Home » News » Southwest alum living her dream at Disney

Southwest alum living her dream at Disney

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – It’s a common question asked of little kids – what do you want to be when you grow up?

For Green Bay Southwest High School alum Katie Gibbs Coleman, no matter how many times she was asked, the answer was always the same.

She wanted to work for Disney.

“I knew I wanted to work for Disney very early on,” Gibbs Coleman said. “When I was in elementary school, Disney had a huge impact on my life as it was the renaissance of the traditional animation era. Because of this, I watched Disney movies non-stop and would often draw from them.”

Thanks to her determination and the support of her high school art teacher, the dream of working for Disney became a reality for this 30-year-old Green Bay native.

“I was very lucky during my time at Southwest because I had a fantastic art teacher named Jon Taft,” Gibbs Coleman said. “Without him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I told him that I wanted to work for Disney and he did a ton of research for me. With his help I got a scholarship and enrolled at Ringling College of Art and Design.”

She started at Ringling in Sarasota, Florida, in 2007 in the animation program.

“It was one of the best schools for animation at the time, and it felt like a privilege to be part of that program,” Gibbs Coleman said.

After two years in the animation program, she said she realized it wasn’t the right fit.

“I started to feel overworked, overtired and overstressed,” Gibbs Coleman said. “I spent all of my time in a dark computer lab and I honestly wasn’t even that good at it. I missed the sun. I also missed painting and drawing.”

She made the decision to switch her major to illustration, with a minor in business.

“The first day in my new major, I was outside painting for a class and knew I made the right decision,” Gibbs Coleman said. “I was so much happier, and at the time that was much more important to me than anything else. I really trusted my gut, and I’m glad I did because it turned out to be the right path for me.”

Her career with Disney began during the summer of her junior year at Ringling.

She was hired as an intern for Walt Disney Imagineering.

“They said they needed someone to help with documentation, so I jumped on the opportunity,” Gibbs Coleman said. “After my internship was over, I had to go back to college for my senior year. I asked my boss if I could continue and work part-time, and she extended me. I drove from Sarasota to Orlando twice a week to make it work. After I graduated they hired me full time.”

Today she creates and implements the design of Disney World theme park environments as an artisan color designer for the character paint and finish department at Walt Disney Imagineering.

“My role with the company is to create the color design and specialty finishes for facilities, rides, shows and basically everything that has paint on it,” Gibbs Coleman said. “I start by making a color story, then paint color boards on the computer that are used as tools when fabricating the final product. Next, I follow the design into fabrication by managing the paint process with scenic vendors and field art directing the paint process during construction.”

Along the way, Gibbs Coleman said self-doubt would sometimes get the best of her.

“I lost a lot of sleep worrying about how I was going to make it, or questioning if I was good enough,” Gibbs Coleman said. “Even once I got my job, I felt a huge responsibility to prove myself, which created workaholic tendencies. It took me a while to realize what was important to stress about and what wasn’t.”

Gibbs Coleman said that is one of the things she likes most about working for Disney – its focus on balance.

“I love working for Disney, because it is such a family-friendly environment,” she said. “They really stress work-life balance. I have days I can work from home, which I love. I also am never in the same place for too long.”

Little fun fact – Gibbs Coleman’s office is behind Splash Mountain in the Magic Kingdom.

Last month, Gibbs Coleman returned to Southwest High School to speak with students about her job and encourage students to be persistent and follow their dreams.

“Once you make the decision that this is something you want to do, keep working until you get there,” she said. “Stay true to yourself. If you know who you are, then you can find a career that makes you happy.”

Looking back, she said she can’t believe her childhood dream of working for Disney has become her everyday life.

“The satisfaction of designing something and then watching people enjoy it after is very fulfilling,” Gibbs Coleman said. “I enjoy being part of a company with so much history, and value my responsibility to uphold a legacy.”

Gibbs Coleman lives in Oakland, Florida, with her husband and eight-month-old son.

“My husband actually works in the creative entertainment field as well, at a fabrication shop that builds show sets for the parks,” she said. “We are very excited to show our son everything his mom and dad have played a part in creating.”

Facebook Comments
Scroll to Top