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Lots of nods to Disney history can be found on the CalArts campus

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Lots of nods to Disney history can be found on the CalArts campus

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When people talk about where the Disney / Pixar magic comes from, there are always a few California cities that get mentioned right away. Burbank. Glendale. Anaheim. Emeryville.

But - to be honest -- there's one other place that really belongs on that list. And that's Valencia, CA. Which is home to the California Institute of the Arts, that 60-acre campus located 30 miles to the north of Hollywood. Which is where many of the top animators & Imagineers working today received a lot of their formative training.

Photo by Jim Hill

Given that CalArts is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year ... Well, while I was out in Southern California last month, I thought that I might drive my 16-year-old daughter Alice (who's been giving art school some very serious thought lately) up to Valencia and see for myself why it is that so many of this generation's key creatives got their start at this particular school.

I'll say this much: CalArts is very upfront about its ties to The Walt Disney Company. More importantly, to the Disney family itself. In the corridor that leads to the Admissions Office, there's this terrific display of photos which takes you from the very first fundraiser for this Institute (which was held in 1964 in conjunction with "Mary Poppins" gala premiere at Grauman's Chinese  Theatre) ...

Walt Disney and founding trustee Lulu May von Hagen check out "The
CalArts Story" featurette which is to be screened before "Mary Poppins."
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

... right through to CalArt's official groundbreaking ceremony in 1969. Which Lillian Disney, Ron Miller and Roy E. Disney attended.

Ron Miller (far left in a black suit), Lillian Disney (in red) and Roy E. Disney
(in grey) join Lulu May von Hagen at the official CalArts groundbreaking
ceremony in 1969. Copyright Disney Enterprises, inc. All rights reserved

And as you wander through the halls of this school and pass the Sharon Disney Lund Dance Theater ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... and the Walt Disney Modular Theater ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... as well as prominent displays for REDCAT (i.e. the Roy and Edna Disney / CalArts Theater. LA's downtown showcase for cutting-edge visual, performing and media arts. Which -- appropriately enough -- is located inside of the Walt Disney Concert Hall), it's pretty clear that -- over the past four decades -- that the Disney family has continued its financial support of this fine institution.

But to be honest, what I liked best about CalArts was what I found in that school's Character Animation Department. Where - in order to help students find their way through that rat's nest of cubbies up on the second & third floor (which is where everyone goes to work on their student films) - the aisles have been named after great animators both old & new.

Photo by Jim Hill

So if someone is telling you how to find a particular student, they might say  "Follow Davis Lane ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... to Deja Rue ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... Then make a left at Disney Lane and go straight through Lasseter Square ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... Where you'll then make a right on Harryhausen Boulevard onto Tytla Road ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... Then take the stairs to the third floor. Where the student that you're looking for will be working with the camera stand that's located in Mary Blair Square.

Photo by Jim Hill

The faculty member who was kind enough to give Alice & I a quick tour of this part of the campus last month mentioned that CalArts had recently overhauled the curriculum that it uses to teach Character Animation. With (surprise, surprise) far more emphasis now being placed on getting animation students comfortable with the idea of working in CG.

Pixar's Mark Andrews was scheduled to give a talk to animation
students on October 1st as part of CalArts' visiting artists
. Photo by Jim Hill

That said, it's still very clear that - as you look around the walls of CalArts' Character Animation Department - that there are still an awful lot of people who work, teach and study here who dearly love hand-drawn animation.

During his previous visits to the Character
Animation Department, Glen Keane
left behind drawings of Disney characters
that he had been the Lead Animator on.
Photo by Jim Hill

So after a brief stop outside of the classroom that's been referenced in every Pixar feature film since "Toy Story" was released back in 1995 ...

Photo by Jim Hill

Alice and I made our way back to the car. Walking past a late afternoon Tai Chi class...

Photo by Jim Hill

... as well as the Herb Alpert School of Music.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, we had a wonderful time during our brief visit to CalArts.

If you yourself would like to tour this campus during an upcoming trip to Southern California ... Well, a one-hour walking tour of this campus is offered to members of the general public on weekdays beginning at 12 noon.

Photo by Jim Hill

Know this, though:  These tours -- while free -- aren't a year 'round thing (EX: Because CalArts students will be going on holiday break  from December 17th through January 18, 2011, no tours of the campus will be offered during that five week-long period). So to be absolutely sure that tours of the California Institute of Arts are actually being offered before you drive on up to Valencia, give the Office of Admissions a call ahead of time at 661-255-1050.

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  • Jim - nice article, but want to clarify as to the location.  The city in which Cal Arts is located is Santa Clarita, and not Valencia.  Valencia is not a city but a community in Santa Clarita (Santa Clarita is comprised of four communities... Valencia, Saugus, Newhall and Canyon Country).  So it is incorrect to refer to Valencia as a city.  I ought to know... I live there.

  • Interesting article.  Best wishes to Alice on setting her future direction!

  • Nice place. Didn't know anyone could get a tour. It is fun to see just a bit of what it is like

    (Interesting comment from Santa Clarita Joe)

  • Nice article, Jim - I always enjoy  these Disney-related field trips. I can vouch for Jim's warning about not going  when classes aren't in session - I did that once, and the place was a ghost town. I'll have to try that again sometime soon.

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