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What it's like to be a technical director at Pixar

Technical directors at Pixar are masters of RenderMan and the other software tools that are used in the making of Pixar films. They handle things like building computer models of characters, sets, and props; creating the textures that appear on the surfaces of a model; and setting up a shot’s lighting scheme. Najeeb Tarazi, a technical director who worked on Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, recently composed a meditation on a TD’s life at Pixar:

Working at Pixar is like blackberry picking.

You are constantly accruing little gems of juice/joy working on things that are wonderful to look at and experiencing an institution which is intrinsically, of necessity, pretty funny and whimsical… .

But if you’ve ever been blackberry picking you know that it is not always an easy or pleasant activity. There are many thorns, and getting the blackberries you want requires reaching beyond what’s comfortable and sometimes slipping and stepping into the bush. Pixar can scratch you while you’re actually trying to make movies because its internal technology and management is very organic, thus a little disorganized.

If your mind/soul has a large intellectual appetite, you might question the significance of your work compared to, say, energy research, or solving interesting problems in computer science or physics.

But you have to be more zen about it than this. Blackberry picking is a trivial activity of patience and enjoyment.

Or, going in the opposite direction (depending on the day), this attitude ignores the fact that creating culture for a significant portion of the world to consume is not a minor undertaking. But, in this case, if you don’t have confidence in the story and design of the film you’re working on, a sense of triviality becomes a serious concern.

Ultimately, working at Pixar is about learning about how to communicate. I studied physics in college, but I spend every day with some amazing artists whose work has been seen and enjoyed by people of all ages around the world. The education in decision-making and storytelling that that provides is invaluable, and probably unique. And it is a thrill when you let that experience soak in.