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Entries in Pixar careers (7)


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.


Roads to Pixar (#2)

The online animation school Animation Mentor, in which a number of Pixar animators are involved, has profiles of the career paths of several Pixar animators—Aaron Hartline, Victor Navone, and Matt Strangio—in its latest newsletter. (Via Victor Navone.)


Roads to Pixar

Carlos Baena, Toy Story 3 animator:

In 1995, Spanish youth Carlos Baena was living the skateboarder’s idle life in Los Angeles. Although he had an artistic bent, Baena had no clue about how animated movies of any kind were made. But he saw two astounding things: Toy Story and The Nightmare Before Christmas. He was never the same again.

* * *

Baena’s road to Pixar Animation Studios was rocky.

“I got rejected time after time,” he says of his five applications to work there. “And I didn’t care! Every time I got rejected I went: ‘Oh yeah? Well wait for me next year!’”

In the meantime, he worked as an animator elsewhere [at Industrial Light & Magic], refining his technique. Pixar remained the ultimate goal. He was hired during Finding Nemo. Now he is a star there, all because he watched two movies in 1995. (From the Toronto Sun)

Michael Arndt, Toy Story 3 screenwriter:

They approached me. Back in early 2005, Pixar was looking for a writer to work with Lee Unkrich on an original idea that he was planning to direct. One of the development people here at Pixar, Mary Coleman, bumped into Little Miss Sunshine producer Ron Yerxa at the Sundance Film Festival and asked him if he knew of any decent writers, and he recommended me. So I was hired at Pixar while LMS was still in the editing room. It’s a tribute to Pixar that they were willing to hire an untested writer (me) and subsequently trust him with one of their biggest movies.

* * *

It took me ten years of writing before I finally sold my first script. I know that Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours of practice is kind of a cliche at this point. But for me, that cliche is 100% true. It basically took me 10,000 hours of writing before I had any success at all. (From Animated Views)

More from Carlos here. More from Michael here.


How not to get a job at Pixar

Growing list: How not to get a Pixar job: 1) Picket the place 2) Cold-call spam the phone or email system 3) Facebook ad.

From Pixar layout artist Craig Good


Teddy Newton

In the early 1990’s, an animation student at the California Institute of the Arts dropped out of school.

So he was a failure, right?

Next, he landed a job at Walt Disney Animation Studios—and got fired from it. (His quirky sense of humor led him to spend his last day of work posing as a washroom attendant at the door of the men’s room, offering co-workers a selection of soaps and towels, never breaking character.)

So then he was really a failure, right?

He did design work for a Warner Bros. animated feature film that flopped at the box office. He went on to finance and co-write The Trouble With Lou (2001), a black-and-white, live-action feature film about a young man’s problem with … ummm … onanism. It quickly vanished into obscurity.

Then he was really, really a failure, right?

Actually, no. After he impressed Brad Bird with his work on that Warner Bros. film, The Iron Giant (which has since found a loyal following), Bird brought him to Pixar to work on The Incredibles. Since then, he’s also done character designs for Ratatouille and Presto. And this weekend, his short Day & Night will almost certainly be the most-watched film in multiplexes across America, together with Toy Story 3

Readers of The Pixar Touch know that all of the leading lights of Pixar’s founding—Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, John Lasseter—had been let go from their jobs at one time or another. They’d all had what Walt Disney described as an important ingredient of his own success: “a good hard failure when you’re young.” Teddy Newton is only the latest figure in Pixar’s story to exemplify that “a good hard failure” isn’t the end of the journey.