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'Rise of the Guardians' director a self-taught success

Peter Ramsey is the first African-American to direct a big-budget CG animated film. 'There is a lot of respect for your craft' at the Dreamworks Animation campus in Glendale, he says.

July 21, 2012|By Katherine Tulich
  • Peter Ramsey, director of the upcoming animated film "Rise of the Guardians."
Peter Ramsey, director of the upcoming animated film… (Courtesy of DreamWorks…)

Director Peter Ramsey is sitting in his office on the DreamWorks Animation campus in Glendale and recalling a vivid childhood memory. “I remember being in my pajamas in the back of my parents' car at an Inglewood drive-in watching Disney's “Snow White” and being mesmerized,” he says. “We didn't get to go to movies a lot when I was a kid, so when we did, it was such an emotional overwhelming experience. That's where I really got that reverence for movies.”

For an African American inner-city kid from Crenshaw, the dream of making it big in Hollywood seemed almost as fantastical as the movies he watched. “This was way before there even was Spike Lee or John Singleton on the scene,” he says. “It wasn't a case of the doors being open. You just didn't even think those doors existed.”

But today Ramsey, 49, who has worked at DreamWorks for more than eight years, is taking on his first major directing role for one of the company's most ambitious projects, the upcoming CG animated feature, “Rise of the Guardians.” Set for release on Nov. 21, it will mark the first time a big-budget CG animated film is being directed by an African American.

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Based on “The Guardians of Childhood,” a series of children's books by celebrated author and illustrator WIlliam Joyce, the film will introduce movie fans to the “the guardians” — a no-nonsense Santa Claus, a rebellious Jack Frost, an intrepid Tooth Fairy and a tough, rambunctious Easter Bunny, who must band together to protect the children of the world when threatened by the dark spirit, Pitch. It has an all-star voice cast including Alec Baldwin, Chris Pine, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher and Jude Law.

“We have been working with Peter for almost a decade, and we have continued to be impressed with his extraordinary gift for storytelling and creativity,” says Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO, DreamWorks Animation.

Without any formal training, Ramsey really built his movie career from the ground up.

“I was in my 20s, working in a bookstore, and I had a friend that got me a job painting a mural on a film set. And that's where it started,” Ramsey says. “That's when I realized it was possible. But I am completely self-taught. It was all on-the-job training.”

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