When David Stodolny was 8 years old, he was captivated by the world of animation and the idea of breathing life into inanimate drawings.
Now 36, the Brampton native has the privilege of calling his childhood fascination a job as one of the animators for the new Disney film Zootopia.
In the movie, released Friday, Stodolny enlivened the quirks and mannerisms of the scam-artist fox, Nick Wilde (voice of Jason Bateman), the bunny rookie cop Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin) as well as the character Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk), who fans will remember as the small-time crook in Frozen.
Currently, living his dream as an animator with Walt Disney Animation Studios, Stodolny admitted to experiencing the same sense of awe watching Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps transform themselves into life and blood characters, as he did as a youngster watching animation.
“I think it was Disney that made me want to become an animator,” said Stodolny speaking from Burbank, California. “I was 12 when I realized I needed to learn how to do animation. Seeing something that’s not real come to life is the most incredible feeling. It still is. You just sit back and look at it and think; I did that. That character was just a blank page a second ago and now it’s moving.”
As a youngster Stodolny would watch the DVDs of animation films for hours on end, pausing the movie repeatedly frame-by-frame. Soon, he was able to figure out the action was the result of a series of drawings put together in a particular sequence.
“I still have fond memories of seeing Beauty and the Beast and Lion King at least 10 times in the theatre and every time I would discover something new,” said Stodolny who was once a paperboy for The Guardian. “Once I got home (from the theatre), I would just want to draw the characters because they were so appealing to me.”
After he graduated from Chinguacousy Secondary School, Stodolny enrolled in Sheridan College’s animation program where he mastered Classical 2D animation. After his three-year stint at Sheridan, he worked as a Flash animator at Nelvana, a TV animation studio in Toronto.
Hard work and perseverance took Stodolny to Sony Pictures Imageworks in Los Angeles. There he worked on movies such as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Surf’s Up and others. He visited DreamWorks and joined them a few months later and began working on How to Train Your Dragon.
Stodolny explained the animation process usually begins when he’s given voice recordings of characters that have been already designed. Breaking down the dialogue and ensuring every nuance, inflection, hesitation and breath is caught is a critical step, he said. Once that was accomplished, animators will act out the scenes, delivering the dialogue and capturing it all on camera.
“I am not a fox or an animal, so my actions won’t come across as a fox (during the acting), but I will, however, take little acting ideas and then I’ll translate that to the character,” Stodolny explained. “The one important thing to know is that (animation) is definitely a team job; it’s not one individual and we all have a role.”
In the coming days, Stodolny hopes to watch Zootopia in the theatre with his parents who are flying from Brampton to L.A. for the momentous occasion.
“I have never seen a movie that I have worked on with family because my family’s in Canada,” he said. “This is a big treat for me.”
Zootopia is currently in theatres.