Walt Disney Animation Studios announced on Tuesday that four filmmakers will develop animated features for the studio. Two of them are live-action filmmakers who are new to the studio, and two are Disney veterans. At least three of the filmmakers have an ethnic background (Mexican, Iranian, and Filipino).
The two newcomers are:
- Mexican filmmaker Carlos Lopez Estrada, 31, who directed a large slate of music videos and commercials before making his feature directorial debut with the live-action Blindspotting (2018).
- Iranian-American filmmaker Suzi Yoonessi, 41, who has directed indie features (Dear Lemon Lima, Unlovable) and web series (Olive and Mocha), as well as the recent direct-to-video live-action film Daphne & Velma, based on the Scooby-Doo franchise.
The two studio veterans are:
- Filipino-American Josie Trinidad, a Disney artist since 2004 who was head of story on Ralph Breaks the Internet and one of seven people credited with the story for Zootopia.
- Marc Smith, the director of story on the upcoming Frozen 2 and story lead on Zootopia. He has worked at Disney Animation for 26 years and has contributed as an animator to films like Hercules, Tarzan, Fantasia 2000, and Treasure Planet. Here’s a video of Smith drawing Maximus from Tangled:
The announcement was made by Disney Animation’s chief creative officer Jennifer Lee. Since taking over the chief creative officer role from John Lasseter in 2018, she has not spoken at length about her vision for the animation studio, beyond an early statement in which she expressed a hope to “support the incredible talent we have, find new voices, and work together to tell original stories.”
For the announcement of these four new directors, Lee said in a statement:
We aim to have Walt Disney Animation Studios serve as the premiere home for filmmakers interested in telling engaging stories within the limitless animation medium. Carlos and Suzi are two incredible, inventive filmmakers who have both received acclaim for their work. Josie and Marc, master, lead story artists, have been instrumental in shaping such films as Zootopia and Frozen 2. We are so thrilled to have these four talented artists join our 96-year-old studio as directors and help us build the stories of our future — adventures in completely original worlds, stories from around the globe, and the next generation of musicals.
It remains to be seen whether the projects that these filmmakers are developing will move forward into production, but at the very least, the new slate of directors is a nod to diversity and inclusion at the directorial level, something that has previously eluded Disney’s animation department.
In its 82-year history of animated features, the Disney studio has never released a film by a solo woman director. Lee became the first woman to co-direct a feature film with Frozen in 2013. She is also co-directing the upcoming Frozen 2.
Pictured at top, from left: Carlos Lopez Estrada, Josie Trinidad, Suzi Yoonessi, Marc Smith