UCF alum Trey Buongiorno ’13 knew he wanted to pursue animation from a young age. After watching The Land Before Time as a child, he was inspired to pick up a pencil and draw the dinosaurs he saw on screen. Years later, he has just won an Children’s and Family Emmy award for Best Animated Special for Moon Girl Landing, a special episode of Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, which he co-directed alongside Christine Liu, director of Disney TV Animation.

At UCF, Buongiorno studied what is currently known as the character animation track in the bachelor’s degree program, which is offered in the College of Arts and Humanities through the School of Visual Arts and Design. Though he came to Central Florida for college partially due to its close proximity to Disney, he realized his dreams lay elsewhere post graduation, so he moved out west to begin moving up the ladders in the animation studios.

Buongiorno began at Dreamworks as a storyboard artist in their television department, working on the series The Adventures of Puss in Boots. He later got a job with Walt Disney Animation Studios, working episodically on television projects with a team of artists, which eventually led to his ascent to the directorial role that earned him his Emmy award for the popular Disney animated series Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. While serving as a director, Buongiorno realized his passion for leading a team to greatness, pushing artists to produce their best work while maintaining the fun of the craft. He cites a lot of the show’s success to his hard-working team of animators and crew, as the group’s collaborative effort led to the show earning critical acclaim.

Following the wrap of Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Buongiorno returned to Dreamworks to work in the feature department, which is responsible for popular titles such as Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon and the Kung Fu Panda movie series .

He began his career in feature film as a storyboard artist on Kung Fu Panda 4, in theaters March 8. While working on the production, he learned the key differences between working as an animator on television and film.

Buongiorno was an episode director on TV and moved to storyboard artist in feature, which was less responsibility due to the many storyboard artists on the film. Buongiorno says in feature, the artists have more creative control than TV’s tight schedules. Board artists receive the script, board the sequence as written and try to make it as entertaining as possible.

“Being a storyboard artist in feature [films], and to some extent being a storyboard artist on Kung Fu Panda 4 as such a cultural phenomenon, you’re making a lot of decisions with that in mind. You’re shaping the story, rather than just executing a script. With Po, he is a character that we have explored three times already, so he’s arched multiple times. So, part of that journey was finding out what is the story for him and that doesn’t just fall on the writer. In feature, that falls on the story team, which was really exciting.”

Buongiorno appreciates the creative liberty feature films offer but envisions a return to television in a leadership role, aligning with his true passion. Emphasizing the importance of specialization in the animation industry, he imparts valuable advice to students, encouraging them to focus on developing one or two particular skills.

As a professional immersed in his creative pursuits, Buongiorno advocates for personal projects for self-enjoyment, citing his foray into comics as an example. He urges students to explore their creative outlets and maintain curiosity beyond graduation, underlining the perpetual learning essential in the ever-evolving animation industry.

“There’s still so much to learn, even ten years into this business. You should be prepared to continue learning even after you leave college to continue honing your craft,” Buongiorno says.

See Buongiorno’s contributions in Marvel’s Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur on Disney+ now and the theatrical release of Kung Fu Panda 4 on March 8.