Davy Liu (劉大偉), the first Taiwanese to join Walt Disney Feature Animation, has published an autobiography, Don’t Mistake Diamonds for Glass Beads (別把鑽石當玻璃珠), in hopes of inspiring future animators with a glimpse into his life and his secret to making a name in Hollywood.
The 42-year-old Liu was only 19 when he joined Walt Disney, where he worked with a team of top-notch talent from 1990 to 1993, producing some of the world’s best-known animated movies of all time, including Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin.
Liu later accepted a job offer in 1995 at Warner Brothers as an art director, earning more than US$2,000 a week.
In 1998, Liu joined Industrial Light & Magic, a motion picture visual effects company founded by US filmmaker George Lucas, and participated in the production of Star Wars Episode I and Frankenstein.
Asked if were any unspoken rules for animators hoping to make a name in Hollywood, Liu said in a recent interview: “What really matters is the set of skills they possess, because those who make it in the industry by pulling some strings would only be put in charge of drawing minor characters at most.”
In contrast, animators who succeed in the industry through their skill and talent are highly sought-after, because they are guaranteed to make quality animated movies, which require at least three years of creative brainstorming and more than US$100 million to make, he said.
“However, it takes at least 10 years to transform an amateur to a professional animator worthy of an annual salary of US$1 million,” Liu added.
However, not everything has gone smoothly in Liu’s life. He was a victim of school bullying, suffered from panic attacks, got divorced and also experienced poverty.
“Were it not for God’s guidance, I would not have reached where I am today,” Liu said.
Liu’s religious belief also prompted him to establish Kendu Films in 2004, a name derived from the biblical passage in Philippians 4:13: “I ‘can do’ all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
In addition to promoting his new book, Liu said he hopes to find a potential partner during his short stay in Taiwan to join him and Elton John’s animation studio in producing an animated TV series set against the backdrop of zhonghua culture (中華文化).
Taiwan’s animation industry has long been stagnant, with many focusing only on online video games or providing subcontracting work for animated background production, Liu said.
“Since most Taiwanese animation companies tend to imitate the styles of US and Japanese animated works and are not equipped to go international, I want to serve as a bridge between these firms and Hollywood by carrying out the preparatory works for my new project here,” Liu said.
As to why he did not choose Chinese animation studios for his project, Liu said it was too risky to do so as they might poach his ideas.