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Animator fulfills childhood dream

Gresham High grad worked on "Frozen"


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The Duke of Weselton introduces himself to princess sisters Anna and Elsa at the the coronation ball in one of the shots MacLean animated for Frozen.Kevin MacLean found his calling early in life as a 10-year-old making claymation movies with his grandpa’s old video camera.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Kevin MacLean poses with the Oscar for Disneys animated feature, Frozen. In high school, MacLean was the kid shooting photo stills of clay in the audio visual room everyday during lunch. His senior year, MacLean earned a prestigious award from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts for his own compilation of short films.

At the age of 18, the 1997 Gresham High School grad was hired by Will Vinton Studios (now Laika Entertainment) in Portland. In 2003, MacLean was picked up by DreamWorks to work as an animator.

Now animating for Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, Calif., MacLean is one of several hundred on the film’s crew to accept an Oscar for Disney’s “Frozen.”

Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, the movie won the Oscar for animated feature Sunday, March 2.

Loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” the film tells the story of a fearless princess, Anna, who sets off on an epic journey with a rugged mountain man, Kristoff, and his pet reindeer to find Anna’s estranged sister, Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter.

MacLean, 34, didn’t get to go to the Oscars — the directors accepted the award — but he did watch the Academy Awards and attended the Oscar viewing party back at the studio.

“It is the type of movie I loved watching growing up,” MacLean said, a film akin to Aladdin or Beauty and The Beast. “I felt so lucky to able to work on one.”

MacLean said this is the first Disney animated feature film to win an Oscar. The category was created in 2001. “Pixar usually wins almost every year, and one year DreamWorks won,” he said.

The day Disney took home the Oscar, “Frozen” crossed the $1 billion mark in ticket sales.

“It was great. I am definitely proud to have been a part of it,” MacLean said. “It is weird to work on something for so many long hours, and then have it go out into the world and become part of pop culture.”

From clay to career

MacLean was born in Portland and raised in Gresham. He attended Highland Elementary School, Gordon Russell Middle School and Gresham High School.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - On a family road trip, 15-year-old Kevin MacLean begged his parents to take a picture in front of Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, where he works now as an animator.Growing up, MacLean wasn’t much into sports.

He was more into magic, ventriloquism and juggling.

At 10 years of age he discovered claymation, inspired by the very commercials and animated movies he would later make at Will Vinton Studios.

Learning to make his own claymation movies with his grandpa’s video camera, at 12-years-old MacLean began taking summer animation classes at the Northwest Film Center in Portland.

In high school, he spent most of his time creating stop-animation films.

“I sort of latched onto that for some reason,” MacLean said. “That was kind of my big activity.”

MacLean made short films, “comedies with a dark side.”

His film “Scared Stiff” was about a corpse who came back to life. Another film was about a girl character who created herself by putting on her head and facial features.

During his senior year in 1997, MacLean was the only Oregon student selected for a prestigious art competition put on by the National Foundation for Advancement in Arts, (now called National YoungArts Foundation). MacLean took his short films to Miami, where he joined other elite students in the literary, performing, visual and design arts fields for week of professionally-taught workshops.

A dream come true

MacLean was hired almost immediately out of high school by Will Vinton Studios. He worked there for six years. Commuting from his parents home in Gresham, at the studio MacLean worked on the television shows, “The PJ’s” (1999) and “Gary & Mike” (2001), and commercials for the NFL on Fox, M&M’s candy, Three Musketeers and Arby’s. He also got his start at computer-generated animation.

By the age of 20, MacLean left home for the first time to work on his first feature, Monkeybone, a 2001 fantasy-comedy film directed by Henry Selick (“The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Coraline”.)

In 2003, MacLean was offered a job at DreamWorks as an animator. He did computer animation for eight movies including “Madagasgar,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Flushed Away” and “Turbo.”

MacLean took leave in 2011 and came back to Portland to work for Laika on “ParaNorman.”

Animating Frozen

In March of 2013, MacLean was hired at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

A couple of weeks later, he joined a crew of more than 300, including 75 other animators, to work on the new movie, “Frozen,” starring the voice of Kristen Bell.

It was his job to bring the characters to life. Issued a series of shots to animate by his directors, MacLean used three-dimensional, computer-generated models to move the characters’ bodies and faces.

“It’s like manipulating a digital puppet,” MacLean said.

The directors really liked the gestures MacLean had given the Duke of Weselton, and encouraged him to do more work with the character. For those who have seen “Frozen,” MacLean worked on the opening scene with the big burly men, some of the troll sequences, the Duke’s introduction to Anna and Elsa at the coronation ball and at the end of the movie, when the Duke is escorted onto the ship.

Carrying on Disney tradition

After grinding away on “Frozen” for six days a week for six months, MacLean said he took a little road trip. He’ll come back and start on the next animated film based from a Marvel comic, “Big Hero 6.”

MacLean lives in Burbank, Calif.

His parents have moved out of Gresham to San Diego. Both his brother and sister also have moved out of the state. His closest tie to the area is an uncle in Vancouver, Wash.

But he says he has lots of animation friends in Portland and some high school friends in Gresham.

MacLean says it’s an honor to work for such a historic studio as Disney.

“It’s a great time to be here,” MacLean said. “The studio seems to be going through another animation renaissance, much like it did in the late ’80s through mid ’90s when they were making one classic after another. When you look at those films and the films from Walt Disney’s time, we really have a lot to live up to.”

“I am very proud to have been part of a film that carried on the tradition of classic Disney magic and music,” he said. “These type of movies don’t come around too often these days.”



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