32. Mike Surrey


 Oftentimes it is at least somewhat predictable what animators will eventually become supervisors. A typical “rookie” supervising animator at Disney has usually either been a top animator at other studios for quite sometime(Eric Goldberg, Duncan Marjoribanks, Bruce Smith, Dale Baer), has worked at the studio for many years as a right hand to the top animators(Tony de Rosa, Broose Johnson), or  has displayed blow-you-away skills from the minute they entered the medium(James Baxter). Sometimes, however, a young unknown animator who’s an unlikely choice to be a supervisor is assigned a character that is perfect for them and the person steps into the class of superstardom. That’s probably the best way you can describe what happened when Mike Surrey was selected to supervise Timon in the Lion King.


     Mike Surrey was born around 1964 in Canada and grew up in the Toronto area. Like most aspiring animators from Canada, after high school he set off to Oakville and enrolled in the famous animation program at the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. At the beginning of his career Surrey worked as an animation posing artist on low-budget TV shows animated in Canada. After the release of the Little Mermaid in 1989 he realized that there was something special going on at Disney and moved out to California with the ambitions of working there. Mike was hired as an assistant animator on Beauty and the Beast and would follow by working as one of the animators under Glen Keane on the title character in Aladdin. After Aladdin things lined up perfectly and he was assigned the character of Timon the meerkat in the Lion King. Both Nik Ranieri and James Baxter (I also believe I even heard Eric Goldberg) were considered for the role of Timon but Ranieri moved on to Pocahontas and they decided it would be better ifSurreydid Timon and Baxter did Rafiki. Timon proved to be a great match for the young animator and the character turned out very well in the finished film. After Lion King Surrey went on to the Hunchback of Notre Dame and supervised the narrator of the film, Clopin the gypsy. This would be followed by supervising Terk in Tarzan, Rourke in Atlantis, and Buck in Home on the Range before leaving the studio for DreamWorks where he animated on Shark Tale. When production started up on the Princess and the Frog Surrey went back to Disney to supervise Ray the fire fly as well as animate Pascal the chameleon in Tangled. In 2010 the Hat Building began to have some down time on the animator end as projects struggled to get out of the development stage making Mike decide to join the crew at DreamWorks to help them on an upcoming animated film.


     Mike Surrey’s animation is very appealing and is a lot of fun to study. If you study any of his characters you’ll without a doubt notice that the eyes are always very expressive and the real axis point of the drawing.Surreyhas stated in interviews that he likes to use big round eyes so that he can communicate the expression effectively and show the purpose behind what the character is doing. This works very well in the final animation and the communication that’s so vital to great character animation is always present. An interesting fact I’ve learned about Mike Surrey is instead of using high-quality pencils or colored pencils he animates with a number-2 pencil! So maybe next time I take a test at school maybe I should think “Wow! Mike Surrey animates with one of these!.”  Appeal is also a very important aspect in Mike’s animation. He draws in a very round, loose style and doesn’t have unnecessary secondary actions or refinements in his sequences like many other animators do. The motion in a Mike Surrey scene is always very lively and fluid. Study either a Timon scene or a Clopin scene and you’ll see what I mean. The movement is very smooth giving the scene a very intuitive, natural feel. The character’s gestures are also very focused and directly communicate what’s important for the audience to understand in what the character is going through. Last Surreyhas a very good understanding of the character relationship and the emotions that come with that kind of relationship. That is something that’s crucial and vital for someone to understand when they’re animating on any character-driven animated film.


     Mike Surrey’s animation has had a great impact on sidekick characters in animated films. In comparison to Eric Goldberg and Duncan Marjoribanks who handle sidekicks with broad acting and caricatured expressions Mike is very subtle in his handling of a sidekick character while retaining the range needed for the character. Like Eric Goldberg oftentimes explains in interviews the sidekick oftentimes has to cover the most emotional range of a character in a film. They usually have to keep the comedy afloat but have to be sincere when the time comes. Although Surrey’s characters have this range it is maintained in a very subtle way and is a very natural transition. This has influenced the way many of those characters have been handled in films done since. Also many people say that Mike is a very generous, caring mentor to young people and has a great sense of humor. LastSurrey’s appealing, expressive, and lively style has been a great inspiration to everyone who works on a film with him.


     Mike Surrey and his animation have inspired me in several ways. First is I’ve really been influenced by the way he draws the eyes and focuses on communicating through them. I love how expressive they are and the clarity is breathtaking. This made me realize that the eyes are really the axis point of a great drawing and the key to communicating the expression as well as the feeling in a scene. Next is the liveliness and subtlety in his animation is always very inspiring to study. Also the appeal he puts into his characters is something that’s really influenced me and a thing I hope to master someday. Last is I’m really inspired by the confidence and mellow-nature that Surrey always has. Thank you Mike Surrey for being a great influence to me and for your impressive contributions to Disney animation.

Surrey’s Work

Beauty and the Beast- Animating Assistant

Aladdin- Animator on Aladdin

Lion King- Supervising Animator on Timon

Hunchback of Notre Dame- Supervising Animator on Clopin

Tarzan- Supervising Animator on Terk

Atlantis- Supervising Animator on Rourke

Home on the Range- Supervising Animator on Buck

Princess and the Frog- Supervising Animator on Ray

Tangled- Animator on Pascal the Chamelon

4 Responses to “32. Mike Surrey”


  2. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with
    the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme
    or did you modify it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one today.

  3. Very proud to have you for my daughter (Riki-Jean’s) Uncle! Wish I had let you draw me back in the day!! lol Still have the one you did of R.J. with her name in building blocks at her feet 🙂 All the best Mike!

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