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How This SG Animator Got From Ngee Ann To Disney

Roger Lee’s work includes famous Disney movies Frozen, Big Hero 6, Zootopia and the latest Moana

Photos and text by Pamela Chow


Roger Lee graduated with a diploma from Ngee Ann Polytechnic and climbed his way up to Disney.

If your office had a ping-pong table, a giant Tsum Tsum game screen and a Disney store, you’d probably be squealing when you clock in every day.

But Singaporean Roger Lee doesn’t gush about working at the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The lighting artist has been stationed at Disney’s Burbank headquarters in California, USA, for four years. Soft-spoken and composed, Lee gives the impression that perhaps the excitement of working at the world’s biggest creative studio has worn off.

Yet, when he speaks about his job – whether describing the technical rendering process or shopping at the “ultimate Disney store” in his office – his eyes twinkle and a smile peeks out.

Curious about how he made the climb from Ngee Ann Polytechnic to Disney, we pull Lee aside for a chat while he’s in town to promote his latest film, Moana.

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From left: Disney visual development artist Griselda Sastrawinata, Moana voice actress Auli’i Cravalho, Lee and Moana producer Osnat Shurer.

Hi Roger! How does it feel to be back in Singapore?

I’m so incredibly proud to be able to work on Moana, bring it back to my homeland and share it with everyone in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

How did you work up the courage to apply for a job at Disney?

This dream definitely seemed so out of reach… Perseverance and focus definitely. I focused on what I wanted to do and kept tweaking my path just to make sure I reached my goal.

How exactly did you tweak your path?

It’s quite a long story. Or do I look young? [Laughs] I’ve worked in the industry for 15 to 16 years. I started out working in a post-production house… From there, I went to Disney TV for a year. That was when Chicken Little came out.

I was so excited. I remember very vividly that I told my wife – my girlfriend back then – that Disney was going into 3D and this was my chance… So I left and joined Lucasfilm and worked on “Clone Wars” for the first two seasons, then I moved onto Rango, which won an Oscar.

After years of waiting, there was a really short window [to apply to Disney] so I sent my reel and got a reply within a week. A few hours after the interview, I got an email telling me I got the job!

What are some differences between working in studios here and international studios like Disney?

They’re pretty similar. I guess the only difference is that over here, because of the time difference, when you need to get approval from the directors and art directors, you have to wait for probably one day.

But in the US, everyone’s under one roof, so it’s really easy to get feedback. You can just hear it directly… The communication flow is much easier and better. It’s also more collaborative – you could just walk up to [the next department] to talk about any technical issue and get it resolved right away.

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