Trinidad is listed as a Colorado Creative District, and many will find this label as well deserved. In addition to the multitude of artists, performers, and other talented individuals that call Trinidad home, there are also locals that are making big waves in arts on a global scale such as Disney Animations artist and Director Jeff Gipson.
Son of local musician, Jaquie Gipson and Dean of Trinidad State’s gunsmith program Keith Gipson, Jeff Gipson grew up in Trinidad and helped in the design and implementation of the local skate park near the Trinidad Community Center. Gipson said the experience of getting the skate park built was an inspirational moment he’s carried with him his whole life.
“I loved BMX freestyle in high school,” said Gipson, “but we didn’t have a skate park at the time. I was complaining about it to my mom one day and she said I should go out and get one made. So I got with the Kiwanis Club and we started down this path of creating a skate park. After four years of fundraising, writing grants, and going to city council meetings we got a skate park built in Trinidad.
“Getting that built was really a foundational experience of my life. It was one of the moments I realized rather than talking about something, I could go out, pitch an idea, and through hard work see it come to life. That’s something I’ve carried with me my entire life. It’s kind of the idea that if you don’t ask, the answer is no, and I’ve always tried to keep that in the back of my mind with whatever I’m doing.”
Gipson went on to work for an architectural firm in San Diego where he designed skate parks all over the world; even working with pro-skater Tony Hawk on several design projects.
After getting a master’s degree in architectural design and returning to school for a graduates in hopes of opening his own firm, Gipson got bit by the creative bug.
“I had always loved film and always loved drawing and had a lot of experience doing 3D renderings when doing architectural designs,” said Gipson. “That process is very similar to how animators create animated films. So after one semester in grad school doing architecture, I left that program and started taking digital animation courses.
Following a semester of animation courses, Gipson applied to several studios, eventually getting an intern spot with Pixar in 2011. He would then go on to intern at Laika Studios, makers of Coraline and Kugo, before eventually getting his first official position with Disney.
“They asked me to come and work on a film about two sisters and one of them was an ice queen is how they pitched it to me,” said Gipson. “At the time I had no idea what it was. That led to me working on Frozen as my first film with Disney Animation in 2015. I started as a lighting artist for Disney and worked on Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Moana, and Wreck It Ralph 2.” His efforts on Frozen and Zootopia elevated his work right into Academy Award statis and earned Gipson an Oscar for both features.
After working with Disney for several projects, Gipson decided to push the boundaries of storytelling further.
“I pitched an idea as virtual reality short film called Cycles because we’d never done a virtual reality short film and didn’t really think much of it after that,” Gipson said. “Then the studio called me and said they wanted to make my film. I was really excited but I was also thinking now I’ve got to figure out how we’re going to make it because we’d never done one at the studio.”
Gipson said much of the inspiration for Cycles came from his own family experience in Trinidad.
“Cycles was really inspired by my grandparents and having to move my grandmother into assisted living,” said Gipson. “She lived up on Nona Avenue in Trinidad. So their house being empty after having moved her out inspired me; knowing her house held such a rich story of our family and so many memories. The house itself was a character of its own and that’s what virtual reality is great at. It’s a medium where you’re in the space and you feel what it’s like to be in a room or what it’s like to be really close to characters.”
The whole short film was a family project Gipson explained.
“I was able to get my mom [Jaquie Gipson] to compose the score for Cycles,” said Gipson. “This was my first film here at the studio with me directing and inspired by my grandparents and my mom composing the score made it this surreal family project, which is crazy because Disney is this really big company. To have something so intimate and special was really cool.”
The film ended up being such a success for Disney Animation that it led to another unique opportunity with the animation powerhouse.
“We showed Cycles at the New York Film Fest and Sundance and all these film festivals and won some awards for it,” said Gipson, “and then the director of Frozen and the chief creative officer here at the studio had approached me last year and asked if I’d be interested in directing a film about Frozen 2 in virtual reality.”
He said he was excited, but also nervous to be entrusted with such an iconic, popular world. But he agreed and brought some research material for the world of Frozen back home to Trinidad over Christmas to brainstorm.
“I had all this material about the folklore of Frozen and the characters and did a bunch of research at my mom and dad’s house in Trinidad over last Christmas,” Gipson said. “Then I came back to the studio in January and pitched the idea for Myst.”
One of Disney’s biggest charges is thinking creatively and innovating wherever possible and the Trinidadian is pushing forward into media that’s new, even to Disney.
“It’s really cool to be doing something at Disney that’s never been done before,” said Gipson, “but that’s really what Walt Disney was all about was innovation and how can we bring the audience to the characters in different ways. I think VR would be something he would have been really interested in. It’s a new Wild West medium of story telling and film. Being able to continue that spirit of innovation and storytelling is really an honor.”
After asking if he feels his family had any influence in his creative abilities, Gipson said there was no doubt.
“Growing up, my mom was always playing guitar,” said Gipson. “One of my favorite memories was waking up and hearing her practicing. I’ve played guitar my whole life as well. My dad was a gunsmith professor at TSJC and there’s an art and science to gun making which really inspired me in the way I see things too with art and engineering, so I kind of grew up with this connection of science and art.”
Gipson said Cycles would be available for viewing on Disney+ in January and added there are several Trinidad references that people from the area would probably notice.