Animation Spotlight : Kathy Zielinski

Kathy Zielinski

We'd like to begin a new series where we spotlight and interview successful animation artists working throughout the animation industry. We're kicking off this series with Kathy Zielinksi, an impressive animation artist who's worked on a variety of projects.

1. How did you start becoming interested in animation?

I always loved drawing Disney characters and when I was in my senior year of high school, my art teacher Mr. Pelster, offered an animation class. While taking his class, he told me about the Cal Arts animation program and that I should apply to go there. I remember being so excited and never thought about a career in animation before. I was accepted and began in the fall of 1979.

2. What was your first animation project/job?

My first animation job was at Disney Feature Animation at the end of my sophomore year at Cal Arts. Every year, the Cal Arts would show the Disney executives the students work and based on the films they liked, they would ask them to come and work at Disney. The first assignment I had was to do in-between pixey dust for the theme park "Epcot" which hadn't opened yet.  After that I worked on "Mickey's Christmas Carol" and "The Black Cauldron".

3. Do you feel like it's a hard industry to break into?

For me, I was very fortunate because of being asked to work for Disney right out of school, but for some of my colleagues at the time,it was difficult because there weren't many animation houses around...just a few commercial places and Saturday morning cartoons where some of the work was being sent over seas.  Now I think it's a bit difficult because although there are a lot of studio's making animated product, there are 10 times more artists trying to get jobs at them. 

4. How has the animation industry changed throughout the years?

Job stability.  When I began working at Disney in 1981, it was more family oriented. Now it seems more about business and less about the people. Artists used to be able to have a longer career at one place but now they have to move around a bit more from job to job.  Of course the big change was from a predominantly hand drawn industry to an almost exclusively CG animated one. Other changes are better though, more opportunities for women in leading roles.

5. What has been your favorite animation project thus far?

Probably "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" where I was the Animation supervisor for the villain "Frollo". It was a wonderful opportunity to design him and get to animate some amazing scenes (I animated almost all of him in the song "Hellfire").  My other choice would be animating Ursula on "The Little Mermaid".  It was quite an exciting time in animation and that film was a resurgence for animation, plus I was giving some wonderful scenes to animate and it is really special to see that they used a lot of it for the Fantasmic show at Disneyland.  I collaborated with great artists on those films too!

Kathy Zielinski

6. Are there any little known fun facts about any of the films you've worked on?

When working on "Aladdin" I was almost 9 months pregnant and I burst my water while animating my last scene of the Jafar Snake. I went right from work straight to the hospital!  

7. What does your daily work-life look like?

Today, I am once again animating hand drawn animation at "The Simpson's" but drawing on the computer cintiq screen instead of paper.  It's for the most part very relaxing compared to the technical challenges of working in CG and it's so fun! I love coming to work every day to draw! 

8. What would you be doing if you weren't working in animation?

I would probably be working in travel somehow, perhaps leading cycling tours since I love the sport, and then also as a fine artist. I have always loved art and my mother once told me that from the moment I could pick up a pencil as a baby, I never stopped drawing!

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