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Former lead Disney artist helps shape future animators

Chances are you don’t know him, but if you have had a child or been a child in the last 20 years, you’ve likely seen his handiwork.

Tom Bancroft, former Disney and Big Idea Productions animator, is the founder of Lipscomb's animation program.

For more than 25 years artist Tom Bancroft has been creating animated shorts, films and features in the animation industry. Much of that time was spent working for Walt Disney Feature animation, where he was animator on four animated shorts and eight feature films including “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas,” “Mulan” and “Brother Bear.”

He left Disney in 2000 to follow his heart and help Big Idea Productions, creators of the popular “VeggieTales” animated series, create its first feature film, “Jonah: A Veggietales Movie.” While there he also directed and co-created the popular 2D animated video series “Larryboy Adventures.” Bancroft directed eight episodic animated TV/DVD shows for Big Idea and Christian Broadcasting Networks.

Bancroft is also artist-in-residence for the undergraduate animation program in Lipscomb’s College of Entertainment & the Arts, a program he developed for the university. He is right at home in the classroom, as he has literally written the textbook for budding animators.

His popular character design instruction books, “Creating Characters with Personality” and “Character Mentor” have become the most recognized books on designing characters for animation, video games, comic books and cartooning and are required textbooks at many art schools around the world.

Because of the popularity of these books, Bancroft has been hired to design hundreds of characters for film, TV, and video game productions as well as speak at art schools and animation studios around the country as well as in Italy, Canada and Costa Rica.  

Although he stays busy with his work in the animation industry, Bancroft says he enjoys being part of the new, and rapidly growing, College of Entertainment & the Arts. When Mike Fernandez, dean of the college, approached him with the “bold idea” to bring in seasoned film, contemporary music and animation professionals to help build the college’s offerings, he “couldn’t resist being involved.”

“I love what I do with my many day jobs in animation designing characters for film and TV, but I’ve always wanted to give back to the next generation of artists and animators,” he states. “It’s why I’ve created two art instruction books on the subject of character design and have an online art instruction website.

“Working with Lipscomb is taking that desire to the next level for me, and I’m excited about the future of the program and where Lipscomb is headed.”
Bancroft says he believes it is important for students in the College of Entertainment & the Arts to learn from professionals who are also active practitioners.

“I feel strongly that professors should be working in their industries even while teaching,” he says. “I intend to keep my toe in the professional animation pond, and I see that as a way to help the students directly and indirectly.” 
Bancroft says he has also been excited to bring in industry experts as adjunct professors, including John Hill, Jim Elston, Tim Hodge and John Pomeroy.

Bancroft says he is enjoying being in an educational setting because he knows firsthand the impact it has on his students.

“I was blessed to attend the prestigious California Institute of the Arts many years ago. All of my instructors were seasoned professionals in the animation field, and many worked at Disney or other studios during the day and taught at CalArts at night,” he recalls. “While those instructors changed my life artistically, I think I learned as much or more from my peers.

“Those fellow students, many of whom are directors and art directors at all the major animation studios, have become lifelong friends and we have all fed each other with work and inspiration throughout our careers.”
Bancroft says he is excited about Lipscomb’s arts college and the impact it will have on the industry.

“The Lipscomb leadership for CEA made a decision to ‘go big or go home’ when they began dreaming and praying about what the college could achieve,” says Bancroft. “I strongly believe that no Herculean effort goes unrewarded. Additionally, a large part of that plan is to instruct our students to create content that affirms their faith in the Lord. I believe with knowledge, faith and ability our students won’t just change Nashville they can change the world.” 

Bancroft has been nominated for Annie Awards by the International Animated Film Association and for Reuben Awards by the National Cartoonist Society, has spoken at the Kennedy Center and was awarded an entry into the Chicago Children’s Film Festival.

In addition to his work at Lipscomb and in the animation industry, he is president of the art instruction website TaughtByA, which brings its workshops to Lipscomb each fall; is co-creator of a daily sketching prompt app (SketchBite) and is co-host of the most popular animation podcast on iTunes—“The Bancroft Brothers Animation Podcast.”

By Kim Chaudoin
This article was re-posted on May 8, 2019, as part of the Lipscomb Now Summer 2019 online edition.