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When Leah (Bend) Latham was 3 years old, she told her mom she was going to “draw for Mickey.” At the age of 22, Latham’s first job out of college was at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

“When I was little, I was obsessed with Pinocchio and Beauty and the Beast,” Latham said. “When I realized someone drew these for a job, I was sold.”

Her dream job materialized only through her own hard work, passion, and dedication. She was born to be in the field of animation.

Latham is the daughter of Phyllis Bend of Bloomington and Brian Bend of Pontiac. She is a member of the Pontiac Township High School Class of 2006, graduating as the class valedictorian. She graduated from Webster University in St. Louis with honors and a degree in animation in 2010 — the first class from WU to graduate with such an animation degree.

In one short summer, she graduated from Webster, married her college sweetheart, moved to Los Angeles, interviewed at Disney Animation Studios and was offered the job two weeks later. Her husband is Timothy Latham of Washington, Mo., who is a stereoscopic depth artist, converting films into 3D. They live in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Latham was hired at the studios to be the recruitment coordinator, helping to hire some of the most talented people in the industry.

“It was the perfect job for me at the time. I was able to work directly with a large cross-section of the studio. However, I was realizing I missed working consistently with the artists I helped hire. I knew I wanted to come back to production.”

Her boss encouraged her to interview for a production assistant position and she was asked to join the production ranks two days after her interview.

Here is the best part: Her 30-minute animation special “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” will air this Monday on ABC at 7:30 p.m. Not only is her name in the credits, but her brother, Dale Bend, also makes an appearance in the show as one of the kids on Santa’s list.

“Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” is the latest adventure in the five-time Emmy Award-winning special series by Walt Disney Animation Studios. It is a yuletide escapade of Christmas elves, Lanny and Wayne, who must race to recover classified North Pole technology that has fallen into the hands of a computer-hacking Naughty Kid.

The cast of “Prep & Landing” includes Dave Foley (“The Kids in the Hall,” “News Radio”) as Wayne, Sarah Chalke (“Mad Love, “Scrubs”) as Magee and a cast of other well-known actors and actresses.

Latham loves her job and bubbles over with excitement as she explains what she does. She is now a co-worker of her personal heroes and famed industry innovators such as Ed Camull and John Lasseter of PIXAR studios, brilliant directors like John Musker and Ron Clements (“The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”), and legendary artists such as Glen Keane, whose work includes animating Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” and The Beast from “Beauty and the Beast.”

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