4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Local boy makes good

An interview with Character Designer Jeff Merghart

Jeff Merghart: When you wish upon a star (and also practice super hard…)
Jeff Merghart: When you wish upon a star (and also practice super hard…)
Spamley (who Merghart helped design) lands a couple of customers in Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney’s sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, is superior to its predecessor in several ways. Character Designer Jeff Merghart, a La Mesa native who attended Helix High and Grossmont College before heading to Burbank to seek his fortune, didn’t sign on until the second installment. Coincidence?

Matthew Lickona: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Disney artist?

Jeff Merghart: I had this plan when I was in kindergarten. I think I was two years old, and I remember my mom taking me to the theater to watch The Jungle Book, and I could not get it out of my mind. And then when Robin Hood came out in 1973, I remember seeing a poster of the main character and looking at it so long that I could see it in my head. And then I realized that if I could see it in my head, I could copy it. After that, I started researching who the artists were, who the animators were. We went to the library in La Mesa and got The Art of Disney. I studied Wonderful World of Disney when it showed on Sunday evenings. And then when The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation came out, I got that. I applied to Disney when I was still in high school, and I got the coolest rejection letter — with Snow White and the dwarves on the letterhead. I have it framed in my room at home. They sent me a pamphlet for Cal Arts, their animation training school, but that was a pipe dream. I decided to go to Grossmont College to get my AA and then go up and see if Don Bluth would hire me. He had left Disney and started his own little place, and he was working on An American Tail at the time.

Movie

Ralph Breaks the Internet **

thumbnail

A welcome improvement over the original <em>Wreck-It Ralph</em>'s tale of a good guy (voiced to sweetly earnest perfection by John C. Reilly) who can’t seem to shake his onscreen character’s nasty rep when he’s off duty with his fellow video-game actors. (What part of show business don’t they understand?) In that story, he sets off on a hero’s quest to prove his goodness, and ends up with the prize he desired all along: a friend (Sarah Silverman as the glitchy Princess Vanellope). In this one, he sets off — after an unusually slow, clunky opening — on another, this time to save Vanellope’s race-car video game from the scrap heap. But the journey takes the two of them out of the arcade’s old-school confines and into the dizzying variety and scope of online life, and it isn’t long before lil’ V finds the dream world she didn’t even know she was dreaming of in the online video game <em>Slaughter Race</em>. That’s when things get both personal and interesting, as directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston artfully explore the promise, the horror, and the heartbreak of the internet’s infinite possibility. (There’s only so far a family movie can go in showing a world where everyone can be just as awful as they want to be without consequence, which makes their achievement here all the more impressive: what it does to Ralph is deeply unsettling but not quite terrifying.) Best of all, they don’t shy away from the ending their story demands. Second-best of all, they go goofily meta in a scene where Vanellope meets her fellow Disney princesses, but have the good sense to know when it’s time to get back to the straight story.

Find showtimes

ML: So you just headed up and knocked on the door, and he took you in?

JM: He took me in. I did an animation test and they hired me the same day. I thought I was special until I noticed later in the week that they were hiring pretty much anybody off the street. But it was great training. You learn from everybody around you, and you get slapped down a lot, and you learn a lot of stuff the hard way. But I’m glad I did it. I see students today with huge debt from art school — and all they learned was how to use a software program. They still can’t draw. I stayed there until they moved to Ireland — that’s where their investment partners were from. I said, “There’s no beaches there,” and I came back to San Diego.

ML: So how did you finally wind up at Disney?

JM: In the summer of 2016, I got a call from a recruiter who was referred to me by one of Disney’s lead artists, a friend of mine named Corey Loftis. When he left the video game makers Carbine Studios in Aliso Viejo, I came in and filled his spot. And he was a fan of a game I used to do for the first PlayStation, The Mark of Kri. We both went from making video games to making a movie about video games.

ML: Do you have advice for someone who sees Ralph Breaks the Internet and decides they want to be a Disney artist?

JM: I tell students that their own art is never wrong as long as they’re happy with the outcome, but if you want to be a professional, you have to be able to do what other people want. A good style of your own can get you in the door, but you need to be able to adapt and evolve. If you can’t, you’re not going to last.

ML: Favorite Disney films from a visual perspective?

JM: Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians, Pinochhio. From the new era, Moana and Zootopia. And of course, Ralph Breaks the Internet.

ML: The film’s final boss-type character is one of more unsettling things I can recall seeing in a Disney film in some time.

JM: Ha! Yeah, you’re welcome.

ML: How do you walk the line on that sort of thing when you’re making a film that children will see?

JM: I know there were discussions, but Corey kept us protected from the gory details. He would come say, “Try to do the most so-and-so thing you can, and we’ll see if we can get it approved.” Apparently, it worked. We definitely had a sense of humor on this team.

ML: I know that design is a collaborative process, but was there a particular character you did a lot of work on, development-wise?

JM: Yes, Spamley.

ML: Who hawks internet spam.

JM: He was cool. We played with different attitudes. We thought about a used car salesman, or Bob Odenkirk’s character from Breaking Bad. Someone’s who’s annoying but lovable at the same time. I think Corey put the newsboy cap on him. Some suggestions for voice actors were pitched to us, and we kind of based our designs on how he’d look if this actor or that actor voiced him.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Celebrate the 27th James Bond film with the 6th James Bond film

No Time to Die indeed
Jeff Merghart: When you wish upon a star (and also practice super hard…)
Jeff Merghart: When you wish upon a star (and also practice super hard…)
Spamley (who Merghart helped design) lands a couple of customers in Ralph Breaks the Internet.

Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney’s sequel to Wreck-It Ralph, is superior to its predecessor in several ways. Character Designer Jeff Merghart, a La Mesa native who attended Helix High and Grossmont College before heading to Burbank to seek his fortune, didn’t sign on until the second installment. Coincidence?

Matthew Lickona: When did you decide that you wanted to be a Disney artist?

Jeff Merghart: I had this plan when I was in kindergarten. I think I was two years old, and I remember my mom taking me to the theater to watch The Jungle Book, and I could not get it out of my mind. And then when Robin Hood came out in 1973, I remember seeing a poster of the main character and looking at it so long that I could see it in my head. And then I realized that if I could see it in my head, I could copy it. After that, I started researching who the artists were, who the animators were. We went to the library in La Mesa and got The Art of Disney. I studied Wonderful World of Disney when it showed on Sunday evenings. And then when The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation came out, I got that. I applied to Disney when I was still in high school, and I got the coolest rejection letter — with Snow White and the dwarves on the letterhead. I have it framed in my room at home. They sent me a pamphlet for Cal Arts, their animation training school, but that was a pipe dream. I decided to go to Grossmont College to get my AA and then go up and see if Don Bluth would hire me. He had left Disney and started his own little place, and he was working on An American Tail at the time.

Movie

Ralph Breaks the Internet **

thumbnail

A welcome improvement over the original <em>Wreck-It Ralph</em>'s tale of a good guy (voiced to sweetly earnest perfection by John C. Reilly) who can’t seem to shake his onscreen character’s nasty rep when he’s off duty with his fellow video-game actors. (What part of show business don’t they understand?) In that story, he sets off on a hero’s quest to prove his goodness, and ends up with the prize he desired all along: a friend (Sarah Silverman as the glitchy Princess Vanellope). In this one, he sets off — after an unusually slow, clunky opening — on another, this time to save Vanellope’s race-car video game from the scrap heap. But the journey takes the two of them out of the arcade’s old-school confines and into the dizzying variety and scope of online life, and it isn’t long before lil’ V finds the dream world she didn’t even know she was dreaming of in the online video game <em>Slaughter Race</em>. That’s when things get both personal and interesting, as directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston artfully explore the promise, the horror, and the heartbreak of the internet’s infinite possibility. (There’s only so far a family movie can go in showing a world where everyone can be just as awful as they want to be without consequence, which makes their achievement here all the more impressive: what it does to Ralph is deeply unsettling but not quite terrifying.) Best of all, they don’t shy away from the ending their story demands. Second-best of all, they go goofily meta in a scene where Vanellope meets her fellow Disney princesses, but have the good sense to know when it’s time to get back to the straight story.

Find showtimes

ML: So you just headed up and knocked on the door, and he took you in?

JM: He took me in. I did an animation test and they hired me the same day. I thought I was special until I noticed later in the week that they were hiring pretty much anybody off the street. But it was great training. You learn from everybody around you, and you get slapped down a lot, and you learn a lot of stuff the hard way. But I’m glad I did it. I see students today with huge debt from art school — and all they learned was how to use a software program. They still can’t draw. I stayed there until they moved to Ireland — that’s where their investment partners were from. I said, “There’s no beaches there,” and I came back to San Diego.

ML: So how did you finally wind up at Disney?

JM: In the summer of 2016, I got a call from a recruiter who was referred to me by one of Disney’s lead artists, a friend of mine named Corey Loftis. When he left the video game makers Carbine Studios in Aliso Viejo, I came in and filled his spot. And he was a fan of a game I used to do for the first PlayStation, The Mark of Kri. We both went from making video games to making a movie about video games.

ML: Do you have advice for someone who sees Ralph Breaks the Internet and decides they want to be a Disney artist?

JM: I tell students that their own art is never wrong as long as they’re happy with the outcome, but if you want to be a professional, you have to be able to do what other people want. A good style of your own can get you in the door, but you need to be able to adapt and evolve. If you can’t, you’re not going to last.

ML: Favorite Disney films from a visual perspective?

JM: Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians, Pinochhio. From the new era, Moana and Zootopia. And of course, Ralph Breaks the Internet.

ML: The film’s final boss-type character is one of more unsettling things I can recall seeing in a Disney film in some time.

JM: Ha! Yeah, you’re welcome.

ML: How do you walk the line on that sort of thing when you’re making a film that children will see?

JM: I know there were discussions, but Corey kept us protected from the gory details. He would come say, “Try to do the most so-and-so thing you can, and we’ll see if we can get it approved.” Apparently, it worked. We definitely had a sense of humor on this team.

ML: I know that design is a collaborative process, but was there a particular character you did a lot of work on, development-wise?

JM: Yes, Spamley.

ML: Who hawks internet spam.

JM: He was cool. We played with different attitudes. We thought about a used car salesman, or Bob Odenkirk’s character from Breaking Bad. Someone’s who’s annoying but lovable at the same time. I think Corey put the newsboy cap on him. Some suggestions for voice actors were pitched to us, and we kind of based our designs on how he’d look if this actor or that actor voiced him.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Chi Chi’s Mexican Cantina: new name in Old Town

A reminder of what a concentrated collision of tastes a taco can be
Next Article

Most boards are shaped for men’s bodies

If I am having a bad day, I go to the ocean.
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close