South Carolina School of the Arts
Graphic Design Graduate Living the Dream
For Graphic Design Graduate Caroline Hopper, what began as an internship morphed into a rewarding career with The Walt Disney Company. After six years with Disney, Caroline has taken leadership in corporate alliances. She thrives on working as a team to come up with concepts that result in a win-win for Disney and the major brands they partner with. In a place “where dreams come true,” Hopper truly has a dream job—with a bit of pixie dust thrown in!
What’s it like to work for Disney?
It's always been a dream. It's cool to work somewhere where you're passionate about the business and you enjoy the things you're working on. It helps to be a fan of Disney to work at Disney. I think it only improves everything you work on, because you can see that passion come through. This has always been a lifelong dream of mine. And that's why I'm still here six years later. Six years! Is that possible? Wow!
Let’s talk about how you discovered Anderson University.
I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. A couple of my friends were looking at going to Anderson. I heard about (Anderson University) directly from Allie McDonald, who graduated from Anderson University. Also a friend, Kelsey Vickers. They both went to Seacoast Church. They were interested in looking at Anderson. They told me that they loved it, so I had to go experience it for myself, and fell in love.
I was looking for somewhere with a great design program. It was a plus that it was a Christian university as well, because that was important to me, too. The fact that you guys had such an impressive design program was not honestly something I expected, but I was pleasantly surprised when I found Anderson. They have a great design program, great professors.
I went to the biggest high school in South Carolina, Wando High school. Because I went to such a big high school and it was so overwhelming, I wanted something more close-knit, smaller classes because I'm not an extrovert, so I needed somewhere that was going to be easy to make friends, and everyone was very nice.
Share some favorite college memories of your time at Anderson.
The first thing that came to my mind was Homecoming weekends with the hoedowns, the Ferris wheel and the lawn. I think of those chilly fall nights. It's September, October, and you're feeling excited to take on the new year… You're wearing sweaters, you're having coffees, you're running around with your friends, just looking forward to your new classes, your next step up in the world—I love those moments. Most of my memories are in the caf (cafeteria) having chicken tenders and cookies with my friends...
I also have lots of memories of just being in Boulevard late at night with my friends in our dorm rooms, watching movies and working late on assignments/projects together. You're laughing. The RA is telling you to quiet down. You're having the time of your life.
Those nights in Rainey (Fine Arts Center) where we would be in the studio until 3 or 4 a.m.—just because we're having a great time all designing and working on our projects together. We could have finished them in the normal hours of the day, but for some reason staying there, pulling those all-nighters in the studio together, all these artists being together, having a great time sharing ideas—nothing beats it!
What were some of your favorite classes?
I majored in graphic design and now, as someone who's been working in marketing for six years, I did not take a single marketing class, which is crazy. I spent most of my time in the physical art classes. I took ceramics. I took drawing classes. I wanted to get my hands on every form of visual art I could and kind of become an expert artist, and I wasn't even interested in marketing. I knew I wanted to work at Disney, but I didn't know how I was going to get there.
I loved that Anderson provided all these kinds of different art classes since I was taking so many design classes. I wanted a break to use my hands, to get my eyes off of the screen and being able to take those classes provided that nice break. All of my design classes are memorable. I remember Professor Gainey. My first ever design class with print production with her, and she told us that she worked at Cartoon Network. She had this impressive background and she was so kind… That was a fun class to jump into the world of graphic design, but I really enjoyed taking those drawing classes as well. Any of my design classes with Professor Dorn or Professor Speaker as well… all of those moments were golden.
Tell us about how you started at Disney.
I found out that for the Disney professional internships you are eligible for up until six months after graduation. Once I found out that that was a possibility, I started to work on my resumé. I started to do as many pro side projects as I could to sort of build up this impressive background. And the great thing about the Anderson design program is the summer after your junior year, you are required to do an internship in your field that entire summer. I love that about Anderson, because it really pushes you out into the world; also the professors help you get these internships. They have some connections, and they can help you figure out where you want to go.
I and another designer thankfully were hired over the summer at a place called Photoelectric in Greenville, and that was the first place I learned how to work in video and motion animation, actually, because they do the animation graphics for the Panthers’ stadium, and they also do some other graphic design… they kind of act as a graphic design agency but also do these video projects. During that internship over the summer of 2016 I was able to learn After Effects and Premiere Pro, and they gave us the license and the freedom every day to sort of just learn, sit back, and we earned a wage as well, which was helpful over the summer. Anderson requiring us to do these internships was a really great professional exercise, and I believe, having that on my resumé, helped me earn this graphic design internship with Disney.
Tell us about how you got to where you are today.
I love what my team does. They're all such incredibly talented people and we all have different skills, which is really nice, because we all come from different backgrounds and are able to come together to create amazing things.
I discovered graphic design in high school, so I've been working in these programs for a long, long time, which was very helpful, being able to start Anderson—already kind of knowing some of the basics, and then was able to really hone in my skill at Anderson.
The fact that I've just been working in these programs for a long time has made me very proficient in them. And then I've been able to focus on “What is my design style?” “How do I want to craft myself as an artist?” When you're in the marketing world there's so much that is not in your control. It's always what the client wants, the client gets, but you also want to show some of your style and some of your flair still and make your mark on those design projects. For the longest time, I feel like I've been honing those skills and figuring out what's the medium between giving the client what they want, but also showing my expertise. And what I know is going to look good and what is right as well.
Everything I've learned about marketing has been in the last six years in this job. Thankfully, during my internship at Disney they were very much of the attitude of “this is an opportunity to learn… So I spent most of that internship figuring out the corporate world—What is marketing? What is marketing at Disney? How does Disney work with their clients? What even is Corporate Alliances? I had no clue what it was when I applied. I just saw “Designer for Disney” and I said, “Sold!”
So, I really just learned how to navigate the corporate world as the years went on. And then, long story short, during the pandemic I was furloughed as a lot of the people on my team were, and then when they brought me back from furlough, they told us we were on a brand new team.
My new team is now called Alliance Promotions, which is part of Marketing Partnerships, Promotions, and Card Services. We still serve Corporate Alliances, but now we're specifically just creative and we serve all the creative needs for partners. And most of my new team has been pulled from outside of Disney, so they all have only been at Disney about a year or two. So I have a little more experience with the parks and the studios, and how Disney works and everything, but we all work really well together because they're able to bring in that agency marketing expertise and I'm able to bring the Disney expertise and we work together with our passions and are able to create amazing things, and a lot of them are creative strategists. And then there's a few of us that are specifically designers. So they come up with amazing ideas and concepts, and they're so creative, their minds are incredible. And then they sit down and they talk to us about what they want it to visually be, and I sort of consider myself the visual expert on the team, so I'm able to in-take their concepts, picture them in my head and figure out exactly how to visually translate those brilliant ideas.
Tell us how you interact with your team at Disney. What does that look like?
There was one instance where, instead of just designing, I did a bit of creative strategy. For example… we integrated a flip flop brand in a space called Disney Springs. It's sort of this shopping district where you don't need a ticket to get in, but it's still Disney owned and operated on-property, and there was this great space on the water where we do a lot of activation events. Me and my team, we sat in a meeting room… and brainstormed. We spent the whole day where had crayons out, we had Play-Doh, we tried to awaken our inner child, and we were asking, “What is going to be a fun way to integrate flip-flops into Disney Springs?” And that's always a challenge, because we get these clients and these brands that could be a washing machine, a perfume and we must make it magical, you know, as Disney would. So we took these ideas, and then it was up to me to put them together in a presentation deck and present them out to the client and the name started out as Toes in the Sand Takeover, we were saying that this would be a fun event.
“What if we brought in sand? We had a party? What if we had bands come and play? What if we had influencers there?”
And the client loved it, and I was in charge of pitching it to them, and they had a great time, and they were like, “yes, run with it, do it, let's go.”
This was definitely an instance where I art directed more than I did actual design work. We were able to pull off this amazing event called Disney Springs Break by Havaianas. It was very successful and the clients loved it.
A more hands-on example of when I'm designing—Under our function of alliances, I'm also one of the designers for Disney gift cards. Every year we make these collectable enamel pins for the holidays, and we start working on them in February and they go to print in July so they can be ready by December. So every February I’m listening to Christmas music, designing these holiday pins, getting ready for the next holiday season already. And so that is a project where the gift card team comes to us. They fill out a brief and we have a meeting with them, and they tell us, “here's the list of characters we'd like to use this year. Go crazy. We don't have any ideas for you. We just want them to be holiday themed. We want them to feel on-theme for each character and go nuts.”
So this last year they gave us a list of characters, about eight of them. We chose four that we thought would be fun. We ended up choosing Mickey and Minnie, of course, Stitch and Angel, Nightmare before Christmas, and then Buzz Lightyear, and we came up with this idea of snow globes, and we thought those would look really awesome in an enamel pin, which are so tiny. We tap into these art packs that are generally available to Disney designers. There's this online resource that all designers use and tap into Disney characters for and then we create the surrounding elements. We're sort of given Mickey in the Santa hat, and then we create him standing on the ladder, having the Christmas tree in the background and the snow like all the other elements were able to use. We never know what the project's going to be, what the ask is going to be. It's usually just something creative and we're told to run with it and get creative, which is always fun and different.
At the end of the day, what gives you the biggest sense of accomplishment?
More than anything it's been the people that have kept me on this team and kept me going through a pandemic and craziness and working together. There's only three of us in Orlando, and about 15 of them in California, but they always are so intentional about including us on every Zoom Meeting. If they have a pizza party there, they send pizza for just the three of us in Orlando. They're very intentional with keeping us integrated.
They flew us out last October, we had a lot of team bonding time, and we went to Disneyland together, and when they come here to Florida, we go to Disney World together and enjoy the parks and sort of awaken that inner child, so definitely they keep me going more than anything. Sharing our wins together is always really healthy on this team. It seems like, no matter if they didn't work on a project that I worked on, they're as excited as if it was their baby. We just continue to cheer each other on and we get so excited for each other, whatever we're working on so that keeps me going more than anything.
Thankfully I have a very, very positive work environment… We love the brands that we work on. And the Disney movies make us feel like kids and get us giddy when we get to work with our favorite characters. If I get to put Ariel on something, it's like my best day ever, and I still enjoy it every single time, so that passion for the brand really comes through in our cast members.
What kind of advice would you give to somebody who says they see themselves working at a place like Disney?
I would say familiarity with the brand more than anything, even if they don't know anything about Disney. Go home and watch some movies, go watch some YouTube videos about the parks, or go to a Disney Park and experience what it's like. And then, as far as you know, what Disney likes to see when they're recruiting. I think work experience is bigger than anything. They love to see that you have a degree in the field that you're going for, and they love to see those multiple internship experiences.
I had six graphic design internships on my resumé when I applied to Disney, and I think that really helped me, because they like to see that you've been out there in the world and you're experiencing, and you're willing to learn, especially when it's an internship experience. They see over and over again that you're willing to start at the beginning and learn as much as possible, and I think that's what they look for more than anything when they hire at Disney is someone with an open mind and an open heart. They just like someone who is willing to learn and excited to keep chasing their passions, and just growing more and more every day.
What are some things that you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love to travel, and I love to take photographs on my trips. Last year I went to Iceland and to Alaska and took my camera with me and really enjoyed that, so I love traveling and photography.
And then, when I am not traveling, when I'm home, if I'm not going to the Disney parks, I love DIY projects, and I love interior decorating. So I've kind of sort of crafted my apartment that I've been in the last four years, and that has been a really fun activity for me, whether it's painting walls or painting shelves. Since I'm on a screen all day for eight-plus hours a day, I love to come home and put a brush in my hand, and like, paint the wall blue, or I like to get my sander out and sand a table I found on the side of the road. It's just something that clears my mind.
I love to embroider, I love to paint, or sew my own clothes, and just anything I can do with my hands that’s artistic you will find me doing every weekend. It seems like I'm doing a different artsy hobby constantly, or I'm going to Michael's or Joanne's for the 100th time to pick up things for an entirely new craft that I learned last night.
Of all the places with Graphic Design programs, why would Anderson be a place worth considering?
I visited a lot of schools. I went to see their design programs and I took their tours, and other than the impressive graphic design program structure here, the people were really the difference at Anderson. Anderson treated me like I already had been going to this school for years the first day that I showed up there, and that was such a big difference. Walking around the campus felt so homey. Growing up in Charleston, you know it was only four hours away, so it was nice that it was close enough to go home, but also far enough to feel independent, and in that mountainous region of South Carolina, which felt really magical to be in and the campus, just walking around, I felt so safe and I felt so nurtured there.
Just having all the outlets for going to church in different ways was amazing. Being able to worship at school every week is such an experience… knowing that everyone around you feels the same way, about God and about art… I don't know if I will ever experience that again, being with artists who are so like-minded, which was really amazing.
Including every relationship with the professors… they were so sensitive to our needs, and they were very attentive to our passions and where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. Even if my professors thought I was crazy that I wanted to work for Disney, they didn't tell me that's never going to happen. They just said, “Okay, let's figure out what we need to do to get you there.”
Everyone was just so personal, I felt so at home there, and I still have best friends I met there that are for life. I truly believe that magical feeling I felt every day at Anderson has carried over to my magical career here at the Walt Disney Company.