Becoming a Disney animator would appear to have been the fulfillment of a childhood dream for ace animation director Kirk Wise. With co-director Gary Trousdale, he was responsible for helming the celebrated "Beauty and the Beast" (1991), the first animated feature to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Wise began laying the groundwork for his adult successes as a youngster, earning his first paycheck for drawing at age seven after his mother submitted his sketch of a garbage man and his truck to the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE's "Junior Art Champion" Contest. Winning praise, a check and a commendation from the local sanitation department spurred his creativity.
By the fifth grade, Wise was attending a community center course in animation, making his first crude super-8 movies using cut-outs and clay figures. He continued to make little films--of increasing sophistication--throughout junior high and high school. Informed by his father of the programs in character animation at the Disney-sponsored CalArts, Wise applied and was accepted. Though he worked his way through school as a caricaturist at Universal Studios and Magic Mountain, his future would lie at the Walt Disney Studio.
Wise was hired for his first Disney assignment while still a senior at CalArts--providing freelance animation for a "Sport Goofy Soccermania" TV special. Following graduation, he contributed animation and storyboarding to various projects including the Disney animated features "The Great Mouse Detective" (1986) and "Oliver & Company" (1988). Discovering that he was more interested in story and character development, Wise began deploying these skills on various Disney projects including the 1989 short "Cranium Command" (which he also co-directed and provided the voice of the "Hypothalamus"). This four-minute animated pre-show for the "Wonders of Life" exhibit at Disney's Epcot Center in Florida was notable as Wise's first directing collaboration with Gary Trousdale. With complementary abilities in animation--Wise's forte being character animation and acting, Trousdale's being special effects and layout, both with strengths in color--the pair proved a formidable team.
Wise and Trousdale both received story credits on the innovative computer animated short "Oilspot and Lipstick" and the features "Oliver & Company" (1988) and "The Lion King" (1994). They also shared storyboard credits on the Mickey Mouse short "The Prince and the Pauper" and the feature sequel "The Rescuers Down Under" (both 1990). The critical and commercial success of "Beauty and the Beast" made Hollywood finally take serious notice of animation. The film also demonstrated that the musical could again be a viable film genre. (It even generated a successful Broadway musical spin-off.) That each of the six musical numbers either revealed character or advanced the plot certainly contributed to the film's success. Just as important were the vibrant, well-defined characters and the artful use of developing CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) technology. Wise and Trousdale exhibited similar strengths in the their next directing collaboration, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1996), a kinder, gentler, musical take on Victor Hugo's oft-adapted 1831 novel.