For a kid who grew up watching a lot of cartoons, it’s not surprising that Benson Shum (bensonshum.com) first heard about Capilano University’s 2D Animation diploma on television. It was 1997 when the 17-year-old first saw a news profile on the fledgling animation program. He told his parents, “I want to try that out!”
Shum, who has been drawing since childhood, began spending his evenings and weekends preparing his application portfolio. His first attempt was rejected, but Shum continued to build his portfolio while working a food industry job his first year out of high school. His second application was accepted, and it’s a good thing, too—15 years later, hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have now enjoyed Shum’s work in Disney and Sony Imageworks megahits such as Zootopia (news.nationalpost.com) , Frozen (vimeo.com) , Big Hero 6 (vimeo.com) and Wreck-it Ralph (vimeo.com) .
“Whenever I see one of my characters and it feels like it’s alive—not just a digital puppet moving around—I always pinch myself,” Shum says. “It really is a dream for me—I’ve always wanted to be here, doing this.”
The road to Disney
As one of the key animators behind main Zootopia characters Judy Hopps, Nick Wilde and Benjamin Clawhauser, Shum has seen his work honoured for what is now the second-largest grossing original movie ever released. Zootopia is also gaining recognition for its timely cultural commentary on the politics of race and fear.
Shum’s journey to Disney Animation Studios has been an upward trajectory. After graduating from Capilano’s 2D animation program in 2001, Shum held several animation jobs in local studios including Bardel, Atomic and Studio B (now DHX Media). He then completed a 3D animation degree and worked for Moving Picture Company in London, England—where he was lucky enough to work on the film for his favourite book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, doing VFX for the snake, final maze sequence and wand duels between Potter and Valdemort.
Benson Shum’s reel of his work from Zootopia.
From there, Shum began working at Sony Imageworks, moving to Disney after one of their illustrators recognized Shum’s work and suggested he submit his portfolio for consideration.
It was a dream come true for the young animator, and he attributes his success to Capilano University.
“Capilano has such a great program—I’m so happy I chose Cap for my foundation in animation,” he says. “I don’t think I would be here at Disney without that basis I received at Cap U.”
Drawn from life
Shum says Capilano U animation alumni are known for their work ethic and humility. “Capilano students are always wanting to learn—it’s something the program does really well, teaching people to work hard without that sense of entitlement,” he says.
Not surprisingly, Shum’s advice for aspiring animators is similar—keep drawing. “Even though animation is becoming more digital, drawing by hand will make your work stand out even more,” he says. “Drawing from real life is even better—you see things you wouldn’t think about it you were just drawing at your desk.”
When tasked with a sequence from Nick Wilde’s memory (the young fox stands in front of a mirror as his mother ties a neckerchief on his Boy Scout uniform), Shum told his sister that he wanted to have his three-year-old nephew, Danek, be a reference for the shot. His sister created a home video of herself tying a neckerchief on Danek in front of a mirror, which Shum used to draw the scene. “It’s fun to see a bit of inspiration from my family in the film,” Shum says.
Shum was one of three applicants recently selected for Walt Disney’s Animation Studios Artist Showcase. The children’s book Shum originated and illustrated, Holly’s Day at the Pool, is due out April 2017. And his newest work for Disney, Moana, drops in U.S. theatres on November 23, 2016.
Learn more about B.C. post-secondary student success stories.