‘Some Things Never Change’: Chicagoland native uses love of Disney films as ‘Frozen 2’ story artist


John Cotter | The DePaulia

We all had that one Disney VHS tape that was constantly being rewound. For some, this Disney charm can be incredibly moving — even life-changing. Just ask Donna Lee, a story artist and Chicagoland native who worked on “Frozen 2.”

Her childhood favorites were “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Both of us have that all-too-familiar commonality of a Disney film being inherently woven into our childhood, offering a great starting point for fruitful conversation.

Lee started her artistic endeavors humbly, working in the Chicago suburbs as an art teacher. Her perpetual success was a natural product of her electrifying work ethic, one that transpired into her credit on “Frozen 2.”

“For me, I just kept looking at what was in front of me,” Lee said. “I want to work in animation, so how do I get better from here? Keep looking forward, keep drawing, practicing. I didn’t want to lose sight of what I wanted to do, and that drawing was within that direction.”

This mental persistence of pure commitment is one that worked for Lee, with her list of animation accomplishments acting an expanding incline, getting all the more impressive as her experiences stacked up. Her dedication didn’t appear out of thin air; Lee explained that Disney films of the past planted seeds of inspiration.

“Because I watched ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Beauty and the Beast’ so many times, I memorized the movies subconsciously,” Lee said. “Now that I am older and a story artist, I can channel what I’ve watched out into the work that I do. There are still people at Disney who were animators back then and they’re so useful. I look up to all of the artists there; everyone is so inspirational.”

As most do, Lee has her own social media. But what she does with them separates her from most.

Being an artist at Disney brings colorful clout to her page, with almost 50,000 Instagram followers enjoying the many styles of art she shares with her fans. But her Tumblr most portrays her deeply personal connection with art, the quote in her bio reading “Live, Love, Draw, Inspire.”

“Drawing is a way of communication,” Lee said. “For me, I want to encourage others with my life motto. I want to create positive vibes and make sure others are supported and encouraged. Whatever I post, it’s from how I feel. I want to live, use my experiences to help others and be able to communicate that through drawings.”