It’s evening, and several students from Bill Kroyer’s Digital Arts Industry Insiders class are sitting around a large table in The Fashionable Women of Chapman Rotunda Boardroom, having dinner with producer/director Don Hahn, Artist-in-Residence for spring semester.

“I don’t know where I see myself in five years,” says Joshua Scheurer (BS/Business Administration, ‘17) when asked about his plans for the future. “I’ve thought about doing my own startup or getting involved in a startup. I really love the entertainment industry and think it would be great to be a producer or director. But to be honest, I don’t really know what I want to do.”

“When I was your age, I had a major in undecided,” Hahn responds. “I couldn’t stand the idea of having to focus on one thing. For a long time, I thought there was something wrong with me, but working with animators like Ward Kimball (
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
), who was in a band and built a steam engine in his backyard, I realized you don’t have to narrow your range. The life of an artist is not defined by position, retirement, or promotions. It’s driven by a desire to tell stories and to have a personal impact on the world.”

And Hahn should know. Starting out as an assistant director on
Pete’s Dragon
, he produced many of Disney’s most celebrated animated films:
The Lion King, The Nightmare Before Christmas,
The Emperor’s New Groove.
In 2009, he directed and produced
Waking Sleeping Beauty,
a behind-the-scenes documentary about the renaissance in Disney animation during the 80s and 90s. In addition, Hahn has produced several live action films, including
Who Framed Roger Rabbit,

and the upcoming adaptation of
Beauty and the Beast

don hahn speaking

“It’s unusual to find a producer who is successful in all these areas,” says Professor Bill Kroyer (
Fern Gully
). “Not only is he successful, but he’s able to communicate it in an articulate and engaging way. It’s an incredible opportunity to expose students to a top professional like that.”

In addition to screening his films and talking with students about his experiences, Hahn is helping this semester’s Pankey scholars to develop their own films. One of these students is Hannah Bradford (MFA/Documentary Filmmaking ’17). Bradford is doing a personal documentary about her mother, who committed suicide last May. She is hoping to use animation to convey her recollections about the experience in a way that’s visually compelling.

“When I talked with Don about my idea, one of the first things he told me was not to focus on the animation. Instead, he said focus on the story. Later on, I can learn how to make it move.”

In addition to her experience working with Hahn, Bradford recalls watching Hahn’s film
High Ground
, a documentary about a team of veterans who hike the Himalayas in an effort to overcome their PTSD, and how it inspired her. “Since I saw that film, I’ve been playing with the idea of hiking the Grand Canyon. It’s something I could say I did for my mom and it’s something I want to do personally. I think doing it for my film will help tie the story together and give it a good meaning as well.”

“It’s great to see them light up and see the possibilities,” says Hahn about the Pankey scholars. “They have really clever ideas, but often get distracted by the cool features of the movie and edit themselves unnecessarily. They forget that the only reason we go to the movies is to be entertained by a great story and to be reminded of what it means to be human. It’s fun to remind them of that.”