A Towering Success

Disney filmmaker Byron Howard ’90 struck cinematic gold with his latest work.

Byron Howard (L), Mandy Moore and Nathan Greno

Byron Howard (L), Mandy Moore and Nathan Greno at the "Tangled" premiere on Nov. 14, 2010 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Howard, along with Nathan Greno, co-directed Disney’s 50th animated feature, “Tangled,” an action-packed retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale Rapunzel. In this newest twist, the heroine princess imprisoned in the tower is a feisty teenager whose 70-foot-long golden locks are imbued with magical, youth-restoring powers.

Released last November, “Tangled” has made more than half a billion dollars in global revenue and already ranks as the second highest-grossing film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, behind the blockbuster “The Lion King.”

Produced with computer-generated imagery and a film crew of 600 people, the 3-D musical earned nominations for several prizes, including an Oscar for Best Original Song (Alan Mencken, the multiple-Oscar-winning composer, did the musical score), two Golden Globes, and two Annies from the International Animated Film Association. It won an International 3D Society Creative Arts Award for the best 3-D scene of 2010 for its luminous lantern climax, in which the Disney effects team created a crowd of nearly 3,000 people and one single shot featured 46,000 floating lanterns. The animated fire generated by each lantern was composed of 10,000 micro points of light.

“Tangled” is the second Disney movie Howard has steered to the big screen. He made his directorial debut with the 2008 animated comedy adventure “Bolt,” another box-office hit that was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Howard’s interest in an animation career was sparked during a visit to the Disney Animation Studios at Walt Disney World. He structured his undergraduate curriculum at Evergreen—where he studied storytelling through literature and film—based on the advice of two veteran Disney animators he consulted.

image from the disney movie 'Tangled'

Image from the Disney movie "Tangled."

His first gig at Disney was as a tour guide at Disney-MGM studios in Orlando, where he devoted much of his free time to perfecting his artwork. After four portfolio submissions, he was accepted into a Disney animation internship and hired by the studio in 1994. He rose through the ranks, from an “inbetweener” (an animator’s assistant who makes the drawings that go between the key poses drawn by an animator) on “Pocahontas” to an animator on “Mulan” to the lead character animator for “Lilo & Stitch” and “Brother Bear.”

Howard said the scope of “Tangled” was enormous, “with horse chases and sword fights, prison breaks and floods. The story gave us a chance to take modern-day moviemaking sensibilities and pump it into a classic story.”

The result has sealed his reputation as one of the industry’s most notable talents.