The Disney and Pixar legacy began in California but lives on at BYU through the Disney History Club and the BYU Animation program.
Students will experience even more Disney magic when President Ed Catmull speaks at Tuesday’s Forum in the Marriott Center.
BYU’s Disney History Club member Hayden Evans can be recognized on campus by his Mickey Mouse backpack and, if it’s raining, his Mary Poppins parrot-head umbrella. Evans is a student from Idaho studying concept art illustration. He uses the nickname “DisNerd” to describe his passion for the Disney legacy, history and ideals.
“I know I speak for several folks when I say that Ed Catmull’s appearance at the forum is something of a dream come true,” Evans said. “Catmull is an absolute pioneer in the field of computer animation, a legend in his own right.”
Catmull received a doctorate in computer science from the University of Utah and an honorary doctorate in engineering, also from the U., in 2005. According to his biography on The Walt Disney Studios website, Catmull has been honored with five Academy Awards, including a Technical Achievement Award, two Scientific and Engineering Awards, and one Academy Award of Merit for his work.
Before Disney and Pixar, Catmull was vice president in the computer division of Lucasfilm Ltd., managing computer graphics, video editing, gaming and digital audio.
Catmull was appointed by founder Steve Jobs as Pixar’s chief technical officer in 1986. According to his biography on the Walt Disney Studios website, “At Pixar, Catmull was a key developer of the RenderMan rendering system used in films such as ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Finding Nemo.'”
Catmull spoke to BYU’s animation program in 2008. He praised BYU Animation for having an “extraordinary program” and rising to the top.
The BYU Center for Animation came to life in 2010 and holds three colleges: the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology, the College of Fine Arts and Communications and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.
Disney’s Wikipedia website, DisneyWiki, has its own entry for BYU. According to DisneyWiki, “BYU’s animation program has been attracting faculty members from companies like Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and Warner Bros. — and student-produced films from the program have started turning the heads of entertainment executives from California to Cannes.”
The page commends the animation program’s awards including Student Emmys, Academy Awards and Nickelodeon Producer’s and Viewer’s Choice awards, to name a few.
BYU’s Disney History Club was founded in 2012. The club has an active Facebook page with more than 370 members. The club celebrates all things Disney-related — even Disney-owned groups like Marvel and Star Wars.
The club holds themed events like Mickey Mouse’s birthday Party and the Haunted Mansion Halloween carving in October.
Club member Jennifer Brown said the club helps her “recharge and cope with all of my adult responsibilities.”
Club President Brady Leavitt said he is “super excited” to hear Catmull speak and plans on organizing club members to attend the Forum as a group.
“It has been my dream to work for Disney as a career, and so to be able to hear somebody pretty high up in the company will be a great experience,” Leavitt said. “I think it is great that he is coming to BYU, and I know our whole club is pretty excited to hear from him.”
Leavitt said there are about 50 active Disney History Club members. Leavitt said the purpose of the club is to give BYU students who love everything Disney a place to go on campus and connect with others. It originally began as a place for students to ask questions regarding the Disney College Program, but now the club is home to “anybody who wants to have fun and who loves Disney to come and socialize.”
Leavitt worked at Florida’s Disney World in 2012 as part of the Disney College Program. He was an attractions host in Fantasyland, working “Peter Pan’s Flight” and “It’s a Small World.” He also helped open a new area in the Magic Kingdom called New Fantasyland, where he worked at Enchanted Tales with Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.”
Leavitt currently holds a seasonal position at Disney World, and he flies back every few months to pick up shifts.
“I absolutely loved my college program,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to work for the Walt Disney Company as a career and the Disney College Program is hopefully going to be a stepping stone into a career after I graduate. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
Freshman Ashley Barlow said the Disney History Club helps her stay motivated and gives her a place to let her “Disney flag fly.”
Student Rachel Felt said Disney motivates her to keep going even when things are incredibly hard. “It (Disney) uplifts me in ways not very many other things can,” Felt said.
Evans said each person has his or her own “Disney story,” whether it was the first time “blowing dust off a VCR and popping in a Disney VHS” or the first trip to Disneyland or Disney World.
He believes Disney is an inspiration and key motivator in his life. Evans said Disney teaches him the value of pursuing dreams and having dreams in the first place. He has learned lessons of faith, hope and perseverance.
“And I’m not just gleaning these lessons from Disney’s lineup of princesses,” he said. “Many of these lessons I have found from the men behind the mouse, so to speak, in Disney’s incredible history, in the fantastic legacy that has been forged and continues to develop by Walt’s team of true pioneers.”
The Disney History Club meets Tuesday nights at 8:30 p.m. in WSC 3211. The next event is an Animation Night on Feb. 3, where club officers will give instructions on how to draw Disney characters.
Jonny Quest is a BYU media arts major who hopes to attend Harvard graduate school to earn a joint degree in business and law. He wants to be the future CEO of The Walt Disney Company. His wife is a journalism major and aspires to work for ESPN, which is owned by Disney, as on-air talent.
Quest is the Disney History Club historian. He said BYU and Disney correlate because they “share quite a few of the same values and moral standards. For example, honesty, integrity and treating others with respect.”
Quest said there are students who hope to be animators and work for The Walt Disney Studios, so hearing Catmull speak is an excellent opportunity to hear advice.