aspiring to work as an animator or story artist one day, Chiang stressed that a career in animation is attainable and "having a wide breadth of interests really contributes to your work."

Lawson identifies that sometimes the toughest part is just making the move to get started.

"Just get your experience and just start doing it because the sooner you start, the more experience you're going to have and the sooner you'll be on your way," he said.

Shum stressed that drawing is still an important skill to have, even if a lot of the work is done on the computer.

"What you're doing is training your eye to see things differently," he explained. "For animators, Andrew and I, we could do little sketches [as] a way to express what we're trying to get at before we jump into the computer."

"The computer is another tool but having drawing will change the way you see things and how you manipulate the computer."