Arts Spotlight: Former Disney Animator & Sculptor Ellen Woodbury

Ellen Woodbury is a former Disney animator and creator of classic characters like Zazu from The Lion King. She uses her 20 years of experience crafting dimensional realities to carve her uniquely stylized stone sculptures in Loveland.

What is your background in the arts?
“I’ve drawn all my life. I grew up drawing and my parents were very supportive; they loved the arts. Art was always a thing that was in our family. I got interested in animation in high school, and I ended up going to Syracuse University for their film and art program. I wrote a lot of my own curriculum as an independent study to do animation. After that, I applied to Disney and they turned me down, but I had already applied to the California Institute of the Arts and was accepted. My Master’s thesis won a National Student Focus Film award, which introduced me to the Vice President of Disney Animation. I took my portfolio down to Disney Feature Animation in Glendale. Disney offered me a job; it was an amazing education. I was learning stuff all through my experience there. It was a culture of excellence and a fun and exciting place to work, but it was also incredibly long hours.”

What drives your art?
“Passion, mostly. Before I became a sculptor everything I made was a stack of papers, but here were these things that I could hold in my hands, things that are real, tactile, and heavy. I like to work with my hands. Everything I learned from animation transfers to sculpting. Our animated realities were dimensional, they had gravity and weight. By the time I became a sculptor I already knew how to think dimensionally. Stone is subtractive only, once you cut it off you cannot put it back, which means you have to plan. A stone sculpture, for me, takes hundreds of hours. It takes passion to sustain through this long process. You have to keep your vision fresh, real, and for me, exact.”

Where does your inspiration come from?
“All of my pieces come from something I see, something I read, something I’ve experienced, or something that strikes a responsive chord with me. Like the piece I’m working on now: it’s a particular horse named Blue, who was rescued by one of my friends. She placed him in a horse sanctuary where he got to live out the last thirteen years of his life free of abuse. The piece is about his gentle spirit despite being abused, and it’s about the compassion of my friend. We need vast amounts of compassion. I do each design only once because it’s a journey for me. I’m not a manufacturer; I’m an explorer; I’m an adventurer; I’m a creator.” ellenwoodbury.com

Authored by Sarah Pultorak
Photography by Paul Miller