Interview with Ryan Terry, Lead Designer at Disney

We invited our community to pose questions to Ryan Terry, Lead Designer at Disney. Find out more about the magic behind a creative career at Disney!

We had an amazing response to our call for questions to pose to Disney Lead Designer, Ryan Terry!

We’ve picked out our favorite questions and mixed in a few of our own, so stand by for the much anticipated interview with Ryan Terry!

Who is Ryan Terry (in his own words)?

The Short Version

I’m an artist with an affinity for silliness.  I enjoy a wide range of art forms from drawing, animating and coding.

Ryan's dreams come true!

The Longer Version

I’m originally from Houston, TX and aspired to be an animator from an early age.  I drew, drew, drew all the way to college where I received my BFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Computer Art with an emphasis in Interactive Design.

Life led me in a direction towards web design and development and I played in that world for a decade working for small agencies and freelancing for 8 years.  I both designed and developed Flash websites for brands like Coca-cola, Wal-mart and Harry Potter, while later transitioning into the app market working on apps for Dreamworks, Sony Animation and Disney.

For the past year and a half I’ve had the privilege of working as a Lead Designer for Disney, launching the Imagicademy brand at the end of 2014.

Outside of work you can find me with my wonderful wife and new baby daughter in Los Angeles.  I love drawing silliness, watching movies, riding my bike and working on my hobby projects.

What was your childhood dream?

  Question submitted by MetroThemes

I absolutely, positively wanted to be a Disney Animator, making feature films.

Image courtesy of Ryan Terry

Did something specific inspire you to take an artistic path, or was it something that you had always wanted to do?

  Question submitted by Tier


I’ve always wanted to take the artistic path.  What sparked my dream to be a Disney Animator was seeing The Little Mermaid for the first time.  It blew me away and I was hooked… pun intended.

You’re proficient in many, (if not all!) areas of design, illustration, coding/development, and animation. How did you decide which element to focus on in your career?

  Question submitted by bogz


Here’s the thing…I didn’t! I always thought I would be an animator, but I also love illustration. In college, I double-majored in 2D Animation and Illustration. But as I entered my sophomore year I became really interested in early Flash animation and started moving in a more interactive direction, changing my major to Computer Art with an emphasis in Interactive Design. I then made sure to draw in every interactive project I had, to keep that interest going as well. I’ve tried to keep that mindset ever since then, which has led me down the web design, illustration, graphic design and games path.


Image courtesy of Ryan Terry

What (if any) things did you do to transition yourself away from Flash when you saw the industry moving away from it?

  Question submitted by ButlerM

The nail in the coffin for Flash was when Adobe said they’re not supporting it on mobile anymore. I know Actionscript, but Objective-C (X-Code) is a very different beast. I decided to start learning how to code apps, while simultaneously freelancing with app companies for front-end design jobs instead of doing both front-end and back-end jobs like I was doing before. I was designing apps immediately, so I’m very thankful for that work. I made my first app on my own within that year using only X-Code. I’m currently learning Unity since it’s cross-platform, powerful and the interface is nice for visual people like me. The biggest lesson I learned through this Flash transition is to always keep learning other software and mediums, keeping an eye on the future.

Can you share how you started in this field & how challenging it was to get where you are right now? How did the opportunity to work at Disney open up?

  Question submitted by Falcon


It’s a case of who you know. I have a friend who used to work at Disney and he was able to get me in touch with people who knew people in the department that I was trying to apply for. I also spent some time creating a customized version of my resume website just for Disney. It’s so important to do something special to stand out from the crowd when applying at Disney.

When you tell people you work at Disney, what’s the first thing most people say?

  Question submitted by KaseyMoore


“Oh, cool. So do you work in Disneyland?”

Could you describe what your desk/office looks like?

I work in Disney’s Grand Central Creative Campus in Glendale, California. It’s a beauty!

Disney’s Grand Central Creative Campus, Glendale, California

I work in an open office layout and I’m on the side of the office space by the windows.

I have a desk that lets me stand, but I tend to work better sitting down. The best feature of my desk is my Cintiq. How did I live without this thing?! What a wonderful tool.

Ryan Terry at work with his beloved Cintiq!

Out of all the different types of work at Disney, from web to mobile and from TV to film, what type of projects do you like to work on most of all, and what would you like to do more of?

I work specifically in the mobile market, making educational apps for kids. I’d be thrilled to work in the visual-development and character design roles for feature film or television.

What percentage of your work is done by drawing by hand and what percentage is done using computers?

There’s a good amount of hand drawn work in pre-production when we’re brainstorming ideas and need to get rough visuals figured out. From there, I hand off my rough ideas to the rest of my INCREDIBLY talented art team and we work together to make something beautiful via computer.

Image courtesy of Ryan Terry

What is your morning routine before you start designing?

  Question submitted by StyleWish


Coffee…coffee…and coffee.

Image courtesy of Ryan Terry

Where do you get inspiration for your work?

  Question submitted by Jollythemes


All over the place! Thursdays are always fun because that’s when new apps are released in the App Store. I immediately download as many fun apps as I can find and play them for a few minutes. I also follow a lot of artist on Instagram and Twitter so I have a pretty constant feed of art throughout the day.

Which animator or illustrator has been most influential on your career, and why?

Animator: Glen Keane — His work-ethic and skill is a never-ending inspiration to me.

Illustrator: Al Hirschfeld — His simple line-work and wonderful caricatures always put a smile on my face.

Share with us your top 3 favorite Disney or Pixar movies of all time, what are they, and what do you like most about them?

The Incredibles — The scene where Dash is running on the water is the only time I’ve ever leapt out of my seat in applause during a movie.  Such a great sequence.

Aladdin — I love the humor, the color and the animation

The Lion King — The characters, the drama, the music.  How can anyone not love this one?

Having worked as both a freelancer and now at a huge company like Disney, which of the two methods of earning a living is the most challenging?

  Question submitted by Patche


The biggest challenge with freelancing is not having a steady paycheck, but I was fortunate enough to always have work for the 8 years I freelanced. Working at a corporation has more challenges because you’re working with multiple lines of business and many more people than I worked with previously. Getting to work with so many incredibly talented artists and legends is something I could never do on my own otherwise. And I get to work with Mickey!

Image courtesy of Ryan Terry

Sometimes, creative inspiration isn’t always easy to come by. What’s the best way to approach a blank page from your experience?

  Question submitted by Matt Carrasco


Get outside! Do something to get out of your head. Take a walk. Or sometimes just scribbling nonsense lines on paper can make you see things in the lines that may inspire you. Read books, watch movies, go to dinner with friends. Also, sometimes you just need to lock yourself in a room and force yourself to throw as many ideas on paper as you can until something sticks. I love this quote by Jack London, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Image courtesy of Ryan Terry

How do you balance your own style of illustration/animation with the distinct look and feel of new or established Disney characters? What freedom do you have to build-on/modify/enhance well-known Disney properties, and what challenges are involved with this?

  Question submitted by yashar1


We have strict style guides to make sure we stay true to the Disney aesthetic, but in the app Mickey’s Magical Math World we were able to have a lot of creative fun with the environment and space suits of Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald and Goofy. We also created new alien and robot characters in the app.

Image courtesy of Ryan Terry

You’ve got a great idea for either a new character or an animation. What opportunities do you have at Disney to pitch new ideas?

Disney is open to all kinds of new ideas. They allow you to pitch to them for the opportunity to partner with you on it.

Could you tell us about your graphic novel Zerbert? Where did the idea come from and how is it coming along?

Zerbert, by Ryan Terry

Zerbert is a hobby of mine. I’m still working on the story so I don’t want to say too much yet. But I plan on being very transparent during the process on my Zerbert blog. Come join the fun at zerbertcomic.com.

Zerbert, by Ryan Terry

Zerbert, by Ryan Terry

What would your advice be to someone who is very talented at what they do, but has not had a major break yet? Should their focus be on building a portfolio, creating their personal brand, perhaps pro-bono work, or something else?

  Question submitted by Mustafa


The short answer; yes. Keep working and post your work everywhere you can; job sites, art forums, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. It’s important to have a clear, understandable website that gets right to the point. Think about what you’d want to see if you were hiring someone like yourself. And the best thing you can do is make something special for your future employer. Show them that you really want the gig and that you deserve it.

I have heard numerous professional & academic suggestions saying that to get success from a creative career, one must focus entirely on one particular area. As a jack of all trades yourself, what is your response to this approach?

  Question submitted by Mary Shinabarger


I wish I could agree with this, but I can’t. I can easily say that the more varied your skills are, the more valuable you are to employers. The last 3 people I hired are able to do 3D, UI design and are incredible digital painters. This trend isn’t going away. The marketplace changes so quickly that you need people that can do multiple things. I’m certain that focusing on one trade will make you better at it, but you’d be surprised at how creative you can be in other disciplines.

Image courtesy of Ryan Terry

What do you think about, after turn off all of your monitors?

  Question submitted by Roy Velvet 


“Time to go home and be with my wonderful wife and baby daughter.”


Out of all of the currently active Disney animation productions, which one would be a dream project for you to work on?

  Question submitted by Mike McDonald


The Moana film looks stunningly beautiful. I’d love to be a part of that project.

Phew! You made it, Ryan, awesome job! Could you tell us which was your favorite question and a little bit about the illustration you will be sending to the person who submitted the question?

My favorite question was from Butlerm: “Ryan, you seem to have a been a talented Flash animator when flash was still popular. What (if any) things did you do to transition yourself away from Flash when you saw the industry moving away from it?”

Artwork I’m giving away:

In light of Big Hero 6 winning an Oscar, I thought they might like to have the handful of original drawings I made of the characters.  Why give away one drawing when I can give away 6?!

Ryan Terry Artwork


About the Author Scott

Scott eats, sleeps, breathes Envato Market. Has been representing the best interests of the Envato community since 2006.