Oliva brings animation skills from Disney to Delta College


Animating mud and lizard spit is a small summary of the tasks now Delta College adjunct instructor Michael Oliva had as a one-time Disney animator.


In his career he has worked on films such as Mulan, the Hunchback of Norte Dame and Lilo & Stitch.

With plenty of screen credit, chances are his name is on a movie box somewhere in your home.

“I started drawing as soon as I could pick up a pencil,” he said.

In 1976, a friend of a friend had a job opportunity for him while he was still in junior college. Oliva had to choose between staying, or leaving to begin his dream job.

His mother had always been supportive, realizing his talents.

Oliva’s father wanted him to take over the family’s trucking company.

“When I told my dad, ‘I’m an artist. That’s how I’m going to make my living.’ He said, ‘If you think you can make it as an artist, you’re a fool,’” said Oliva.

Soon after, at only 20, Oliva got a job at Hanna-Barbera, makers of classics such as the Jetsons and the Flintstones.

In 1994 all the hand-drawn animators at the company he was working for were laid-off, shipping those jobs overseas. Only digital animators were kept.

“Animation was kind of drying up,” Oliva said.

Computers were replacing the traditional animators. Despite the popularity of computer graphics, the importance the pencil has in animation has not been dismissed.

“If you can’t draw, you’re going to be limited in what you can do. If you can’t conceptualize something and put it on paper [you’re] limited,” Oliva said.

In 1995, newly married and unemployed, Oliva had only one other option.

“I was desperate, I called Disney. They picked me up in a heartbeat.”

It was there he worked several films, such as Tarzan.

He was a visual effects animator. The focus was not on the characters themselves, but the surroundings, and the small — but important — details.

“I don’t animate characters, because I find it boring … [If] Mickey [Mouse] is running over a hill, he’s on fire and jumps in a body of water … I would get to draw the flames that are engulfing him, the smoke that’s trailing behind him …” said Oliva.

Having done animation for over 15 years, Oliva’s IMDB profile résumé shows only a fraction of his work.

“I’ve been around for a while,” he said. “There aren’t too many cartoonists running around, proud to say I’m one of them,” he said.

When Oliva received the job at Hanna-Barbera at the beginning of his career, he called his father telling him he was getting paid $600 to animate the Flintstones. “There was dead silence on the other end of the line. And then he goes, ‘well maybe I was wrong.’” Oliva said.

It wasn’t until years later that Oliva learned the bittersweet truth about his father.

“In all his stuff there were journals from when he was a POW,” He found sketches and drawings his father did when he was in World War II.

“Dad could really draw. Now it makes a lot of sense. I never realized that when I was younger, it was a pithy moment for me,” he said.

Today, Oliva is content with having a creative outlet as a instructor.

“As long as I’m doing something artistic, I’m happy. It’s in my soul,” he said.