Words of Wisdom on Building Your Portfolio From Dan Hansen Director of Character Animation at CalArts

That's Dan in with the circle around his head., taken on August 15,1986 huddled in front of the one SGI workstation and a 4' x 5' tablet in the corner at Walt Disney Animation at 1420 Flower St. is the beginnings of what would become the dominant medium of the studio 15 years later. In 1986 this small group of animators from Walt Disney Feature animation were sent to Art Center School of Design to complete a class in hands-on computer graphics and were taught by experts in the field such as Jim Blinn of JPL and Dr. Chuck Csuri from Ohio State University on the latest state of the art techniques of the day.  First Row L to R: Steve Gordon, Doug Krohn, Reuben Aquino, Barry Cook, Tony De Rosa. Second Row L to R: Dan Hansen, Jay Jackson, Mark Henn, Tina Price and Phil Nibblelink. Not pictured: Dave Bossart.

That's Dan in with the circle around his head., taken on August 15,1986 huddled in front of the one SGI workstation and a 4' x 5' tablet in the corner at Walt Disney Animation at 1420 Flower St. is the beginnings of what would become the dominant medium of the studio 15 years later. In 1986 this small group of animators from Walt Disney Feature animation were sent to Art Center School of Design to complete a class in hands-on computer graphics and were taught by experts in the field such as Jim Blinn of JPL and Dr. Chuck Csuri from Ohio State University on the latest state of the art techniques of the day.

 First Row L to R: Steve Gordon, Doug Krohn, Reuben Aquino, Barry Cook, Tony De Rosa.
Second Row L to R: Dan Hansen, Jay Jackson, Mark Henn, Tina Price and Phil Nibblelink.
Not pictured: Dave Bossart.

During my time at CalArts I was able to meet Dan Hansen, the director of the Animation Department, who shared with me ways to look and learn from animated films, the importance of knowing the foundations of the animation process, and most  importantly  the best way to put my portfolio together for enrollment into the program. Information that changed everything! I had heard Mark Andrews speaking on how Dan taught him and his classmates about "the film language", during a talk with Andrew Gordon; so I thought this would be an opportunity not to pass up. Below is an excerpt from the twenty-six minute conversation I had with Mr. Hansen over the span of program, highlighting the most important information on building a portfolio.

We ALWAYS look for samples of life drawings. Ideally 12 samples or
more. The reason we want life drawings is because the better one can
draw life drawings the better he or she can draw anything. On those
life drawings we want to see that the person consistently draws faces,
hands and feet. We’re not looking for tight renderings at all but when
someone ignores faces hands and feet the person’s probably a beginner
and we’re looking for people with drawing experience.

We also ALWAYS want a sketchbook or two that are full of
drawings…maybe 60% from observation and the rest can be from
imagination. Regarding the drawings from observation we prefer the
drawings in pen (you can get yourself a black super fine Pilot pen at
anyplace like Staples or in the stationary section of most any store.)
Each figure will take you 2 minutes or less. You can go to someplace
like Starbucks or sketch kids playing at the park, or a sports game.
Because the action is often fast these sketches will actually help you
to see and remember what you saw. Or you could do them while watching
a sports game on TV. Sitcoms are bad though because it’s just people
standing around and talking. Here again, don’t ignore faces, hands,
feet simply because they’re hard to do. It’s not like you have to burn
up much time sketching them but don’t ignore them. Animals are helpful
too.

In the sketchbook, the drawings from your imagination can be anything.
Anime is really popular but we’re not very fond of sketches that focus
on it. The reason is that we don’t like the students to have blinders
on when it comes to animation. Anime is a fine style but there are a
zillion styles. I guarantee that Pen Ward (Adventure Time) and JG
Quintel (The Regular Show) or many others wouldn’t have succeeded if
they had been focused on only Anime or South Park. Here’s where you
can do character designs, or story ideas or whatever…even drawings
that don’t have anything to do with anything.

As I said before we like to see the sketchbook(s) full or nearly full
of drawings. Make your portfolio the strongest you can. You want to
put your best foot forward. A couple of years ago we saw roughly 270
portfolios and they were battling to be one of the roughly 40 new
students. Last year there 382 portfolios battling for the same number
of spots.

Even though I have decided to take my talents to CCA, it's important that I say without Mr. Hansen's candor on the expectations of enrolling into the program at CalArts, I'm not sure if I would be in the position that I'm in now. Here is that excerpt: