LightBox Expo Recap: Samantha Vilfort and Tyre Jones Present “Your Best Shot: Storyboarding Your Way Toward Disney Animation”

If you’re a Disney fan, you probably thought about a career in animation at some point. I ruled it out early due to a lack of artistic talent, but if you’re passionate about it, you shouldn’t give up like I did. That’s why I found “Your Best Shot: Storyboarding Your Way Toward Disney Animation” to be a really intriguing panel at this year’s LightBox Expo. Story Artists Samantha Vilfort and Tyre Jones shared their stories about how they got into the animation industry, how they arrived at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and shared some of their career highlights so far. The panel was moderated by Tyler McKim, Associate Manager for Talent Development at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

(Samantha Vilfort/Disney/Tyre Jones)

(Samantha Vilfort/Disney/Tyre Jones)

For the unfamiliar, Storyboarding is the process of visually drafting a script. In live-action, the process is used to help determine the on-set needs and previsualize effects. But in animation, it often precedes a written script and is a very iterative process. If you’ve ever watched the deleted scenes for a recent animated film, odds are what you saw were storyboards for a sequence that got cut. Tyre referred to the process as “Chaos,” but Samantha was more lighthearted with her descriptor, “Collaborative.”

Samantha Vilfort first heard about the role of a story artist as a teenager in the California Bay Area, not far from Pixar Animation Studios. Realizing that it combined her love of drawing and movies, she pursued a degree in animation and continually submitted her portfolio to Disney for their internship program. She kept getting rejected but set a goal for herself to keep applying annually, swapping out pieces in her portfolio with newer work. The pieces she chose were the ones she thought Disney would want, containing princesses or magical elements. But the piece that actually landed her the interview was a school project to storyboard the assassination of Julius Caesar. Decidedly un-Disney, she added it to her portfolio, and it’s what got her foot in the door as an apprentice after graduation.

Tyre Jones started his higher education pursuits with a more practical degree in engineering, but his heart wasn’t in it. He switched to creative writing and set his sights on writing for TV. The film that changed everything for him was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which was based on a graphic novel. Once bitten by the bug, he began learning to draw in his early twenties. He shared the pitch reel that finally got him a job at Disney after working in TV animation, a mischievous sequence in which a boy seeks revenge on a teacher after he failed a test.

Talking about their work at Walt Disney Animation Studios, Samantha and Tyre worked closely together on the 61st animated feature from the studio, Strange World, coming to theaters on November 23rd. Samantha shared a deleted sequence she did for Frozen 2 from an earlier draft of the story. At one point in development, Anna would’ve broken up with Kristoff out of fear that he would be happier in the woods with reindeer and trolls than he would be in Arendelle’s palace. We got to see a sequence Samantha boarded of Kristoff herding Sven and reindeer as Anna walked by with Honeymaren and had this profound moment of realization. While that sequence didn’t make it into the film, she did share that her work on Encanto has been seen by millions of people around the world. The scene request was simple –  “Antonio explores his new room.” With that short direction and some concept art by Camille Andre, Samantha boarded a sequence that included Antonio meeting new animal friends and riding a Jaguar through his new exotic bedroom.

LightBox Expo is primarily focused on educating the next wave of artists and animation industry entrants, and the Q&A largely focused on how to break into the industry. Tyler McKim shared that the studio’s summer internship programs will soon be open to applicants on, a 10-12 week opportunity for current college students to get some hands-on experience. For those who have already graduated and are having trouble finding jobs in the industry, Tyre mentioned that there are more opportunities in television than in film, which is how he got to Disney. “This waiting period is active,” he shared, encouraging aspiring artists to keep living their life, gaining experiences, and applying them to their craft for continual improvement.

Attendees at the panel didn’t walk away empty-handed, receiving a Walt Disney Animation Studios sketch pad and sticker. Visit to learn more about the annual event held in Pasadena and how you can attend next year.

Alex Reif
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).