It is through strategic planning, dedication to the job and a fascination with animation that Belton native Brandon Jarratt has successfully transitioned from Belton to the big screen as a general technical director for Disney.
Although Belton is not the hub of movie production studios, Jarratt knew early on what he wanted to do and was diligent in his journey to get there.
“It definitely made it feel farther away, but the part that I tried to focus on and tried to do was take advantage of whatever opportunities there were available,” Jarratt said.
Enthralled by the technological aspect of movie production, Jarratt began creating a path for himself. While at Belton High School, he tried to take courses that would kickstart his journey, such as a digital production class.
“That’s where I first got to use some of these software packages; we had a computer lab available where I got to dabble with that kind of stuff, which was really cool,” Jarratt said.
When he discovered Texas A&M University’s graduate program, the Visualization Lab, Jarratt said his path became clear, as his parents and granddad are Aggies.
“It seemed like a natural fit, but in order to get into that program I basically had to choose whether to focus on the graphic design and art side of things or to focus on the technical part and study computer science,” Jarratt said.
He thought to himself: if the animation does not work out, then what would he be left with? Therefore, he chose to go the technical route and never looked back.
Upon graduating from Belton High School in 2006, Jarratt enrolled at Texas A&M and received a Computer Science degree. He was then accepted into the Visualization Lab as a graduate student.
In the summer of 2011, he participated in the Summer Industry Course within the Visualization Lab, wherein the university pairs with an animation studio to create a 30-second, animated short, and the studio they collaborated with that summer was none other than Disney.
“You’ll notice that a lot of this is just me being really lucky; I tried to prepare and make the choices that I could to put myself in the right spot, but so much of it was really just being in the right place at the right time,” Jarratt said.
Through this project, he was able to create relationships with Disney employees while also acquiring insight into the animation production process, which ultimately made him realize how he could use his technical knowledge and combine it with his admiration of animation.
2012 proved to be a significant one, as he accepted a summer internship at Disney, returned to complete his Master of Science in Visualization degree from Texas A&M, defended his thesis, graduated, accepted a job offer from Disney two weeks before getting married, got married, then he and his wife packed up and moved to California to begin his journey as a general technical director in January of 2013.
Seven years later, Jarratt has maintained his role at Disney and considers himself fortunate to have the experiences he has had thus far. His first project was “Big Hero 6,” and he has continued to play a part in the production of every Disney animated feature since he started. That includes “Zootopia,” which received an Oscar for “Best Animated Feature,” “Moana,” the “Frozen Fever” short, “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and, his most recent project, “Frozen 2.”
Following his work on “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Jarratt had the choice to either work on “Frozen 2” or a different animated feature. He chose “Frozen 2” partly because he did not work on the original Frozen movie, and he would have the opportunity to work alongside Mark Hammel, Disney Technical Supervisor.
For those who may not be aware of the role of general technical director, Jarratt provided a brief description of his typical day.
Quoting his mentor, general technical directors are the “stewards of the production pipeline,” or, in Jarratt’s words, “the frontline of support for the artist.” From tools and processes to people, the general technical director manages all of the pieces it takes to generate an animated film. This includes not only writing tools for the artists, but also the tools needed to pass their work from one department to the next by ensuring each piece is intact and reflects the desired artistry of the scenic designer and director.
“Often we’re under a lot of pressure to get the movies out the door; we work really hard to make the films as good as we can and so sometimes, we have to get through a lot of inventory to make sure that we get the movie delivered on time,” Jarratt said.
Although it is different for every film, Jarratt said the production of an animated feature – from the development of the first idea to delivering the movie to theaters – is typically three to five years.
“It’s a huge effort from hundreds of artists working for months or years; there’s a lot of very constant and very deep collaboration between all of the departments in the studio,” Jarratt said. “We all depend on each other.”
Jarratt is not attached to a film at the moment, so he is taking this time to focus his attention on the software development of new tools.
“For now, I’m going to keep my head down a little bit, do some more programming…and try to see how much code I can crank out on some of our new tools,” Jarratt said.
To get a glimpse into what Jarratt has been working on, Frozen 2 is now available on Digital HD and will be release on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on Feb. 25.
“I kind of can’t believe it every time I go to a rap party and see the things we’ve made; it always fills me with pride to see what we were able to achieve together,” Jarratt said.