A Conversation with Disney Story Artist Gabby Capili

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Disney+ has released a new original series, Sketchbook. The educational documentary gives us insight into the process and the stories of some of the talented artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Each of the six episodes dives into the story of a different animator as they teach us how to draw an iconic Disney character of their choice. One of these artistic creators is Gabby Capili.

After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), she received a call from a Disney recruiter to interview. It was during a difficult time as her beloved grandmother was dying. When a song from Moana, in which her grandmother Tala comes to her in the form of a manta ray, played on her way to the interview, Capili knew she was on the right track.

In the first episode of the series, Capili teaches us how to draw his favorite character, Kuzco, from The Emperor’s New Routine.

Hidden Remote had the chance to speak with Capili about his artistic journey and what it’s like to work in the animation industry. Below are some highlights from our chat, and be sure to watch the full video interview at the end of the article!

Interview with Gabby Capili Disney Sketchbook

*The interview below has been edited for length and clarity

Hidden Remote: Why did you choose to draw Kuzco and why is he your favorite character?

Gabby Capil: There are a few reasons. First reason, I had a strict father [but] he pulled me out of school for my birthday when i was in fourth grade and took me to see The Emperor’s New Routine during school hours. It’s a big reason, a very special memory.

Another is that he’s so cool. He starts at the beginning of the film as the villain of the film and at the end, through power, friendship and love, he becomes a good role model. And then the third is, I don’t know if you’ve heard the joke of loving being a Disney Princess or here’s what Disney Princesses have in common. It’s like trapped in a tower, an evil person is trying to take over.

Ariel falls in there, and Cinderella falls in there, and even Rapunzel falls in there. But Kuzco also falls into all of those categories, so it was always a little joke that I liked was that Kuzco is my favorite Disney princess.

HR: How does it feel to be able to contribute to a male-dominated industry?

Capili: I thought when I was growing up that it was going to be me and I would be the only brunette girl in the room. But I never am. There’s always a lot of women, there’s always a lot of gay people and there’s always a lot of brown people in the rooms I’m in and I feel really lucky about that.

I thought it was going to be harder and scarier for me in the animation industry, and it felt very welcoming in a way that I didn’t think would happen as a kid. Things change. Like all my friends in school were – one of my best friends, she’s Iraqi from Dubai, and she’s in the industry with me. And then another was Chinese from New York. Another young woman comes from Japan. So we arrive in big waves. We are here now. It’s cool.

HR: Animation was not your first choice. So how did you end up in this field?

Capili: It was comics. My father was a comic book collector, so I became interested in comics from an early age. He was my first love, my greatest love. And I didn’t think I could make art. And I fell into animation. I went to CalArts because that’s where all my favorite artists who made my favorite movies went. But somehow, in my 19/20-year-old brain, I didn’t realize it was film school, animation school. So, I remember my very first animation class, my teacher sat us down and said ‘Ok so we’re all in the business of making movies here.’ And I remember thinking ‘Oh, are we? Ok, I’ll write that down.’ So it was a surprise to me, but it’s fun.

HR: In what capacity did you work on Encanto?

Capili: I was a storytelling apprentice. And at Disney, that means you really don’t know anything. I learned for three months. I had a mentor that I was paired up with. Her name is Tani, she’s amazing. She taught me perspective, composition and drawing. And then after that I did three months on three different productions. And so as an apprentice I was sure Encanto. I was in the story rooms, I was in the story rooms, I helped come up with ideas, I did small practical tasks to prepare myself to be ready to be on a production as as a history artist instead of a history apprentice.

In this episode of Sketchbook, Gabby draws “Kuzco” from The Emperor’s New Groove, a character she’s loved since she was a child.

RH: What did you learn from the apprenticeship?

Capili: Tani worked a lot with me on the eyebrows. It sounds silly, but I was good with expressions and making a character look the way I wanted them to feel to the audience. But there are so many little micro-adjustments in a face that really sell an emotion. So Tani always pushed me, you’re good for that, [but] you can be great at it. Push it a little further, fix that eyebrow, draw a mouth line here. It made a huge difference. So learning the things I’m already good at – don’t slack off. Push it even further because then you can be even better.

HR: What does your drawing process look like?

Capili: I draw a circle that represents the head. I draw the circle very lightly as it’s just an idea of ​​where the head should be. So I draw a circle and then I do the eyes. And then when the eyes are locked, when the eyes are okay with me, I’m like, okay, the rest will fall into place.

HR: In the future, what do you hope to bring to the industry and to Disney?

Capili: I honestly think the only thing I can hope to contribute is just my life experience, my unique perspective as the person I am. Like the only thing I really want to contribute is the perspective that I have only me. I can offer it to you in the hope that it will help other people find catharsis in some way. The things I learned. Gift them so someone else doesn’t have to struggle so hard to learn them or have to search as hard.

HR: What do you hope the audience will take away? Sketchbook?

Capili: From my particular episode, I just hope everyone believes in themselves. I spent a lot of time not believing in myself and it was a waste of time. You have to be your own cheerleader. You can do difficult things and you can do scary things. You can do it wrong. You can draw Kuzco incorrectly and that’s okay. You can try again if you wish. But you don’t have to. You did it [try] and it’s good.

We also spoke with story host Hyun Min Lee who appears in Sketchbook‘s second episode, so be sure to check out that interview as well! Sketchbook Now streaming all six episodes on Disney+.

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