fbpx vie magazine subscribe button

Telling the Stories of Life

By Laurette Ryan | Art by Paul Briggs

Storytelling connects people. It relates us to our world and helps us understand our lives. The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words—but in the art of animation, it might take thousands of images to paint the story an artist wants to communicate. Paul Briggs is one such storyteller.

As a director at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Briggs has credited work on fifteen animated feature films and five short films, including Big Hero 6, Frozen, Winnie the Pooh, Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, Bolt, Fraidy Cat, and Gnomeo and Juliet, to name a few. He was the cohead of story on the film Big Hero 6 (2014), and its depth of emotion and storytelling along with its stunning artwork shows just how powerful and rich an art form animation can be.

Big Hero 6, while it’s a very fun, action-packed superhero film, deals with some very heavy themes of loss and grieving,” Briggs says. “I remember I took my family to a screening at the studio and after the screening, while walking to our car, my six-year-old turned to me and said ‘Tadashi . . . died?’ I paused because I knew he was thinking about the death he had just witnessed in the film. So, I said, ‘Yes, Tadashi died,’ and he turned and said, ‘But Tadashi was alive in Baymax.’ I told him, ‘That’s right, Baymax kept Tadashi’s spirit alive in him.’ And then my son said, ‘And Tadashi was alive in Hiro (Tadashi’s brother) and his friends too.’”

Paul Brigg's sketch of characters Elsa and Anna from Disney’s Frozen
A sketch of characters Elsa and Anna from Disney’s Frozen (2013)

Briggs goes on to explain, “For him to grasp this concept that just because someone’s dead, it doesn’t mean they stop living on through us was extremely meaningful for me. I had lost my mother a year before, and in my personal journey of accepting grief and loss into my life, I realized that I had to keep her beautiful spirit and energy alive in me and my children.”

Briggs grew up in Texas but moved around a lot in the late 1980s. He lived in many places, from Boca Raton, Florida, to Lake Arrowhead, California. He attended art school at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri and in his junior year was accepted into an internship at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios in Florida. After that, he was hired on to help animate the film Mulan. Although Briggs has been in the animation industry for twenty-two years, he says he feels like he is still learning new things every day.

Our career paths can give us unique insights and epiphanies about life in general. When asked if he had gained any particular insights through his career, Briggs replies, “I tell stories every day, and I approach it by studying life. Nobody has all the answers, and we need to empathize with that. We’re all just trying to figure it out every day. The important thing is to live it meaningfully and fill it with love, humor, and compassion.”

Paul Brigg's sketch of a little boy riding a turle
Briggs recommends sketching characters in action, thinking, and making decisions to bring out more personality and tell a story.

Briggs is influenced by many art forms, including those of past and present artists doing sculpture, painting, ceramics, dance, and performance. In the field of animation, two giants stand out to him: Marc Davis and Vance Gerry.

“Marc Davis was one of Disney’s ‘Nine Old Men,’ the famed core animators of Disney animated films, and was revered for his knowledge and understanding of visual aesthetics,” Briggs explains. “Davis could draw anything; he was a master at drawing animals, and his design work and animation on Sleeping Beauty and One Hundred and One Dalmatians are genius. Not only did he do animation, but he also helped design many of the beloved Disneyland attractions and features such as Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, and my favorite, the Enchanted Tiki Room!

“Vance Gerry was a story man on many classic animated films. His style was deceptively simple, but when you actually break it down, it’s deeply rich and meaningful. It’s all about characters in moments. I love his work so much, but I also never heard anyone speak ill of him. He was highly respected at the studio, and that’s something I strive for.”

Nobody has all the answers, and we need to empathize with that. We’re all just trying to figure it out every day. The important thing is to live it meaningfully and fill it with love, humor, and compassion.

Briggs continues with some valuable advice for would-be professional animators: “Don’t expect anything to be handed to you. You have to put in the hours studying and learning the fundamentals of strong storytelling before you can experiment and break the rules. If you’re telling stories with your drawings, then practice strong character storytelling moments in your drawings every day. Drawing is a muscle, and the more you exercise that muscle, the stronger it will get.

“Draw character—for example, don’t just draw an old lady sitting there, show me a drawing of an old lady walking out of her living complex and headed down to a protest to let the world know she still cares about what’s happening in it and is still willing to fight for it!

“Show a character about to make or just after making a choice. Characters are all about choices. I always recommend that young artists sit with senior citizens and listen. Listen to the choices they’ve made in their lives and the reasons why. Those choices are what make great stories.”

Paul Brigg's sketch of characters Hiro and Baymax comes to life in Disney’s Big Hero 6
A sketch of characters Hiro and Baymax comes to life in Disney’s Big Hero 6 (2014)

As young children, we may all remember the first films, cartoons, and funny and scary movies we saw. Those images and memories become etched in our subconscious minds. Briggs recalls some of the first movies he remembers seeing as a child and the impact those stories still have on him today.

“Well, I’m not going to lie, I think the films that emotionally tore me apart when I was young had the biggest impact on me!” he admits. “I remember the film that made me want to be a filmmaker. I was really young when I saw E.T. in the theater, and I remember laughing so hard and then just bawling my eyes out. It was so emotional, not only because I empathized with Elliot because I was going through a lot of similar things that he was, but also because E.T. was so real to me. I was so emotionally invested in him, and when he passed away in the film, I just couldn’t handle it. I remember lying in my bed that night and thinking how powerful movies and storytelling are.

“I also remember watching Dumbo when I was young and loving it. The moment when Dumbo is separated from his mother really stayed with me. There’s a song called ‘Baby Mine’ written by Ned Washington that’s just beautiful, but the visuals are all these animal families together contrasted with Dumbo sharing a final embrace with his mother before they’re separated. It’s handled so delicately, but it’s such a heavy emotional moment—it’s one of my favorite moments in animation.”

Animator Paul Briggs in a hallway of sketches at Disney
Animator Paul Briggs

Briggs says he was constantly drawing and creating art as a child, but he does credit a specific book with influencing him to pursue animation as a career.

“When I was ten years old, I was in a bookstore and came across The Illusion of Life by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas,” he says. “It was like I had found a secret, special book by wizards that they had written all of their spells in. I was floored by the drawings and the material in it. It was really expensive, and there was no way we could afford it, but my mother must have understood the look in my eyes because she bought it for me. I credit my mother for feeding my passion to become an artist and that book for introducing me to the path of becoming an animator.”

The animation industry is vast, but it does seem that the Disney company has been integral in bringing the art form to a level that people of all ages and all around the world can enjoy.

“Disney Animation is an amazing studio that creates films for everybody, but especially ones that families can enjoy together,” Briggs concludes. “That doesn’t mean we don’t shy away from deeply emotionally engaging stories. Like I said before, Dumbo deals with parent-child separation—even in the classics there were heavy themes. I think we tell stories in a way that are full of humor and entertainment but have a deep heart to them.”

— V —

Laurette Ryan is a professional in the health and wellness industry and has been a national fitness presenter for over thirty years. She is the author of four books on fitness, self-improvement, and life coaching. She is also the mother of four amazing children.

Read Responsibly

VIE Magazine - The Art & Design Issue November 2021
VIE Magazine January 2021 Special Commemorative Edition
VIE Magazine September 2020 Wanderlust Issue, Fancy Camps, The Idea Boutique
VIE Magazine August 2020 Art & Culture Issue, Nathan Alan Yoakum Art
VIE Magazine - Architecture & Design Issue - July 2020
VIE Magazine - Decor and Home Issue - June 2020
VIE Magazine May 2020 Entertainment Issue, Leslie Odom Jr
VIE Magazine - April 2020 Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine March 2020 The Fashion Edit, VONDOM, Alys Beach Fl, Digital Graffiti, Tres Chic, isidro dunbar Modern Interiors, Digital Graffiti Festival
VIE Magazine February 2020 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Travel Issue - January 2020 - Tanzania Safari Cover
VIE Magazine - Women's Issue - December 2019 - Tina Brown Cover
VIE NOV19 Goodness Issue
VIE Magazine, September 2019 Art & Culture Issue, Paul Hanninen
VIE Magazine - August 2019 - The Architecture and Design Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2019 - The Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - June 2019 - Fashion Edit
VIE Magazine - May 2019 - Culinary Issue
VIE Magazine - April 2019 - The Health & Wellness Issue
VIE Magazine - Special Entertainment Edition - March 2019
VIE Magazine February 2019 Luxury Homes & Technology Issue with Robbie Antonio of Revolution Precrafted
VIE Magazine - January 2019 - Southern Sophisticate Issue Cover
VIE Magazine - Special Anniversary Travel Edition - December 2018
VIE Magazine - The Goodness Issue - November 2018
VIE Magazine - The Art & Culture Issue - October 2018
VIE Magazine - Home & Garden Issue - September 2018
VIE Magazine - August 2018 Animal Issue
VIE Magazine - July 2018 Architecture & Design Issue - Subscribe to the magazine!
VIE Magazine - June 2018 Travel & Tech Issue
VIE Magazine - May 2018 Couture Issue
VIE Magazine - The Culinary Issue - April 2018 Cover - Chef James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst
VIE Magazine - The Entertainers Issue - March 2018
VIE Magazine - February 2018 Destination Travel Issue
VIE Magazine - January 2018 Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine, The Sophisticate Issue, December 2017
VIE Magazine - November 2017 Art & Culture Issue
VIE Magazine - October 2017 Home & Garden Issue
VIE Magazine | September 2017 | The Stories and Storytellers Issue
VIE Magazine - The Adventure Issue - August 2017
VIE Magazine - July 2017 - Art & Artist Issue
VIE Magazine - The Voyager Issue - June 2017
VIE magazine 2017 March-April Cover South Walton Fashion Week
VIE Magazine - January/February 2017 - The Health & Beauty Issue
VIE Magazine - Nov/Dec 2016 The Sophisticate Issue
christian siriano vie magazine september october 2016 vie magazine
the modern minimalist issue
the culinary and couture issue march april 2016 vie magazine
the voyager issue alys beach vie magazine january february 2016
cultural issue vie magazine november december 2015
home and garden issue vie magazine september october 2015
the art and style issue vie magazine july august 2015
the wedding issue 2015 May June vie magazine
the food and fashion issue vie magazine march april 2015
the travel issue vie magazine january february 2015
the music issue vie magazine 2014 november december
The Animal Issue vie magazine september october 2014
the home and garden issue vie magazine july august 2014
the wedding issue vie magazine may june 2014
emeril lagasse food and fashion vie magazine
the men's issue january february 2014
the music issue november december 2013 vie magazine
the home and garden issue 2013 october september
the wedding issue vie magazine july august 2013
the artist issue may june 2013 vie magazine
the food and fashion issue march april 2013
the men's issue january february 2013 vie magazine
The Holiday Issue
the love issue july august 2012
the all american summer may june 2012
the entertainment issue march april 2012
the fashion issue vie magazine winter 2011
the home and garden issue vie magazine fall 2011
the anniversary edition vie magazine summer 2011
the wedding issue vie magazine spring 2011
vie magazine the holiday issue 2010 Dec
vintage swimsuits vie magazine 2010 Fall
judith march designer vie magazine summer 2010
wedding giveaway vie magazine spring 2010
holiday gift guide vie magazine winter 2009
emarketing explosion vie magazine fall 2009
tribute to mother's day vie magazine summer 2009
james and robert redford vie magazine spring 2009
zz top vie magazine fall winter 2008
project dreams vie magazine new york fashion week
Sign-up for VIEmail

Sign up for VIEmail