Toby Shelton

Where were you born?
I was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1959. When I was 3 years old my family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was there I spent the next 15 years before going to college in California.

I am currently an Animation Story Artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Early Life/Family:
I was the youngest of 4 boys. My dad was a stucco contractor in Albuquerque. My mom started out a home maker and later worked as a secretary to a colonel at Kirtland Air Force Base. As a boy I was captivated by animation, particularly Disney animation. Pinocchio was my favorite movie. I never missed watching the Wonderful World of Color hosted by Walt Disney every Sunday evening on TV. To see an animated movie then was an event in those days. If you wanted to see Bambi or Cinderella, you had to wait for Disney to re-release it to the theaters. After which it would go back into "the vault" and not be seen again for 7 years. If I could get my hands on a magazine that had screen captures, or Disney animation art in it, I would save it so I could study it try to copy the characters. The appeal and personality of the Disney aesthetic was something I wanted to be able to incorporate in my own drawings. As a teen in the 70's I discovered MAD magazine. I enjoyed the irreverent humor, though tame by today's standards, and loved the variety of drawing styles. I think MAD helped broaden my horizons as a cartoonist. In high school I took a ceramics class. While most kids where throwing pots on the wheel and making ashtrays, I spent most of my time inventing and sculpting my own characters. Several of them were displayed around campus. That's when I first realized that this was something I needed to develop and pursue. In my junior year I wrote to Disney Studios in Burbank to ask if they had an apprenticeship program. They wrote back and said they don't hire anyone out of high school, and that I would have to get college level art training for them to consider me. They also sent me a brochure for a school called California Institute of the Arts.

After graduating from high school in 1977, I went to California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts) in Valencia, CA. and enrolled in the Character Animation school. The program director was Jack Hannah, famous Disney shorts director. Though it was a 4 year program, I opted to leave after 3, when Disney offered me a job at the studio in Burbank. I was hired in 1980 and began working as a clean up inbetweener on The Fox and the Hound. My first mentor at the studio was Ed Gombert.

Career Outline: I was hired by Disney in 1980 as a clean up inbetweener on The Fox and the Hound. A highlight of my early years there was to work on Mickey's Christmas Carol. After 5 years of feature work, I decided to move to the upstart Disney TV Animation division. I was offered the position of character designer on a little show they were working on called DuckTales. I stayed in TV for a number of years and worked on shows like Winnie the Pooh, Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and Aladdin to name a few. My first experience directing was on the final season of Darkwing Duck. I also Produced/Directed a series called Quack Pack, featuring Donald and his teen age nephews. A direct-to-video division later called DisneyToons was an outgrowth of the TV division. Under that banner I directed The Return of Jafar, and Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas. When directing opportunities began to dry up for me, I turned to storyboarding as a way to continue working. This was a trying time for me, as I struggled to understand why I was not being asked to direct anymore. In the meantime, I started to develop as a board artist by working on direct-to-video sequels of Lion King, Jungle Book, and Lilo and Stitch. At this time I felt it would be good for me to leave Disney and apply for a position as a story artist at DreamWorks. It had been years since I had worked at a feature animation studio and I hoped the change of scenery would do me good. Leaving Disney after 23 years was not easy, but I'm better off for having done it. The first picture I worked on at DreamWorks was Over the Hedge. Followed by Kung Fu Panda, Bee Movie (Pitching to Jerry Seinfeld was cool, too bad the movie was a stinker.) and How to Train Your Dragon. I grew as a story artist during this period and enjoyed my time there very much. The DreamWorks campus is beautiful. I then decided to go back to Disney Features after 20 odd years as a Story Artist on The Princess and the Frog. We all hoped that it would be a new begining for 2D animation. I guess we were just clinging to the past. 2D is dead, with the exception of TV, anime and art films. After Princess and the Frog, and worked on Rapunzel (later called Tangled) for a few months, then returned to DreamWorks to work on Mega Mind. I stayed put for about 5 years and decided to...yes you guessed it...return to Disney where I am currently working on Moana which is to be released in 2016.

Comments on style:
I am always striving for expressiveness and appeal in my drawings. I hope to evoke in people who see my drawings, the same feeling I had when I saw the work of those early Disney animators as a kid. I'll always be partial to the Disney aesthetic in general. Especially when they achieve the right balance of stylization and naturalism.

Who are your influences?
This is a hard one to answer. I would say Freddie Moore, and Milt Kahl. Though I never met either, I studied there work closely. Fred for rhythm, flow, and most of all appeal; and Milt for stylization (especially use of straights), design, and draftsmanship. Both men couldn't have been more different in personality. I was also influenced by some of the MAD magazine artists, in particular Jack Davis.

How would you describe your personality? (My wife might be better qualified to answer this than me. But I'll try.) I'm prone to fits of melancholy (I'm a sucker for a sad song). I beat myself up too much about my work. I often think it's just a matter of time before someone realizes I'm a fraud and they call security to escort me out of the building. I treat compliments with skepticism and hold criticism to my breast. I'm a neurotic artist, what can I say.

Shortly after starting at Disney I walked into the animation building and noticed a trail of fresh blood on the floor. I followed it and noticed it went up the stairs to the second floor. As I walked up the steps wondering where it would lead, I looked up to see Tim Burton with his hand cupped over his jaw. Apparently he had just pulled his own wisdom tooth out of his mouth (Is that possible?) and was walking around holding the tooth with blood dripping from his mouth. He seemed to be taking pleasure in this exhibition, so I decided not to question it, and beat a trail back to my office. (If you Google "Tim Burton wisdom tooth", you'll find pictures from that day of a young Burton with a bloody mouth.)

Contributors To This Listing:
Toby Shelton and Paul Briggs
Regina Felicia Tanubrata

Animators Hall of Fame