Saldanha was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He left his hometown in 1991 to follow his artistic instinct and passion for animation. With a background in computer science and a natural artistic sensibility, he found New York City the perfect locale to merge these skills and become an animator. He attended the MFA program at New York's School of Visual Arts, where he graduated with honors in 1993, after completing two animated shorts, The Adventures of Korky, the Corkscrew (1992) and Time For Love (1993). The shorts have been screened at animation festivals around the world. At SVA, Saldanha met Chris Wedge, one of the cofounders of Blue Sky Studios, who invited him to join their growing team of artists.
He also worked as animator on Wedge's short film Bunny.