Colorado State alumnus nominated for Oscar for work on “The Dam Keeper”

McKenna Ferguson

Most of us are simply hoping that eight years from now we will have a steady job, working our way to the dream job. We don’t expect to have already had the dream job and be moving on to find our own success doing what we love.

We certainly don’t expect that we’ll be nominated for the highest, most prestigious award possible in our field.

Ad

But 2007 Colorado State University journalism alumnus Duncan Ramsay isn’t really focused on doing what’s ‘expected.’

(Photo credit: Duncan Ramsay)
(Photo credit: Duncan Ramsay)

Not even a decade after commencement, Ramsay is part of a team of filmmakers nominated at the 87th Academy Awards.

“It doesn’t feel real,” Ramsay said. “It’s incredibly exciting, but it kind of feels like a prank.”

Ramsay and the rest of the gang are nominated in the category of Best Short Film—Animated for their collective effort in creating the 18-minute piece “The Dam Keeper,” for which Ramsay served as a producer.

The short follows a young pig who works tirelessly as the “dam keeper” in his village, keeping out a malevolent black fog set on inundating the whole town.

Production began in early 2013, when Ramsay was working at his “dream company”—Pixar Animation. Produced completely independently of Pixar by a team of hard-working volunteers, the film took nine months to complete. But with post-production responsibilities including festivals, marketing and publicity, Ramsay has been working on it in some form for the past two years.

“The role of the producer is making sure the film gets done in the first place, but it’s also helping to achieve the director’s vision in an economic way,” he said. “It’s an incredibly delicate role because you want to support the directors and the entire team at all times, and that can mean coming up with creative solutions when you hit a dead end. … Sometimes it’s just being a cheerleader.”

In addition to his role as producer helping to “maintain the pipeline” by facilitating every stage of the process, from conception to animation to painting, Ramsay was also given the chance to write the narration of the film, which is brought to life through the voice of Lars Mikkelsen.

Still from "The Dam Keeper" (P
Still from “The Dam Keeper” (Provided by Duncan Ramsay)

“That was truly great because it was a nice little creative outlet for me,” Ramsay said.

Initially approached by directors Robert Kondo and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi, with whom Ramsay worked during his time at Pixar, Ramsay first turned down the offer to produce the short.

Ad

“I was incredibly flattered. … But I thought it would be too much for me to handle outside of work,” Ramsay said. “I just started to get involved a little bit by bit and before I knew it, I was in it 100 percent.”

According to fellow producer Megan Bartel, who Ramsay asked to join the team in March of 2013, having him in the group made the whole experience that much better.

Still from "The Dam Keeper" (Provided by Duncan Ramsay)
Still from “The Dam Keeper” (Provided by Duncan Ramsay)

“Working with Duncan is a real dream,” Bartel said in an email to the Collegian. “He is endlessly kind, quick-witted and intelligent. Our daily progress check-ins were always fun and inspiring. He’s the most compassionate strategist I’ve ever met, and I’m so lucky to call him my friend.”

These are themes echoed by those Ramsay impacted here at CSU, including journalism and technical communication professor Pete Seel.

Seel acted as advisor to Ramsay during his time at CSU and has kept in touch with him since his graduation.

When asked about the first thing Seel thinks of when he hears Ramsay’s name, Seel answered “unique creativity.”

Wowed by Ramsay’s early successes both inside and outside the classroom, Seel asked him to come back to campus in 2012 to participate in a conference by talking about his time at Pixar.

“It was very impressive for someone who had just graduated in 2007 to come back five years later and talk about the work they were doing at a major production house like Pixar,” Seel said. “People were very impressed that he had done so well for being such a recent graduate.”

Before ending up at Pixar, Ramsay and his twin sister, Cameron, actually went straight from CSU to working at Disney World. Ramsay was a “character attendant,” leading Mickey Mouse himself around the park to meet fans.

From there he landed his first gig at Pixar as a production assistant. He worked his way up the ladder, contributing to films such as “Toy Story 3,” “Monsters University” and the upcoming “Inside Out.”

This past summer he left Pixar and made the move across the pond to London.

“I thought I was going to be at Pixar for my entire life, but I’m chasing different experiences all the time,” he said.

With the massive success Ramsay has achieved at such a young age, it seems obvious to ask what advice he would share with fellow Rams.

Ramsay expresses that the key is to not worry about landing the ‘dream job’ right after college.

“I think there was so much pressure put on what is going to be your first job right outside college, and I’d say that it doesn’t have to be what you’re ultimately searching for,” he said.

The Academy Awards air Sunday night at 6:30 p.m. (MST) on ABC.

Collegian A&E Editor McKenna Ferguson can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @McKennaMagazine.