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By Character Diva

jcm8Many people often grow up wanting to be artists. And for those of us who love Disney, or just appreciate a place where imagination and high quality animation thrive, it is no wonder that so many people have dreams to one day be able to pull into the Disney Studios. No,  not for a tour or to take pictures of the giant Seven Dwarfs statues, but to actually get to enter into the building with the coveted title of “employee.”

I am fortunate and blessed enough that one of my cousins happens to know one of these talented artists, and put me in contact with him. James C. Mulligan is a Disney artist who has been working for Disney for almost two decades, and James kindly agreed to let me interview him for the blog. So for anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to work for Disney, as well as just learn a little bit more about James and his beautiful work, please see below.


Q: When did you first become interested in becoming an artist?

A. I’ve always wanted to be an artist… Ever since I was a little kid. I used to draw Bible stories for fun. It was usually David cutting the head off of Goliath or John the Baptist being beheaded. Something really gory. I was clearly a delightful kid.


Q. When did you start working for Disney?

A. I started working for Disney in 1996. I was 18, really just a kid. I started out in the art department, doing menial work as an associate designer, meaning essentially moving fichus plants in front of podiums for VIP events. I did however move fairly quickly into painting, it was over at the Olive Shop in Anaheim back then (Disney’s scene shop).


Q. What kind of atmosphere is it like working there?

A. The great thing about what I do now is that I make my own hours, and work on my own. I’m still very involved of course with the higher ups, but I really am very much sort of designing my own schedule. It allows me the time that I need to raise my kids and to travel.


Q. What are some of the projects you’ve been involved with or done for Disney since working there?

A. Well, back in the mid to late 90’s when I started working at Disney, I worked on everything from Light Magic to Animazement. I worked in the character headroom, finishing character heads. I also worked in entertainment art, designing photo locations for the resort. Slowly it started to involve more and more into the fine arts side, where I honestly was happiest.


Q. Do you have a particular favorite piece of artwork that you’ve done?

A. My favorite piece of artwork is sort of like asking what my favorite breath is that I’ve taken… It’s whatever the most recent one is that gets me onto the next. But I will say I really love the Dancing on the Rooftops piece that I did in homage to Mary Poppins as well as the new Frozen stuff. Dancing on the Rooftops is really special, because Dick Van Dyke and Richard Sherman and I all signed the full original addition.


Q. Who is your favorite character to draw and why?

A. My favorite character to paint is probably Ariel. Glen Keane did such a magnificent job on her that it such a joy to use the original structure for fine art. The way she moves, those cherub cheeks of hers, the hair…my gosh the hair. I also have a special affinity for Elsa, but maybe it’s because I love blondes.


Q. Do you have a particular favorite Disney character or movie?

A. It’s no joke… My favorite Disney character is Quasimodo. I suppose it’s because I can relate to him on some small level. I’ve fallen in love with countless Gypsies, only to have them go for the shining knight. Back to my bell ringing and pencil sharpening.


Q. Are there any Disney characters you don’t like to draw and why?

A. There are some Disney characters that are difficult to draw, but if I have the proper reference and model sheets that I’m working from there’s always a way. Some of the most difficult things I’ve ever found to draw have been the most rewarding in the final piece of art.


Q. What goes through your head in determining what scene or character to draw?

A. Right now, my focus is on Frozen. It really is a worldwide phenomenon. We’ve never quite seen anything like it, so it’s a game changer. The art direction on the film is such a delicious thing to work with, so it makes our jobs as artists so much easier.


Q. What kind of training do you need to become a Disney artist?

A. The training? I’d say draw. Draw. Draw. Paint. Paint. Paint. Chuck Jones, one of my great inspirations, used to say “everybody’s got 100,000 bad drawings in ’em, so it’s best to get those out-of-the-way as soon as possible.”  I suggest to any young artist to find another artist that really inspires them and try to learn their style, and refine it from there. You’ll find your own way.


Q. What advice do you have for artists who hope to work for Disney some day?

A. I’d say to develop a really keen portfolio, and work on being able to tell the story in the least amount of strokes possible. Character is something that communicates on the most base level, and if you can make emotion come across in your character, that’s something that’s going to connect people. Disney is always about story, and always has been. So if you can capture a brief shining moment, and communicate both character and story in that instance, you’ll be just fine.


Q. What are some tips and strategies artists (or other Disney hopefuls) can do to help them get their name or work out there?

A. It’s a whole new world, this social media thing. Instagram, Facebook fan pages… Artists seem to be straying away from standard webpages and instead focusing on social media networking sites to get their work out there. I think it’s a wonderful thing. It blurs the line between artist, patron and friend. I would however warn any budding artists, to not put up everything they do. Only put up the absolute best, and that takes an objective eye. That’s still the most difficult thing for any artist to conquer.


Q. Are there any tours people can go on to see the studios?

A. That’s a wonderful question… I know Warner Bros. offers tours, but Disney is extremely guarded about privacy on new projects. And rightfully so. I wish I had the right answer for that, but I honestly don’t know if the studio has some system for giving tours.

Q. Do you do gallery events to showcase your work, and if people would like to purchase any of your paintings, whom do you recommend they go through?

A. Yes, I do many gallery events, including signings. One of my favorite things about what I do is that I get to go all over the world and meet these beautiful people that collect my work. It’s quite humbling, to see that my few little brushstrokes can bring such joy. At this point you can contact me through my website or check out a gallery carrying my Disney work near you.


Q. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you’d like to share with Tips from the Disney Divas & Devos?

A. Search for little bits of inspiration every day… You’ll see them, they’re out there. Some days it’s a cloud, some days it’s a certain shape of a leaf. Some days it’s the smile of the St. Bernard when they’ve got a ball in their mouth. I, personally, find great inspiration in the eyes of my kids. And Sinatra. I recommend “The Summer Wind”. A favorite to get me painting.


So folks, there you have it. Thank you so much James  for allowing me to bombard you with questions, and thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and experience with our readers. We greatly appreciate it. And for the rest of you lovely readers out there, if you could work for Disney, would be your dream job?  And if you could ask James C. Mulligan (or another Disney artist) any question, what would that be?