Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Banking on Disney

Creativity Profile: Spotlight on Don "Ducky" Williams

Somewhere in Metropolis, Clark Kent runs out to the street, looking for a phone booth. A swift hand gesture later, and his glasses are off, transforming him into the Man of Steel, off to fight crimes.

Somewhere in Gotham City, Bruce Wayne hosts yet another soiree, heavily attended by the city's most elite. A quick visit to his mansion's underground lair, and he comes out as The Dark Knight, avenging justice.

Somewhere in Massachusetts, Don Williams packs the final remains of his desk into a cardboard box, as he gets into his car, driving off from him double life, deciding to solely live from now on as Ducky.

Superheroes have always fascinated me. Aside from their unnatural powers and surprisingly strong moral fiber, it's their ability to lead a double life that draws me towards them. It often makes me wonder which alter ego they actually identified with. Did they want to go back to their Average Joe lives, or did they find being a vigilante exhilarating? I'm positive that when they are not off kicking criminal's butts, they lay awake at night thinking about this very dilemma.

A double life seems to be the case of an astounding gentleman I've had the pleasure of meeting: Mr. Don "Ducky" Williams.

"I always thought it would be the other way around. I'd draw at Disney the whole day, and count my money at night". he joked, during his talk on board the Disney Magic ship. As he told his amazing story, he drew portraits, attesting to what a true talent he really was.

Don was up for a VP promotion when he decided to abandon his 15 year banking career to fulfill his dream of becoming a Disney animator. It wasn't a decision that came to him out of the blue. Years ago, he wrote Walt Disney a letter, asking if there were any job openings for an animator. Much to his delight, Walt wrote back encouraging him not to give up. Unfortunately, there were no job openings at that moment, for a 10 year old.

Walt's letter remains as his most prized possession. But along with the letter being neatly tucked away in a safe place, was his dream of being an animator. Being pushed by his parents into banking, he would entertain clients by day and ended up painting Disney portraits at the privacy of his own home at night.

Everything changed when one of his major clients, who happened to be a local TV anchor, noticed the Disney paintings that adorned his office walls. "I was always known as the Disney guy at the bank. Everyone knew how nuts I was about Disney, but nobody knew that these were my paintings." Soon after that, a human interest piece was done of him for the local news.

Being a local celebrity in his hometown depressed Don. "Everytime someone praised me for my paintings, it just reminded me that I wasn't doing what I wanted to do." Unknown to him, a local cop sent a tape of his story to Disney World in Florida.

Don never heard from Disney.

Then came his "it's now or never" moment. He quit his job, packed up all his artwork, and moved his entire life to Florida.

Without contacts or job prospects, he hopped on a plane and went straight to the Disney studios where he got turned down by the employment office.

For a few months, he worked as a cashier in a restaurant across the Disney parks. Everyday, he would pester the employment office asking them for any openings. "I was determined to sell peanuts, if it means setting foot inside Disney property." he explained.

After a year of this, there was an opening for a caricature artist at the park. He took the job right away. That lasted for 6 months as the caricature stalls weren't earning money. They were eventually replaced by orange juice stands.

A hopeful phone call the next day changed his life. Someone in the Disney office has unearthed the video tape of his story from two years ago and was immediately called into the head office where his paintings were scrutinized by two artists.

The head of animation agreed that he had talent but needed practice. He was given drawing guide sheets of every possible Disney character. "They wanted me to practice. I was to send them my sheets every week and they sent them back with with corrections."

He was excited at the thought of finally getting his foot into the door that during the first week, he submitted 100 drawings. The next week, 200 drawings. "I set such a high standard during the first week. I was afraid that if I turned in less than 100, it would look like I wasn't serious."

This unpaid Disney training went on for two whole years.

After two years of living, breathing and eating Disney, he could draw the characters in his sleep. He was finally invited to be part of the animation team.

This is where his Disney career finally began.

After a few months in animation, he decided that the work wasn't for him. His true love wasn't in drawing and redrawing characters, it was in painting portraits of them. He decided to make the shift after one day of drawing Tinkerbell's pixie dust.

After days of animating the 2 second clip of Tink putting Pixie Dust on Cinderella's castle, he moved to merchandising. "A lot of the paintings and drawings I do are what you would call 'throwaway art'. Those characters in brochures, posters and flyers are mine."

Currently, he is living his dream of drawing and painting portraits and scenes for Disney merchandise. He is also part of the Disney Cruise, giving talks and sketching lectures as part of the entertainment.

Here's a video of him giving a tutorial on how to draw Mickey Mouse

A lot of his artwork has sold for millions of dollars in art auctions, delighting Disney collectors all over the world. His Donald Duck paintings have been considered as the best rendering of any Disney animator or artist. Thus giving him the nickname "Ducky".

He has now worked for Disney for 30 years.

After relating all his struggles and challenges in hopes of reaching his dream, he ended his talk with this last line: "It's never too late".

Very few people would have done what he did. In this world where stability is favored over passion, a lot of dreams die along with their souls.

Don "Ducky" Williams is proof that we don't need to lead double lives. With just enough courage, we can lead the ultimate life we want, without fear of treading.

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