Interview with Walt Disney Studios’ Legendary Animator, Mark Henn

Mickey Mouse in "Mickey's Christmas Carol," Ariel in "Little Mermaid," Young Simba in "The Lion King" and Belle in "Beauty and the Beast," Jasmine in "Alladin" are just some of his works!

Dubbed as the legendary Disney artist and is considered as among the top influential Disney artists in the world, Mark Henn was recently in Manila for this year's AsiaPop ComiCon to take Disney fans through his 30-year journey and experience as an animator and talk about his past work.

Mickey Mouse in "Mickey's Christmas Carol," Ariel in "Little Mermaid," Young Simba in "The Lion King" and Belle in "Beauty and the Beast," Jasmine in "Alladin" are just some of his works. Now he is a serving as the 2D Animation Supervisor for the studios' upcoming feature film, "Ralph Breaks The Internet" which is the sequel to the 2012 film Wreck-It Ralph.

Walt Disney Studios Supervising Animator Mark Henn

At a roundtable interview, we had the chance to talk to Mark Henn where he shares his favorite milestones, how Ralph Breaks The Internet is different from his other projects, his dream projects and more! Read the full interview below:

Question: You've been with Disney for 38 years now, what have been your favorite milestones?

Mark Henn: Well, I guess my first milestone was… the first project that I actually got to animate on, which was Mickey's Christmas Carol. So I started my animation career as an animator, full-fledged animator, animating Mickey Mouse for Disney. Can't top that, I don't think. And so, milestones would be films like [The] Little Mermaid: certainly a milestone, it kind of ushered in this new generation of musicals, I guess, that we've been doing. It kind of hit its peak with [The] Lion King, which was a pleasant surprise to all of us.

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Moving to the new animation studio on Florida when they opened that up was certainly a milestone. And then seeing that group of artists who were, for the most part, all brand-new to animation, they were right outta art schools, and it was really fun to see that group gel and grow and to where could do first feature film, which was Mulan: which was extra special because of that, I'm very proud of that. And then, I had a chance to direct a short film, John Henry, which was a wonderful experience. And then working with times of change: my world, the studios changed, working with the new younger artists and animators is very satisfying, in that sense.

You mentioned that you did direct a short film. How was doing directing aside from doing the animating?

It was great! I mean, a lot of people said "Are you gonna animate anything on it?" and I said, "No, because that's not my job." I took that hat off and put on the director's hat, so I was happy to lead the team and work with my animators, but it's a unique role and very satisfying. I would dearly love to do it again if given the opportunity: the challenge of trying to do a feature would be fun, but we'll see. In the meantime, it was a great experience.

How do you think Wreck-it-Ralph 2 is different from all the other projects you've done?

Well, aside from working on The Rescuers Down Under, this is really a true sequel for the filmmakers because we're working with essentially the same group of artists that brought us the first film. In that sense, it makes it more of a true sequel, so it's kind of fun to go back and revisit characters we got to enjoy in the first film. Now you get to do it all over again, not only with the old characters but with a whole bunch of new characters that they run into: people like Yesss and those more other characters. Going in the internet, what a vast world, and that was exciting but also challenging because it is so big, you had to try to figure out exactly what parts of the internet are we gonna have the time to actually get to see and participate in. It's just a fun challenge!

Walt Disney Studios Supervising Animator Mark Henn

How has technology changed the way you work?

The myth with computer animation, particularly, is that it makes life easier, and I would say that's a myth. You know, people think, "Oh, you just push a button and it's faster," but no, it's not faster and it's not cheaper. In fact, with the technology you have more people involved because you have to have a whole group of people that fix things when that technology breaks down.

In hand-drawn days, the worst thing that would happen is if my pencil broke, or I ran out of paper, I could go get new paper. You have all the benefits of technology and giving you tools to create, for filmmakers to be able to create worlds that would be very difficult to do in the hand-drawn world.

We basically follow the same process that we've always done going all the way back to Snow White, in terms of how our films are made: stories are developed, they're storyboarded, their reels are built, once things are approved to go into production and the animators come on. I mean, it still follows basically the same workflow that we've done going all the way back to Snow White, it's just the tool set's different: instead of making paint, you have lighters. Instead of traditional assistant animators, you have what we call tech animator people.

I mean, it's just different names for seemingly the same jobs in certain cases, but like I said, now you have a whole tech department that supports – it's like "Ah, I can't get this button to work!" "I'll be right there!" – so you've got that, brings a whole different group of expertise and people that fix things a lot. But it isn't any faster, necessarily, and as these things get more complicated: rendering time, it still boils down to people, and the hours it takes to get these films done.

With you being in the industry for more than 30 years, do you still have any dream projects?

Yeah, I've said that there's a couple of ideas that I would love to direct if ever I have that opportunity, but we've got a huge slate of wonderful ideas that are currently in development, so I'm hoping they'd get a chance to maybe partner with some of those productions. Frozen 2, for example, is one coming up next that I'd like to be able to get back with the same group of filmmakers and go on that journey with them as well.

If you weren't an artist, what do you think would you be doing?

Maybe being a teacher, my parents were teachers. I thought about maybe being a high school band director or something, because I love high school band and I was in band. So that would be fun!

Walt Disney Studios Supervising Animator Mark Henn Walt Disney Studios Supervising Animator Mark Henn

Do you have a message for everyone who's aspiring to be in the industry, or make it big in the industry?

People ask me that question a lot, particularly parents. I still tell people: be a good artist, get a good art education, but you're also gonna need to learn computer skills because that's where the bulk of the work is. You can love to paint and draw and do things the traditional way, that's all well and good, but if you're looking for work today, you're gonna need to have some level of computer skills. It doesn't mean you have to know how it all works, but you need to be able to sit down and have a basic skill level to be able to do the job because that's where the bulk of the work is.

Catch Mark Henn's latest project when Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 premieres in Philippine cinemas on November 21, 2018. Like Walt Disney Studios on Facebook and follow them on Instagram for updates.

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