Josie Trinidad Talks 'Ralph Breaks The Internet,' Landing Her Dream Job At Disney
By Rappler — 8.03.2019
MANILA, Philippines — Can you imagine being the brain, eyes, and heart behind Disney's most iconic animated films? Josie Trinidad, Head of Story for Disney Animation, doesn't have to.
With a career often looked up to by both adults and kids alike, Josie is considered by many to have one of the best dream jobs there is — creating the magic of a Disney story from start to finish.
Being one of the brilliant minds behind some of Disney’s blockbuster best, like Zootopia, Tangled, The Princess and The Frog, Wreck-It-Ralph and its highly-anticipated sequel, Ralph Breaks The Internet, Josie, as Disney's Head of Story, oversees the story team as they translate the script to its first visual form.
With such a huge responsibility, one may wonder what the creative process is like for a storyteller belonging to one of the greatest entertainment companies in the world.
How is a story born in a head of story's mind and heart?
I had the opportunity to sit down with Josie herself, not just to know more about her latest film, Ralph Breaks The Internet, but also to understand what goes on behind the scenes of a great Disney movie and how the distinct, heartwarming formula Disney movies are well-known and well-loved for are ultimately made.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Philippines
How Ralph Breaks The Internet's plot came to life
“The stories at Disney Animation start with our directors,” Josie said. “Luckily, on Ralph Breaks The Internet, this is the first time for a sequel that we have the original filmmakers involved in the film. Even though we felt that the first movie was a complete movie, our directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston had this idea, 'What if Ralph and Vanellope go on an adventure to the Internet?' Wow.”
While the first movie's storyline was about two misfits finding each other — "bad guy" Ralph meeting little troublemaker Venellope van Schweetz within the crazy world of video games — the second movie Ralph Breaks The Internet makes use of the already-established dynamic duo who are both now venturing into the uncharted world of the Internet for the very first time.
“With that question, a whole world of possibilities just opened up,” Josie said.
“We sort of knew that we couldn't not take this opportunity to have our creators go into this new and exciting world with new characters. It was just fuel for new ideas."
The wild and wonderful world of the world wide web
As Josie and her team began to craft the twists and turns of Ralph Breaks The Internet, the Internet route remained steadfast throughout the process. Why? Josie believed that the world wide web route was something their audience would both really enjoy and relate to.
“I think the Internet is now so deeply embedded into our lives," Josie said. "It was the perfect meeting of digital characters from an arcade who could go into this new and exciting world, so that sort of possibility was undeniable. We all felt like we had to do this."
“We wanted the world of the Internet to feel authentic, like how we all use it today, but to mix it up with our own kind of fun, which were websites. We all get the opportunity to see what eBay would look like from the inside — like an auction house. The trick is getting something familiar then turning it in something never seen before. The biggest challenge though, was trying to hone that big idea down.”
The best and most challenging parts of the job
True enough, creating a Disney story from scratch involves a lot of imagination, creativity, and fun, but Josie also recognizes that with great power comes great responsibility, and undeniably, a handful of mental blocks.
“We do get writers’ block. Thankfully though, we have deadlines," Josie chuckled. "But we also challenge each other. When I have a story mental block, I just go and seek out counsel from my peers, other filmmakers, other writers and say, 'Hey, this is a problem I’ve got. What do you think?' It's nice that I don’t have to go alone at this."
Josie admitted that although writers’ blocks can never be avoided, she is thankful that teamwork always makes the Disney dream work.
“This is a group struggle, and thankfully we don't all experience mental blocks at the same time. We give notes to each other, to say what works and what didn’t work, and then we just try again and again. Over time, through this process, our movies get better and better.”
Josie also shared that the process of creating something out of ultimately nothing at first is the best part of working in the Story department, but at times, can also pose as the most challenging bit.
“Because there are endless possibilities, it’s really hard to focus and to know if you’re making the right choices. It’s always nerve-wracking, but ultimately, because we always go back to universal truths in making universal entertainment, if it makes us laugh and feel, then chances are the audience will respond as well."
"It’s a joy to work at Disney Animation and it’s a dream come true. I never take that for granted."
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Philippines
The magic behind the heart-tugging charm of Disney films
Other than the fun of it all, Josie, as an artist, personally always makes it a point that what is never lost amidst all the action, humor, and visuals of a movie is its true emotional core. After all, isn’t that what Disney movies are made of and loved for?
“Because the world of the Internet is so vast, we found our true emotional core when we focused on Ralph and Venellope’s friendship. That helped ground our movie," she said.
With the film’s core relying on the genuine connection between the two quirky protagonists, what does Josie wish for her audience to take away from the film, both adults and kids alike?
“What I hope our audience takes away from watching the film is that even though you’re best friends going into the big city, starting to pull apart or realize that you have differences you didn’t know you had, a true friendship can withstand all these changes, and even become better through it.”
Disney is also much-loved for the universal truths, emotions, and relatable lessons behind their films, which is born from the creator's own beliefs and experiences.
As one of the main story creators of Ralph Breaks The Internet, Josie cherishes the impact of her own personal experiences as a mother, wife, and a Filipino-American, taking inspiration from these experiences to create her most genuine stories.
“My roles in life all play a part, absolutely. I put so much of who I am and where I come from into my work. When I’m looking for inspiration, it always comes from my life, my experiences, something my mom does, or my son does."
"Being Filipino and American, even though I grew up in the United States, my family is deeply connected to our roots in the Philippines, our home. I feel like I was so embedded in Filipino culture growing up. Values of hard work, friendship, and family have stayed with me my whole life, and I definitely put all that on screen."
Joining Disney in 2004 as a story apprentice, Josie Trinidad worked her way up to the role of story artist. Even before the launch of her career at Disney, Josie kept to her true passion for words and the arts, majoring in English Literature and Fine Arts at UCLA (University of Los Angeles, California). With her eyes, heart, and hands set on the dream early on, Josie encouraged aspiring storytellers and creatives to do the same.
“I grew up in a family that didn’t think art was a viable career and that it was more of a hobby," Josie admitted. "What I did was I worked really hard and I made sure that I tried. At least I could say I tried to make it into animation. If it worked, great. If it didn’t work, then maybe I was meant to do something else. But I never gave up. I worked extremely hard."
Josie also reminded budding artists that the key to becoming great at what you do is to always stay true to yourselves. Don't forget to maintain your creative integrity and honesty as well, she said. The opportunity to connect with the world through one's art is a gift no artist should ever give up, no matter the level of experience, chosen career, or the size of one's following.
"Being an artist at Disney, I have a great, huge platform, which is also a huge responsibility, but also an honor. However, whether that platform is huge or if it’s a smaller audience, it doesn’t matter. To be able to express yourself is always wonderful.”