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Big Hero 6

Animation graduate reflects on his role in Big Hero 6

November 17, 2014

Taking the Plunge: A scene from the trailer of Big Hero 6 featuring the main characters Hiro and Baymax. This was one of the first shots animator Mitchell Counsell was assigned on the film.

The stars were aligned one September day in 2013 for Mitchell Counsell. Within 30 minutes of proposing to his girlfriend in Toronto, the Sheridan animation graduate received a call from Disney offering him a job in Los Angeles.

Just over a year later, Counsell was reading his name on the big screen among the credits for Walt Disney Animation Studio’s latest blockbuster, Big Hero 6 released in North American on November 4th. It’s clear from the feature film’s rave reviews that Disney has another hit on its hands.

Now married and living in California, 26-year-old Counsell is still taking it all in. “It wasn’t so long ago that I was in school and now I’m part of an amazingly talented team of artists at Disney,” said Counsell, who graduated from Sheridan’s Computer Animation Program in 2011, followed by the Computer Animation-Digital Visual Effects Program in 2013.

As a Character Technical Director on Big Hero 6, Counsell helped rig characters, props and setup simulations for clothing and hair as they were animated throughout the film. Big Hero Six is an action adventure story centering on robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada and his robot companion Baymax. The film is co-directed by Chris Williams, who studied animation at Sheridan and received a 2009 Oscar nomination for the animated feature, Bolt.

Although Counsell was a more junior member of the Big Hero Six film crew, he was tasked with several challenging projects. In fact, the first shots he was assigned involved the simulation animation of Hiro and Baymax falling from a window in slow motion in a scene that was featured in the film’s trailer. “Disney trusted us to work on difficult jobs right away. It was trial by fire,” Counsell said.

Having such trust placed in him was a bit intimidating, said Counsell, but he soon learned that even the most experienced animators surrounding him were willing to make mistakes to introduce something fresh and creative into the project. “That people are taking chances and putting themselves out there is hugely motivating and encouraging to me as a young artist,” he added. “So you start believing that you can actually contribute amid talent like this.”

In turn, Counsell is prepared to push boundaries within his role at the studio. “I think you distinguish yourself when you take the initiative to bring your work to the next level.”

The lesson here is that there is no fixed point of arrival in terms of your professional growth, said Counsell, an Ottawa, Ontario native who came to Sheridan after earning an Architectural Technology degree from Carleton University. “Your career is like a cascade of proving grounds that starts with your student days,” he said.

Sheridan turned out to be a pivotal proving arena for Counsell. He was accepted into Disney’s Talent Development Program based on the final film he created as a student in the college’s post graduate Computer Animation Program. Budding animators should take advantage of the freedom to create the best production they can while they are in school, he advises. “With today’s technology, you can make a film of professional studio quality that can open doors for you.”

Watch the Big Hero 6 trailer here.

Mitchell and his wife at the Big Hero 6 release party.