From Durham to Disney

Photo by Alex Kang

MOANA - (L-R) Christoffer Pedersen and Celeste Pedersen. ©2016 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

They’ve made the leap from Durham College to Disney.

Husband and wife Celeste and Chris Pedersen graduated from Durham’s animation program a year apart in 2007 and 2008. Although they’ve been working on different timelines, the couple found their way from Durham Region to California, and have been working for Walt Disney Studios since 2013. Their passion and dedication has led them to working on Disney’s latest film, Moana, which opened in theatres Nov. 23.

The Chronicle conducted a phone interview with the Pedersens about their journey.

What is the day in the life like for you at the studio?

Celeste: I guess it starts the same. We live pretty close to the studio so we drive in the morning or sometimes we walk, which is great because California is beautiful and sunny. My work is shot-based, so we’ll have meetings with my department. We’ll have shots assigned to us. So again reviewing the work that we’ve done.

Chris: While Celeste is more of the shot side of production, I’m more of the character side. So I’m more rigorous. I create the controls and build for the animators to actually pose, move the characters to bring them to life. I work closely with the look department and modelling and animations. So we work together to create this character. We have team meetings often – we get together and touch base to make sure everything is going smoothly.

What has been your favourite part about working on the film?

Celeste: Just working at Disney for me has been like a dream since I was little. Being here and working with some of the people I’ve looked up to is just incredible. To see the stuff you’ve been working on actually on screen is incredible.

Chris: I second that. It’s pretty incredible working with the people that have been working at the studio for as long as I remember watching movies growing up. A lot of those people are still working here. It’s pretty incredible. I like being challenged a lot. They’re always pushing the envelope here to make the best quality films. I love just the challenge of that.

Have you ever had something you were working on go completely wrong?

Chris: There are always little challenges here and there. I wouldn’t say there was anything that went sort of completely wrong. Story changes. Sometimes characters come and go, so we adapt to those changes. We do our best to foresee those things…and work together to troubleshoot them.

Celeste: We’re [in] a very collaborative environment. People come together really quick to try and work through it.

How has Durham College helped you get to where you are today?

Celeste: I’ve always wanted to work for Disney. Going to school at Durham helped prepare me to get into this field.

Chris: Growing up I always loved watching the Disney movies, but animation was never something as a child I kind of thought myself getting into. I always found myself leaning toward engineering. I loved Lego and building and creating things. That’s similar to what I do now. My job is very technical. There’s a lot of building, inventing and coming up creative solutions, which I really like.

Who inspired you along the way during your time at Durham College?

Celeste: All the teachers were incredible at Durham. They were all very supportive, very encouraging. I always doubt myself. Am I good enough to do that? You get discouraged sometimes, but the teachers are always there to support you and tell you, ‘you can do it.’ They’re the ones that got me my first job outside of school, and I was very appreciative of that.

Chris: They’re always so super supportive. One moment though that sort of stood out for me was in third year animation class. I remember working on an animation shot. I just remember something clicking for me with animation and all of a sudden I understood it and that was sort of a milestone point for me with my student career. I feel that sort of launched me into feeling confident with animation. Getting my first job was really dependant on Durham and the teachers. The fact that the course was so well rounded it allowed me personally going into a more technical path. It also gave me the base knowledge to pursue that.

This story was edited for style, length and clarity.

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Jessica Stoiku is a second year journalism student at Durham College. With a passion for writing, she enjoys exposing the arts and culture stories of people within the community for The Chronicle. She hopes to work for a publication that focuses on human interest and issues on a broader scale.