Filtered By: Lifestyle

Meet the Fil-Am head of story of 'Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2'

Josie Trinidad is living every animator’s dream: She works at Disney Animation Studios as a co-head of story, helping craft and create the animated films that have caught the imagination and hearts of moviegoers worldwide.

Her body of work is impressive: she is head of story of "Ralph Breaks the Internet:Wreck It Ralph 2," currently in Philippine Cinemas, she was co-head of story of 2016’s Oscar-winning feature "Zootopia"; she was also involved in 2012’s arcade-game-hopping "Wreck-It Ralph," "Tangled," "The Princess and the Frog," and shorts "How to Hook Up Your Home Theater" and "The Ballad of Nessie."

She’s also done voice work on "Zootopia and "Wreck-It Ralph."

Josie's journey towards landing her dream job is as magical as anything you would expect from a Disney animated movie, beginning with how she first discovered she wanted to work in animation when she was just eight years old.

“My best friend and I were watching Disney’s "Robin Hood" on VHS—if you remember what that is—and when we paused it, it started to play frame by frame" Josie began telling reporters at the Shangri-La Fort last week.

"I saw these individual, beautiful drawings and I realized that there was a person behind those drawings and that was something that I could do, because I also loved to draw and I loved art. So that was when I really knew that this was a career that you could have. That was when I knew I wanted to work for Disney.”


Josie was in town last week to promote her latest Disney Animation project, 'Wreck It Ralph: Ralph Breaks the Internet'. Photo: Maggie Adan for GMA News
Josie was in town last week to promote her latest Disney Animation project, 'Wreck It Ralph: Ralph Breaks the Internet'. Photo: Maggie Adan for GMA News


Her Filipino parents were apprehensive about her dream at first, but she won them over to the idea soon enough with the help of a family friend, a son of her dad’s friend from the University of Sto. Tomas.

“My dad went to school at UST, and he and one of his best friends from university both immigrated to Montreal.” And then her dad moved to the US, eventually settling down in California, while his friend remained in Canada. 

Years later, the son of her dad’s best friend was accepted into California Institute of the Arts to study character animation [and] "we became his surrogate family (in California). He would spend Thanksgiving with us and we would pick him up from the airport. That was when I learned that there was a school for character animation and you could do this.”

That’s when she started gingerly broaching the subject to her parents. “I would sort of say, ‘I want to go to CalArts.’ and my parents would say, ‘Oh that’s cute! That’s a fun hobby, but you don’t really mean that. You want to be a doctor or a lawyer right?’ and I would say, ‘Yeah sure!’”

But she was determined to go to CalArts, even if it meant taking the longer route. “I sort of took a meandering path because my parents said I had to go to a ‘real’ school first. So I went to UCLA and studied English literature.”

She thought that maybe she could become a lawyer or maybe…she could go to CalArts! The dream clearly never died.

She pursued her dream, with her parents, ultimately turning supportive. "Even though they said it’s a hobby, they really did support me. They were like all Filipino parents—they want you to be happy and they want you to try your best. And if the first path didn’t work out, they knew that I could easily do something like become a lawyer or a teacher and still be successful. I think I convinced them over time, and I’m really grateful that they were extremely supportive.”

A Magical Opportunity

She calls her start at Disney Animation Studios in 2004 as a story apprentice a “magical opportunity” because, “It doesn’t happen very often!” Josie exclaims.

All she did was apply and then she got accepted. “I was one of eight—and the only woman—in this program.”

It was a six-month training program where they were asked to take storyboarding tests and were assigned story artist mentors.

“After six months they decided where you were going to go, if they were going to keep you or not. And they decided to put me on a film. I worked on 'The Princess and the Frog,' but I still had a mentor there, still kind of helping and guiding me. It was exciting and terrifying! I worked really hard, and I remained true to myself, and thankfully, they decided to keep me. I’ve been working at Disney ever since!”


Photo courtesy of Disney Animation
Photo courtesy of Disney Animation


Today she is head of story and part of the creative core group at the animation studios, overseeing a team of about 15 story artists. “What story artists do is help the directors visualize their films. We draw these loose, rough but clear comic book-like panels of the entire film. We help the directors craft their vision and make the film.”

And for Josie, who talks about Disney’s Nine Old Men — Disney’s celebrated animators Les Clark, Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Ward Kimball, Eric Larson, John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Frank Thomas — and the riggers with equal reverence, it’s obvious that the best part about working at Disney Animation Studios is the people.

“I love the people that I work with — the story department and the directors. We’re all sort of like a family: We fight in the rooms and we also tell stories about ourselves, so there’s a lot of sharing and a lot of trust that happens in the story room. It’s a really fun and unique place to work. I also love Disney. I’ve grown up loving Disney animation so it’s really a dream come true."

Calling them the best in their fields, Josie says the artists and technicians "really just elevate the movie... From the loose rough boards that we give them as story artists, they just take it to a whole new level. I think I take it for granted how amazing and talented they are and how they make our work as story artists look so incredible.”

She adds, “It’s an honor to be a part of Disney Animation. And one of the most surprising things I discovered when I first started working at Disney Animation, was how friendly, genuine and generous everyone was. No one’s a jerk!

"These amazing artists like Glen Keane ("Beauty and the Beast," among others) and Mark Henn ("Aladdin," among others) are sweethearts. If you have a question you can just kind of knock on their door and say, ‘Hey I’m having this problem.’ Or ask them about their experience, and they’ll spend a ton of time with you.”

While it is "a magical opportunity," a job at Disney can be daunting, Josie admits. "It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the idea that everyone’s going to watch this movie and it’s going to be seen all over the world. Initially it's that blank page; it's kind of starting out and getting over that initial fear...and I just start to draw.

“And when I’m issued a sequence, I ask the director very important questions and I find something to connect with, in the material. Then it really just it starts to come out naturally."

Josie takes drawing in stride, instead taking extra care "to get the right idea out. And if the audience can understand and feel and connect with these really rough and crude drawings, they’re definitely going to feel and be drawn in with the actual animation."

More women from all over the world

Josie has been with Disney Animation for 14 years, and in that span of time, she has witnessed a lot of welcome changes. “When I started in Disney in 2004, there were only two women in the story department. But now, in 2018, nearly half of the department is women. And it’s women from all around the world—I should say men and women from all around the world. And there are three of us who are Filipinos, which is wonderful! It’s really diverse. There’s all different age ranges. And I think that’s by design, because we have global films and we want to have all these different perspectives in the story room.”

And now that she’s where she’s always wanted to be, she hopes to foster new artists. “What I love doing as a head of story is bringing on story apprentices and interns. I love working with this generation, because I was one of them. I had mentors who helped me. And I feel it’s only right to give back and to mentor the incoming young artists.

“And the great thing is, with something like Ralph Breaks the Internet for example, we need to have different generations involved in the filmmaking, because for some of us on the crew, it’s the first time we’ve had smart phones. Meanwhile, some of the interns were born in a time when they don’t know a world without the internet. I love having this mix of diverse points of view in the story room so we can bring our unique perspectives.” 

If you’re dreaming of becoming one of the next generation of artists working in animation, Josie shares that passion plays a big part. “Animation is a little crazy, honestly. It’s 24 frames per second, so you have to draw everything you see. So much thought goes into a single frame. It’s painstaking and laborious, but it’s a labor of love, so I think you really have to love animation deeply.”

She also stresses the importance of staying true to who you are. After all, it’s worked for her. “Always be true to yourself. I feel like that was really how I survived and have stayed on at Disney animation.  I felt a little nervous when I started working at Disney. The majority was men, and I’m not like them. How will I have a place in this studio? Then I decided to just be myself because I had a unique perspective that hadn’t been brought to the studio before. So I really just embraced myself as an artist and kind of went from there.” — LA, GMA News