College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences

Oscar-Winning Producer to Receive 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award

Roy Conli

In 2015, producer Roy Conli won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film Big Hero 6.   With a notable career spanning more than 30 years, Conli has earned his place in entertainment history, and, as this year’s honoree as the College of Letters, Arts, and Social Sciences Distinguished Alum.

As a young theatre student at Cal Poly Pomona, Conli savored being on the stage and wanted to be an actor.  “This is where I got the best experience of my life,” said Conli.  “What I got at Cal Poly Pomona was phenomenal.”   He recalls the powerful advice he received from his mentor and former Theatre Department Chair, Robert Gilbert. Gilbert encouraged Conli to read widely, read deeply, and read a lot.  The guidance served as the foundation to Conli’s approach to his creative exploration.  He became a voracious reader, devouring an eclectic mix of literature from Shakespeare to science fiction.  “It’s really the things you learn outside of your interests that you bring to your art.” 

Upon graduating with a Drama Credential from Cal Poly Pomona, Conli went on to study at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. But it was the time he spent with the prestigious American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco where he discovered his interest in producing. “I fell in love with the process of making theatre and that really altered my life,” he said. “I became passionate about research, literature, analysis, design and putting it all together. I wanted to tell stories.”

Conli’s mastery of uniting creative vision and production caught the attention of Disney Animation Studios and in 1993 Conli joined the company.   He would go on to work on such films as:  The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Treasure Planet (2002), and Tangled (2010). He also supervised production at Walt Disney Animation Studios – Paris, which allowed him to oversee work on Hercules (1997) and Tarzan (1999).

Conli discussed his story with a packed classroom of theater students shortly after winning the Oscar.   His advice to them on achieving a fulfilling career in film: “It’s really about passion and what you want to share with your audience,” said Conli. “If you have that passion and you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”