Bachelor of Arts in Animation and Visual Effects launches with 20th anniversary screening of Mulan

Azusa Pacific will officially start the new Animation and Visual Effects major this fall, separating it from the concentration in cinematic arts that it currently is. The director of the program, animator and film director Tony Bancroft, celebrated the launch of the program on March 26 with a special 20th anniversary screening of Mulan in the Cougar Dome.

Bancroft co-directed Mulan and also has credits on Disney’s The Lion King, The Emperor’s New Groove, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

The Dome bustled with students, faculty, staff and kids. Student Government Association (SGA) personnel and public relations students worked a lit up popcorn booth and handed out informative flyers.

Prior to the screening, Bancroft introduced the new degree and shared how he got his start in animation and film. He also surprised attendees with a video addressing the APU crowd from Ming-Na Wen, the voice of Mulan, who was unable to attend the event.

“You’re in good hands with my dear friend Tony Bancroft,” Wen said in the video.

Early on in his career, Bancroft’s dream was to work at Disney Feature Animation.

“I was blessed to have worked at Disney Feature Animation …. at the absolute best time,” Bancroft said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but it was kind of the second golden age and “swan song” of 2D hand drawn animation: the 1990s. I was there as Disney Studios was experiencing huge success with Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King and so on. Each film did better than the last and it seemed it would last forever. I had the opportunity of leading characters like Pumbaa in The Lion King and Kronk in The Emperor’s New Groove.”

Bancroft created the final looks of the character, Kronk, from Emperor’s New Groove, Pumbaa from The Lion King and Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast. Additionally, he animated most of their key scenes.

Riding off the success of those movies, Bancroft encountered “the biggest God-moment” when he was offered the job of co-directing Mulan. Other doors of opportunity began to open up thereafter for him.

“It was a great time in my career that has had a lasting impact because of the continued popularity of those films,” Bancroft said.

Upon co-directing Mulan, Bancroft developed a deep love for Chinese culture.

“I have gained a true love of China and its people. I feel that God has opened opportunities for ministry for me there through animation,” Bancroft said. “APU came into my life two years ago when a friend of mine asked me to help him teach part of his animation class. I did a short five week teaching on traditional animation and was immediately bitten by the teaching bug. I enjoy seeing the ‘lights turn on’ as a student comes to realize a concept or principle. I see teaching as a way of honoring what God has given me in experience in the animation industry.”

Bancroft has had a passion for animation since he was a kid. He has over 30 years of experience in the industry. In the fall, he hopes to share his passion and knowledge with students.

The Animation and Visual Effects degree will cover “animation and drawing classes as well as courses in storytelling and the cinematic arts, ensuring that graduates are competitive candidates for positions in industries such as film, television, and video game design,” Media Relations at APU reported.

Bancroft said animation is more than just the cute characters. It’s about creating stories that have a long-lasting impact on the world.

“The Disney films I worked on certainly prove that. I want to help shape difference makers using the creative talents and passions that students coming into the new Animation and Visual Effects degree program have already,” Bancroft said. “I want to help them see that they are more than just making fun characters that move but stories and character that can move viewers.”

Since high school, Bancroft’s faith in God catapulted his “purpose to reach others through [his] art and animation.” With this in mind, he hopes to teach students the right tools because he feels “a responsibility to the students to help prepare them for the current animation industry.”

Even though students dream of becoming directors or creating their own animation company right after they graduate, they will most likely need to get their foot in the door by starting as an employee at a film studio, Bancroft said.  

“Being able to get a job utilizing their skill sets combined with an understanding of the programs and tools being used in today’s marketplace is important,” Bancroft explained. “Yes, let’s teach them to be better artists and creators, but let’s also help them develop their ability to sell themselves and their work by creating a portfolio that will get them employed. You have to be in the world to have an impact on the world.”

Monika Takaoka, a senior public relations major, expressed her excitement for the new animations degree.

“The fact that Tony Bancroft is here to lead the new degree is awesome,” Takaoka said. “This event is super informational, which I think will be fun for people who are interested in Disney and animation. The screening gives some insight to how Mulan was created, so it’s like a little behind-the-scenes look.”

Natalie Burnau, a junior public relations major, was also excited to be a part of the event.

“I am one of the biggest Disney enthusiasts that there are,” Burnau said. “Tony Bancroft being here in general is a very big privilege, and having the opportunity to meet him in the midst of the 20th anniversary of Mulan is a big deal.”

APU’s excitement for the new degree will be continued on April 2 in Darling 413 as Bancroft hosts “An Evening of Princesses” with fellow Disney animator Mark Henn.