Getting a “we’re so grateful for films like this” out of the Los Angeles Times is no easy task. Then again, neither is pulling down a nearly $49-million opening weekend and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature Film. But that’s exactly what CCAD alumnus Nathan Greno (Associate 1993–1996) did in his motion picture directorial debut as co-director of Tangled.
So what does Greno think of all this? We recently spoke with him to find out what it’s like going from a CCAD student to a Golden Globe nominee in 14 short years.
IMAGE: You just directed the number one film in America. What keeps you grounded?
Nathan Greno (NG): We were thrilled to have a number one weekend. It’s incredibly exciting to direct a well-loved film that is enjoying a healthy box office. I am well aware that these films can fail, and I’ve seen ego destroy careers in animation. I think about those things every day. It keeps your head screwed on straight.
IMAGE: Can you walk us through the process a bit? How did Tangled become what it is?
NG: I worked as the story board supervisor on Bolt. John Lasseter (the creative lead at Pixar—and now Disney Animation) saw director potential in me and asked if I was interested in directing a DVD short for the film. Yes! Of course!
After the short was completed, John needed someone to direct the Rapunzel project. He asked me—again, I said yes. I really wanted to work with Byron Howard (director of Bolt), and John was great with that.
We started with a blank slate on Tangled. Everything started with us in the story room. Luckily, we had an amazing crew that helped bring the film to life in two short years—you usually get four to five years.
IMAGE: Do you work with any other CCAD alumni?
NG: I’ve met a number of CCAD graduates at Disney. Some of our best animators on Tangled attended CCAD.
IMAGE: What’s that like?
NG: It’s fun sharing stories with people who also went to CCAD. It’s like we we’re part of a club or something.
IMAGE: Do you have a single piece of advice for today’s students?
NG: As corny as it sounds, “Never stop fighting for your goals.” I was one of the weaker figure drawing students when I first started at CCAD (my figure drawing instructor told me so!), but three years later I was working at Disney. I had to work crazy hard to make that happen.
An animation portfolio is mostly made up of figure drawings, and my world revolved around my Disney portfolio. So during my sophomore and junior years, I started sitting in on extra figure drawing classes, sometimes attending four figure drawing classes a week. Disney offered me an internship after I finished my junior year in 1996, and I’ve been with them ever since.
IMAGE: Was there a smooth path from where you started to where you are now?
NG: I started as a clean-up animator on Mulan. I hated the job! It was very technical, and I didn’t feel like I was being creative. It was a real crisis moment for me because I had been saying I wanted to work for Disney since I was in first grade.
Luckily, I found the storyboarding department, which is one of the best jobs in the world. I spent about a decade doing story before John asked me to direct.
IMAGE: What makes you sit back and say, “This is why I do what I do.”
NG: I just had a moment like that recently. I went to the theater on opening night for Tangled. People were laughing, crying, and really having fun. It was the best feeling in the world. That night I actually thought about CCAD and the long road to directing the film. It was all worth it.
IMAGE: Finish the sentence. The best class at CCAD was…
NG: Dennis Drummond’s figure drawing class. Freshmen couldn’t take his class, but he let me sit in anyway. Sophomore and junior year I took his class and attended extra classes of his. He was an incredible teacher and an amazing draftsman. I don’t know if Disney would have happened if I never had Mr. Drummond for an instructor. I certainly wouldn’t have gotten in as fast as I did. I owe him a great deal of thanks.
IMAGE: What’s ahead?
NG: Byron and I pitched six new film ideas to John. We’re currently developing one of them.
IMAGE: Any plans to come back to CCAD in the future?
NG: Invite me back to give a talk about Disney! I’d love to do it!
Published in print twice a year, CCAD’s IMAGE magazine shares stories about our creative community, whether here in Columbus or around the world—what we’re doing, thinking, and planning next. The IMAGE blog brings those stories online for transmission at the click of a mouse.