The Animator Letters Project, created by Willie Downs, is a steadily growing online project that collects and shares the wisdom, insights, and experiences of professional animators to inspire young artists.
The compendium of personal letters, most of them handwritten, come from animation artists working at Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and beyond, including the likes of Brenda Chapman, Will Finn, Gary Trousdale, and Nik Ranieri.
Downs created the website in 2011, around the time he himself was considering leaving pilot school to learn animation. He had reached out for advice from a couple of animators—Pixar’s Aaron Hartline and DreamWorks’s Jim van dereyl—and received letters of encouragement from both of them. This was Aaron’s letter:
“I posted the letter I received from Aaron Hartline online on my blog, and within a few weeks, the popular website Letters of Note found it and published it on their website,” Downs told Cartoon Brew via email. “Nearly overnight, Aaron’s letter became viral and people around the world were reading it and sending me emails saying how they were encouraged by it. Aaron said he was being stopped in the halls of Pixar by fellow animators saying they had read his encouraging letter. I started thinking about what had happened, and thought that if one letter written to me could inspire so many people, then what would happen if I could get other professional animators to write encouraging letters to aspiring animators, encouraging them to not give up on their dreams.”
The Animator Letters Project has received more than fifty letters to date, ranging from animators with just a year of industry experience to those with more than forty years’ experience. Most of them are handwritten—a feature inspired by Downs’ own experience receiving handwritten letters from family members while serving in the military.
“Handwritten letters always had that personal touch that helped me ‘feel’ their voice in the letter,” Downs said. “We are all so used to seeing texts, emails, and blogs that we have nearly forgotten about the personal feel of a handwritten letter.”
Downs will be accepting letters from artists until May 17, after which he intends to pitch the project to book publishers. Anyone looking to get in touch can contact him via his website.
“Every story truly is unique and different,” says Downs. “Everyone has gone through something, been challenged by something, that someone else out there can learn from or be encouraged by.”