(Disney) Moving up the ranks at Disney Animation — the studio that’s won three of the past five Oscars for Best Animated Feature — means proving you merit. So, it’s notable when an animator gets tapped to be the art director of characters on her first feature film assignment. That’s just what happened to Ami Thompson with her gig on the studio’s 2018 feature Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2. Working with director Rich Moore, an Oscar winner for Zootopia and nominee for Wreck-It Ralph, has Thompson pinching herself. “Since it’s my first feature, when Cory Loftis, the production designer, offered me the position, I couldn’t believe it. It was April 1, so I thought, ‘Is this a prank?’”
Not a surprising reaction, given that Thompson’s only prior Disney credit was as character designer on the animated short Inner Workings. Of course, she’d been mentored by veteran Disney animator Mark Henn ( Mulan, Big Hero 6) during an internship while she attended Sheridan College. She also interned previously at Studio Ghibli, so she had seen animators working at the highest level. Still, when she landed the job at Disney three years ago, Thompson admits that she wondered if she was good enough to make it there. “But I got to work with Mark Henn again, and be surrounded by inspiration from him and other animators.”
Her work confirmed that she was up to the job. Thompson not only contributed character designs to Inner Workings, but the film featured her hand-drawn animation as well. “At Sheridan, I had learned mostly 2D, but I also learned the basics of CG, since I knew the animation industry was moving to CG.” Now her role on Wreck-It Ralph 2 puts Thompson in the thick of 3D, handling the beloved title character and his sidekick Vanellope as they venture beyond the confines of arcade games onto the internet.
“Before this film, Ralph was designed in a classic ‘big ape’ style in a game world,” notes Thompson. “This time, it’s a new world that is so big, and there are so many random things. We wanted to reflect that in the designs, and take these beautiful characters to the next level.”
A visit to Thompson’s Instagram page reveals that she’s a gamer herself, and clearly a digital native. “I do feel related to this movie,” she says. “Not just games, but the internet. That always comes with me.” Cockroaches, Go West: A Lucky Luke Adventure and Zig & Sharko. But his career kicked into high gear recently when he began directing episodes of the studio’s much-heralded new adaptation of Mr. Magoo.
After studying at the Maximilien Vox School of Printing and Graphic Arts, and graduating from the Duperré School of Applied Arts, Gittard jumped at the chance of creating characters for Xilam. Before long, he was writing and directing the studio’s other new properties Rintindumb and Mr. Baby. He then created and directed Xilam’s Hubert & Takako, a show about a clean-cut pig and his hyperactive best friend, a fly.
“I first became interested in animation when I saw Akira at the Annecy festival back when I was a student at art school,” Gittard tell us. “My first big break was when I was hired to design characters for Xilam’s Space Goofs.”
Gittard says working with an iconic character like Mr. Magoo has been both challenging and fulfilling. “Magoo is the ideal character for which to create absurd misunderstandings and crazy visual gags. Defying the laws of physics and logic is always a big pleasure for a cartoonist. The key is to reinvent and modernize the characters, while keeping the fantasy of the characters alive.”
Noting that his animation idol is SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg, Gittard says he loves the spirit of teamwork that film and TV animation encourages. “I also think that it’s most important to dare to do the impossible to succeed in art. The best advice is to practice your design in the academic style. Once you get it, try to find your own personality and don’t hesitate to get off the beaten tracks. Always remember that a cartoonist is a performer!”