For many, the Disney College Program is just the beginning of an incredible career path. Mark, Disney College Program alumni and current Shading Technical Director in the Sets Department at Pixar, found that his experience on the College Program helped lead him to his current role. Mark explains that the common threads of passion and storytelling can be found throughout his journey.
Today Mark helps create and visualize the environments and various locations within Pixar films, but his Disney story began when he was a young child. He grew up with the classic 1990s Disney films, including Mulan, Hunchback of Notre Dame and Pocahontas. “I don’t think I understood how inspiring those films were until I got older. I realized how much those films affected my perceptions of the world and my beliefs about people and valuing others,” he explains.
In his sophomore year of college, Mark decided to apply for the College Program and was offered the role of character attendant. He found the role extremely rewarding as it was his chance to “help the characters tell their stories for guests.” As a character attendant, he was responsible for organizing and facilitating an enjoyable and magical character meet-and-greet process for guests visiting Disney’s classic characters. He especially loved that he was “encouraged to create magic” throughout his role.
When speaking about some of his favorite moments as a character attendant, Mark got a bit emotional. He told a touching story of an autistic boy who learned to write by sending Mickey Mouse letters, and the magical meet-and-greet moment in which Mickey showed the child that he had kept and treasured each individual letter. Another story told of a little boy who met Buzz Lightyear. Although it was a small moment, Mark explains that you could see the child completely believed in everything Buzz Lightyear stood for as a character, and was so inspired by him.
Mark also shares his passion for diversity and why it’s imperative. “It’s something that excites me because I think representation is becoming so important in storytelling. We should recognize that the stories we tell should reflect the diversity that makes the world so beautiful,” he says.
He remembers character attending with Mulan and seeing families with children adopted from China. “These families are able to tell their children that this brave warrior princess shares parts of your story. She has done such incredible things and you can do incredible things too. Seeing how affected both the children and parents were by that connection was really special.”
Ultimately, Mark was honored to work with some of Disney’s most treasured characters. “Being at Disney Parks gave me so much more perspective – seeing that it wasn’t just my life that was being affected by these stories, but it was thousands, even millions of people all around the world being positively influenced.”
The importance of storytelling that Mark appreciated so much as a character attendant is a passion that eventually brought him to Pixar. “It’s been a huge dream of mine to be a part of the animated storytelling process because it’s something that, going back to when I was little, is such a huge inspiration to who I am as a person now. The Disney Parks are a manifestation of the magic that Disney has created in film; now I have an opportunity to be involved in the magic of the films themselves.”
In his current work environment at Pixar, Mark constantly finds inspiration. “You don’t really think about it, but there’s such a long process to create each film. Seeing that in action on my first day completely surpassed all of my expectations.” He is especially enjoying getting to know the people who bring Pixar films to life. “I think my favorite part about working at Pixar is seeing how talented everyone is and seeing how incredible the teams are that make these films.”
The fact that Mark is helping create classics for future generations to enjoy is not lost on him. “It is huge to realize that I will be a part of the Pixar legacy. Having this opportunity is something that is so incredible. I try not to think about it too much because I start crying. Seeing the legacy of incredible stories all around you and being a small part of that legacy is so inspiring and continues to inspire me.”
As for advice? Mark wants to remind us all that doing what you love might not always be easy, but it will be worth it. “I think that’s one of the most inspiring things about Walt Disney – he was faced with so many obstacles and he failed so much, but he kept moving forward, getting back in the game, and doing what he loved,” he shares.
No matter where your path may lead after your Disney College Program, that’s advice that we can all take to heart.