Animator, Artist, Author – A Few Questions with Benson Shum

Zootopia. Moana. Frozen.

This isn’t just a list of recent Disney animated hits. It’s also a list of just a few of the films that animator Benson Shum has worked on in his career with Walt Disney Animation Studios. But today Benson has also added “author” to his list of titles. Inspired to a career in animation by his love in part of children’s books, he decided his hand at creating one. The result is the cute book, Holly’s Day at the Pool, starring a new creation of his – Holly the pink hippo. It is incredibly adorable and well illustrated and part of the Artist Showcase line of books from Disney-Hyperion.

  • You can read about our review of Benson’s debut book right here on Disney Nerds

But I wanted to find out more about Benson’s work – especially after seeing all the beautiful illustrations on his personal website – BensonShum.com. Also, he has a great Instagram feed if you follow him at bshum79. He was gracious enough to let us ask him a few questions.

Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview, Benson!  You’ve had a fascinating career so far.  You’ve worked on some of the biggest hits in animation history.  What is it like to be an animator on a Disney film?  What are the biggest triumphs and the biggest challenges?

Hi Craig. Thank you so much for the kinds words. I feel very fortunate to be where I am today, I couldn’t ask for more.  To be a part of the Legacy at Disney Animation is just incredible, it’s something I’ve dreamed as a kid, but never thought it was possible.

To be an Animator at Disney is challenging and rewarding at the same time. We are always learning and trying to push ourselves to get better. There are so many incredible artists and technical wizards here. The biggest triumph for me really is just to be a part of this team, and the biggest challenge is trying to do your best and not let anybody down. We all help each other, so it’s really like a family.

What was your inspiration for Holly and where did the idea for the story come from?  How long did the process take from concept to completion? 

The inspiration behind Holly is my niece.  She was 2 years old at the time and she was transitioning from taking baths to showers, and she did not like that at all. A shower for us is not a big deal, but for a child, they may imagine it to be like a waterfall raining down.  I wanted to explore where their imagination could take them and how they could overcome it.  As adults, we sometimes forget how big the world is from a child’s mind. I first pitched the idea back in 2012, and it was greenlit and started in 2015. It was a 1.5 year process after that.

Holly and her sister gathering Easter eggs

I absolutely love your artistic style.  It’s bright and cheerful, yet beautifully detailed.  It also has an indescribable flair that is just appealing.  Will there possibly be a compilation book of your art in the future?  And could we possibly see more kids’ books?

Thank you Craig, I’ve thought about putting together a compilation book but haven’t had time to make one yet. Hopefully in the near future.  Yes, I would love to make more kids books. Holly’s Day at the Pool was such a wonderful experience. Working with my editor and Art director over at Disney-Hyperion was amazing.

In your website bio, you mention being inspired by the illustrations in children’s books. Any books in particular? And what about them inspired you?

Yes, I love Mary Blair’s books, like, I Can Fly, and Quentin Blake’s books, like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  I love both their style and use of color. They ooze some much charm and story in just one illustration.

 

You make it look so easy with your illustrations and brilliant work.  What advice would you give to prospective kids out there who might be inspired by your book as you were by others?

Thank you! Advice is always a hard one, because I don’t want to sound cheesy or like a old record, but drawing a lot is really the key. Observe life and try to understand why you like what you see. There is no right or wrong. Enjoy life is a big one too! If you can see the world, or even just hang out with friends, anything that gets you outside is whats going to inspire you to create art.

How does it feel to know that your work might inspire future artists? 

It’s pretty incredible to even think of that. I feel very humbled, and I always want to give back. People have been so generous with their knowledge and the most I can do is pay it forward. 

Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to do this interview, Benson! We wish you much luck in the future!!! And hope to see more of your work in print.

  • Benson’s book, Holly’s Day at the Pool is available now at Amazon and in bookstores everywhere
  • Benson will be appearing at D23 Expo 2017! We will update you on details as they become available. You can also find him at a variety of other locations which you can find on his website.

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