PK 099: How to Launch Your Creative Project – With Merida Creator, Brenda Chapman

Artist, director and creator of Merida, Brenda Chapman, shares her years of experience in this week’s podcast. Image Credit: Disney Pixar

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“Animation on a big scale is a very collaborative process. And if you open yourself up to this and let it happen, it’s amazing what can come out of that. 

~ Brenda Chapman

Want to know how to launch your creative project?

Who better to speak to than an artist, writer, and director who’s worked on countless films for Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks?

Meet Brenda Chapman. She made history as the first woman ever to be made ‘head of story’ on a major animated movie – The Lion King.

In this week’s podcast, she reveals some fascinating insights about working at Disney in the 1980s, gives you stacks of advice on how to launch your creative project…

and reveals why you might want to think twice before giving your best ideas to a big animation studio.

Brenda Chapman on How to Launch Your Creative Project

Brenda Chapman studied animation at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), before working as a story trainee on Disney’s The Little  Mermaid after graduation.

While at Disney, she got to work with countless great artists and directors (we’ve listed these below), and progressed through the ranks to become one of the key story artists on the much-loved animation, Beauty and The Beast.

But it was on another Disney classic that Brenda really made her name. Because, not only was she made ‘head of story’ on The Lion King, she was the first woman ever to do so.

“You learned Collaboration at CalArts, so when I went to Disney as a trainee, I would go to people to mentor me and people would volunteer to help.

“Roger Allers (co-director on The Lion King), was my main mentor, but there were lots of wonderful people there who were willing to show me the ropes.”

In 1994, Brenda left Disney to join Dreamworks, where she worked closely with CEO, Jeff Katzenberg. While she was here, she worked in a team of three directors on The Prince of Egypt.

Then, in 2003, she moved to Pixar, where she worked on Cars before moving on to her next big project.

Brenda Chapman and the Story of Brave

However, this was also when Brenda learned probably one of the most valuable lessons any aspiring animation artist or writer can learn.

She explains: “You need to know that once you pitch your great idea to a big studio, such as Disney, Pixar or Sony, they will own it immediately.

“That’s the danger of pitching your idea to a big studio – it will no longer be yours. And if they decide they don’t want you working on it any more, they can take you off the project and give it to someone else.”

And that’s exactly what happened to her.

So what was this big project that Brenda pitched to Pixar? It was the 2012 classic, Brave – the story of a feisty young princess, Merida, who defies the age-old customs in her kingdom by not wanting to be betrothed.

For the character of Merida, Brenda drew inspiration from her own daughter, making the story of this animated classic a deeply personal one.

Which is why it came as such a blow for Brenda to be taken off the project in 2010 after ‘creative differences’ with the management at Pixar. Lesson learned.

So, if you’re wondering how to launch your creative project without getting burned, this week’s podcast with Brenda Chapman is crammed with timely advice.Here are some of the questions we asked Brenda Chapman in this week’s podcast:

  1. How do you launch your big idea and get funding for it?
  2. How do you keep control of your creative projects?
  3. How good do your drawing skills have to be to launch an idea?
  4. Why is collaboration so important with a creative project?
  5. What advice does Brenda have for aspiring artists (Tip: This part is a must-listen if you want to advance your art career)

You’ll find the answers to these and many more questions in this week’s podcast.

We hope hearing Brenda Chapman’s story gives you lots of advice on how to launch your creative project…and the pitfalls to avoid.

And, if you enjoyed this podcast, you might also like:

PK094: Social Media for Artists With Derek Rodenbeck

PK079: How to Develop as an Artist With Chaz Sutherland

PK054: Jesse Aclin on How to Have Fun With Your Style

People on this Episode:

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Artists Named in This Episode:

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Thanks for listening to our show! We’ll be back next Wednesday morning 8AM EST.

Cheers,

Mitch

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