Animation and illustration weren’t always Johan Samuelsson’s (Media Studies class of 2016) calling. Now, as a full-time freelance creative designer at Disney, with major advertising clients including Netflix, National Geographic, and Microsoft on his resume, Samuelsson has established himself as a creative force.
Johan always liked to draw growing up, but didn’t become captivated by animation until he took a motion graphics class at USF. He credits that course, and Media Studies professor Jeremy Troy, for inspiring him to pursue art as a career. “I wrote to [Troy] at one point, just like, ‘Hey, you know, I just got this job because of you, basically.’”
Samuelsson began USF as a computer science major on a tennis scholarship, but felt like that course of study didn’t quite fit. After taking several Media Studies classes, including motion graphics and documentary filmmaking, he began to imagine a potential career worth pursuing. “It was super great for me as someone who didn’t really know exactly what within the creative field they wanted to do. You get to try a lot of things,” he says. “I still use a lot of the foundations of those skills.”
Johan’s student visa allowed him to stay in San Francisco for six months after graduation. During that time, he worked filming and editing content for USF’s athletic department, and taught tennis at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay. When the girl he met at USF (now his wife) moved back to Sweden, Johan followed, attending an animation program, Hyper Island, in his home country where he produced The Shift, an animated short.
As a longtime Star Wars fan, Samuelsson applied for multiple internships at Disney, mostly located in the U.S. When one popped up at Disney’s branch in Sweden, he pounced. Johan started working in creative design for Disney in 2021, and later signed on as a full-time freelancer. At Disney he has created unique advertising designs, like a futuristic hologram poster for the Kenobi miniseries.
Working creative jobs in animation and video editing at Swedish studios like OBVIO AB or ABLE Film, Samuelsson juggles different positions like a pro. He says he enjoys the freedom and flexibility of freelance work, but also the steadiness of having a full-time gig to fall back on. “I always had a full-time job. So, I’ve never really felt the pressure of a real freelancer.”
In 2022, Samuelsson was selected to design an official poster for Disney’s new Star Wars miniseries, Andor. He was floored by the opportunity, confessing he still hasn’t processed how he was chosen out of all the other Disney creatives. “Here in Nordic [countries] it’s very, very rare that we get to do something bespoke for something like Star Wars.”
For students looking for jobs and internships, Johan stresses the importance of staying humble, and finding a gig where “you’re the worst person in the room.” In his opinion, these situations provide the most opportunities to learn and improve from much more skilled professionals. As for those trying to break into animation, Samuelsson recommends patience. “Try to enjoy the process. Trust the process, because animation can be very tedious. It might take a very long time until you see the finished result … but it’s very rewarding.”
Moving forward, Samuelsson says he hopes to develop another short film, possibly in the horror genre. He will also be moving to Switzerland with his fiancée, while continuing to work for Disney Nordic remotely.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Savannah Dewberry is a journalism student at the University of San Francisco. In addition to MediaZine, she is the Chief of Copy for the SF Foghorn, and an intern for the SF Times. She is originally from the East Bay, and enjoys textile crafting.