Brenda Chapman

Biography from her website:

“Maybe you already know a little about me, and that’s what brought you here. But maybe you don’t. So it might make sense to tell a little bit of my story. Here goes.

I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, and I always knew that I wanted to do something that would allow me to draw. I considered career paths like fashion design and commercial art, but animation had always fascinated me – and captured my imagination. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized there had to be somebody drawing all of those characters and the worlds in which they lived. Watching the credits for the first time, I was stunned at how many people worked on animated films! So why shouldn’t I try to be one of them?

I started on my official creative journey at Lincoln College in Lincoln, IL (I grew up in a tiny farm town nearby). I took every art class they had! I even took a dance class so I could sketch all the dancers in movement. I received an Associate of the Arts when I graduated, then packed up and moved to California to attend California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) because it seemed like the natural next step. It was the only art school at the time that had a program specifically for character animation. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. I made three short films while I was there, and the last one, entitled A Birthday, helped me land a job at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios — a dream come true! The timing couldn’t have been better; I started at Disney as the big reemergence of animation began to unfold. I cut my teeth on projects like Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Later in my Disney career, I worked as the head of story on The Lion King, which was an amazing journey. Looking back, I realize that I grew up in the industry at Disney, and those experiences paved the way for my future career.

Of course, as anyone involved in any career path knows, transition is inevitable. You’re consumed with a desire to push yourself, to try something new, and to accept challenges that are as exhilarating as they are frightening. After nearly eight years at Disney, I left to help launch a new company: DreamWorks Animation Studios.

While at DreamWorks, I expanded my experience and also had the chance to help create a different environment. The highlight of my DreamWorks experience was undoubtedly the opportunity to co-direct the 1998 film The Prince of Egypt, along side of Steve Hickner and Simon Wells. I became the first woman to direct an animated feature film for a major Hollywood studio. It’s not something that I consciously strove for, I just wanted and want to tell great stories in whatever capacity I can. I actually find the distinction embarrassing most of the time. Titles and accolades aren’t as important to me as what my work might mean to young women and men who are interested in the animation industry—I hope I can serve as an example to them and show that limitless possibilities await.

In 2003, I joined Pixar Animation Studios as a senior story artist at the urging of the late, great Joe Ranft, a dear friend of mine – not to mention one of the most brilliant story artists I’ve ever had the honor of working with – to work on Cars. I soon stepped up as director to create the film, Brave, which features Pixar’s first-ever female protagonist. The film was inspired by my relationship with my daughter. Even though we frequently clash and are both control freaks, my love for her is fierce and unwavering—and I channeled those feelings into a story that gives contemporary working moms, their daughters and their families something to relate to in a fairy tale/folk tale setting.

Over the years, I’ve helped to develop and consult on films for several studios including Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Universal, Sony, Lucasfilm and Fox.

And now, I am writing, directing and producing several projects in different stages of development. I’ve been engaged to write and direct a Chinese financed/American made feature-animated film – Truth – for Truth Pictures and am attached to direct Come Away, a live action film written by the very talented Marissa Goodhill.

Giving the collaborative process a try within the family, my husband, director Kevin Lima (Enchanted, A Goofy Movie, Disney’s Tarzan) and I are writing a hybrid script together – working title The Touch – as well as attempting to start our own production company.

Another avenue of sharing my passion came about when my best friend from high school, David Lanterman and I co-founded the Lincoln Film Festival (LFF) in Lincoln, Illinois in 2016. I’m also involved with the Bay Area International Children’s Film Festival (BAICFF).

Art has been my lifelong passion, and storytelling through visuals and writing are deeply rooted within that. I feel lucky every day to have been given the chance to have a career in which I can express myself through my art – and share that passion and knowledge with others.”