Gregory Culp (BA ’06, Fine Arts) has worked as a lighting and compositing artist on some of the world’s most beloved movies — Zootopia, Frozen, Tangled, Wreck it Ralph, and Big Hero 6 among them — for some of the top animation studios in the world. Culp is a graduate of fine arts with digital imaging specialization.
Can you describe what it’s like working in lighting for Sony and Disney animation on some of the most loved movies in the world?
It’s a dream come true. I grew up watching all the classic animated films over and over again, and through Disney Animation’s renaissance, was spoiled seeing Lion King and Aladdin, etc., on the big screen as soon as they came out. I remember those films transporting me into this whole other world, and I just wanted to be a part of it. Knowing that what I work on could affect someone in the same way is pretty special.
What was your favourite project and why?
I think every show that I’ve worked on at Disney has been really special in its own way. Currently I would have to say Frozen or Feast. When I was first hired at Disney Animation for Tangled, I saw a quick pitch from art director Michael Giaimo for a film based on the Snow Queen, and instantly fell in love with the world. It wouldn’t be until three years later that I would get the chance to work on it, but it was worth the wait. Most of my favourite work has come from Frozen. I got to work on Olaf’s song, Love is an Open Door, Do You Want to Build a Snowman, and the magical landscape where you first meet Olaf, to name a few.
Can you tell us about the creative process when working on a film, and what goes into creating the characters?
Research, and lots of it. On Frozen, a team went to Norway to collect reference photographs and research the culture. With all this knowledge gathered, they can then start putting together their fictitious world and characters, but make it believable, and something the audience will understand and hopefully love. In lighting we had a small trip to a studio where we photographed large ice blocks and how they react to light. We have to take note of the texture, colour, density, how reflective/refractive it is, caustics, etc.
Was there anything or anyone during your time at Waterloo that influenced you in terms of getting where you are today?
I think if it wasn’t for Doug Kirton and his digital imaging classes that he was teaching Houdini in, I never would have gotten to where I am today. It was his classes that got me so excited about the digital arts and CG in general that I switched from computer science into fine arts.