‘Frozen’ among Disney projects Summit High grad Elise Scanlan worked on
Every Sunday night when Elise Scanlan was growing up, her family would gather together to watch a movie. The featured films ranged from “Beauty and the Beast” to “Good Morning Vietnam,” and all had an impact on Elise, who fell in love with them, particularly the animated ones.
“That was just our Sunday ritual,” said Elise’s mother, Christine. “We had to make sure that everyone had homework done so we could have movie night. We’d camp out in the basement.”
It didn’t take long for her eldest daughter’s passion for movies to become common knowledge.
“She drew a picture of Mickey Mouse that I still have in my kitchen when she was 6,” Christine said. “She was totally enamored with Disney films.”
Elise has gone far since that first drawing. In late 2012, she accepted a job at Walt Disney Animation Studios in California. She works as a production coordinator and has been involved in several big-name projects, including the movies “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6,” both of which won Academy Awards for best animated feature film, among others.
A PASSION AND A GOAL
Even in high school, Elise knew she wanted to be involved in movie animation. She chose the artistic track of Summit High School’s International Baccalaureate program, learning as much as she could. When it came time to pick what college she wanted to attend, Elise looked for schools that featured animation degrees. She chose Loyola Marymount University.
Though Elise was born in Denver, the Scanlan family moved to Summit County when Elise was 4 years old. When she decided on a school in Los Angeles, Christine admits “it was a little worrisome,” but she and her husband supported their daughter’s decision.
“Summit County is an awesome place for kids to grow up and it’s such a supportive small community,” said Christine, who currently works as president and CEO of the Keystone Center. “I knew everyone in her class and their families, and they knew us, but she was just determined to go to a city, and I think that’s where she’s going to stay.”
The transition, at first, was “eye-opening,” Elise said, but now she’s got it figured out.
“I finally had to retire my flip-flops,” she said with a laugh. But a slight fashion change didn’t affect her drive to achieve her goal.
During her senior year in college, she scored an internship with the Nickelodeon cable network. As a production intern, she spent a semester working on “The Legend of Korra,” a follow-up to the animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
That experience affirmed her decision that animation was what she wanted to do, she said, particularly being on the production side of things.
“I still have a lot of love for the art side, and I enjoy doing art on the side,” Elise said, “but the level of talent that’s required, it’s just such a competitive industry and it’s so detail-oriented.”
Her best work is on the production track, she explained, which means managing and helping those on the artistic side of development.
She graduated Loyolla Marymount University with a double major — one in animation, one in Spanish.
“I was worried she wouldn’t be able to find a job, but she has proved our worries not to be founded. She’s done great,” Christine said. “I admire her determination.”
Christine is also convinced that Elise’s mountain background has had a hand in her success.
“It was a gift growing up in Summit County,” Christine said, “and I think, honestly, we have a great school system that supported her with getting into the college that she wanted to go to, and grounded her with the work ethic and creativity. I think Summit’s a really creative place and inspires people and I think she’s living that, which is really, as a mom and as a parent, it’s great to see.”
“I’m really lucky and glad that I work at Disney, and really lucky and proud that I come from Summit County,” she said. “I miss it a lot but I think growing up there and the experience I had set me up to be successful later, and ending up from small-town girl to big city L.A. — it’s a big transition, but it’s pretty fun.”
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
Elise works on the front end of the movie production pipeline, with the story department. It’s one of her favorite departments, she said — one that engages her artistic, creative side as well.
“I learn so much from even being in the room as they talk about their own stories,” she said.
While she sees every aspect of the beginning of a project, the end product is often a surprise, especially the transformation between black-and-white drawings to full color.
“To see the final color version of the movie just blows my mind,” she said.
After both films won the Oscar in their category, the producer and director brought the awards back to the studio for the team to hold and take pictures with.
“They’re surprisingly heavy,” she said of the iconic Oscar statues.
“It’s amazing,” she added, of knowing her films had won. “It’s always surprising because you never know. … It’s nice to be validated.”
Of course, Elise’s cadre of friends and family in Summit make sure to watch her films when they come to the Dillon movie theater. Her sister Catherine, 23, remembers going to see one of them when it opened around Thanksgiving.
“It’d be, like, 25 of us in the theater and we would cheer for her name at the end,” she said, referring to the moment Elise’s name showed up during the credit roll. “And some people are like, ‘What? What are you cheering for?’”
Though she now lives more than 700 miles away from her hometown, Elise still feels connected to the mountains.
“L.A.’s definitely grown on me, but I miss home so much. There’s nothing quite like Summit County,” she said with a laugh.
She admits she still gets the Summit County alerts on her phone, telling her whether the Dillon Dam Road is open, for example. Just a small touch of home in the middle of the traffic and heat of Southern California.
“I’m really proud of her,” Catherine said of her sister. “And I’m glad she’s enjoying life.”
For now, Elise plans to continue working at Disney. She’s got another feature-length film coming up, the name of which hasn’t been announced yet.
“I feel like I’m still figuring that out,” she said, of her future plans. “Because I do love L.A. and I really love my job — but I do miss Colorado a lot.”
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