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Pixar, I love you February 12, 2009

Posted by drethepoet in reflections.

Last night I attended the Pixar’s Leading Women panel at Pixar Studios, organized by Bay Area Women in Film and Media.

This was truly the best speaker panel I have ever attended in my life.


The panel consisted of Senior Producer Darla Anderson, Director of Photography/Lighting Sharon Calahan, Pixar’s first woman Director (directing the next big film in production, The Bear and the Bow) Brenda Chapman, Art Director Tia Kratter, Editor Kathy Ringgold, Animator Gini Santos, Producer Galyn Susman, and the moderator, Producer Katherine Sarafian

I attended with my friends Cristal and Patrici — we worked on {m}aganda magazine and produced a film together. We have it in our ambitious heads to start a production company some day.

The entire experience was awesome on so many levels. It was a treat in getting a sense of the artistic professional life, and learning about the special magic of the Bay Area film/art scene.

At first I was star-struck being before women who have combined work histories that include films like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Toy Story, and every other film Pixar has produced. But after the first few minutes of hearing them, they became extremely real people to me — not the kind of sharks you might expect of the industry. Not only was the panel extremely enlightening, the panelists were active, engaged with each other, and very funny.

The panel enlightened the audience on the uniquely collaborative and open production process of Pixar. They all quite honestly love working here.

Brenda Chapman, who formerly worked with Dreamworks and other studios, made clear that Pixar operates on a different wavelength . At most studios, executives make the creative decisions. At Pixar, the process is much more open and the highest respect is given to creative ideas and artists — and here, everyone has a creative voice.

I got the sense that at Pixar, creatives are the bread and butter of the company, which explains their continuous winning streak. An audience member asked “If the managerial/production side ever requires you to compromise creativity?” Darla answered tersely, as a joke but also with revealing truth “No. Never. We never compromise creativity.”

Pixar is not a shark-type film company. People arrive and stay here because they care about the art and others recognize their creative energy. Heck I saw a few workers play ping pong in the game room that’s in plain sight of the main lobby.


The panel also offered insight on their personal paths into Pixar. About five out of the eight women were art majors in college. But many spoke of how the degree they got didn’t correlate with their jobs now. The central theme was persistence and truly following your heart.

Darla took ten years after college to get where she was, and it wasn’t until after the first five that she figured she was interested in animation. This is a comforting reality for someone like me — just out of college needing to know everything about the rest of my life right now.

Here are a few other gems that were proffered about living as an artist:

Follow your heart.

And counter to my own intuition, it’s even clearer to follow your heart in difficult financial times:

“Because of these times, when you major in something, you forecast for your career, it’s like a crap shoot. So you might as well do something you really love. So even if you’re poor you’ll still have some chance at being happy,” Tia Kratter.

Try everything.

Tia mentioned that she may do fifty paintings to get the color on a character right and of those fifty they’ll move forward with one. Others spoke about how note-giving and note-taking is a crucial part of the process and no one at Pixar is immune from it. So everyone is encouraged to throw out ideas. Here there is a strong faith in the creative idea. Like a good friend of mine shared with me once “The best way to have a good idea is to have many ideas.”

Similarly, take a chance. Take many chances.

You learn best by “error-recovery.” So let yourself make mistakes.

Don’t burn bridges.

Simply, you never know when someone who you know will be in the position to help you another time in the future.

Trust your gut. Trust your intuition and speak it. And speak your truth,” Katherine Sarafian.

Amen sister.


The panel spoke a little about how it is to be a woman working at Pixar. There are far more men in computer animation than women, and the trends are similar in young people coming out of college. However these women were driven and they don’t feel second-class at a round table at Pixar. But their previous experiences in film and elsewhere revealed the reality that women are rarely taking seats with leadership. Galyn mentioned she was a science researcher before she got into animation, at her first project after she got her degree, when she sat at the table, it was assumed she was the secretary.

After the panel we were able to speak to some of the women. We spoke to Gini Santos, the only woman of color at the panel, who mentioned that she also wanted to say something about being Asian American, because that is also a layer that comes into play. I would have like to see more women of color on the panel and hear their experiences, but it was good to see a Filipina talking about her path to Pixar.

Altogether I felt extremely empowered by the event. Props to BAWIFM for putting this together. I have a greater appreciation for Pixar and a better sense of the very special kind of creative energy the Bay Area cultivates.

Before we headed out I asked Darla some questions and she gave me a quick strike of perspective. We spoke about all the new mechanisms of delivery available through new media right now. Paired with the tough economy — believe it or not — it is a good time to be young, creative, and just out of college.

“It’s anybody’s game right now. And it’s a great time to be young. You guys, whatever you want just go for it. You have nothing to lose. Go for it.” She said firmly.

So there you go young creative cats. It is a good time for following dreams. Try anything. Try everything! You might be in a dinky twenty-person film studio right now but if your ideas are strong, you may just grow it into over a thousand in ten years.

Be unrelenting in your pursuit of your heart. This really is our time.



1. rita - February 15, 2009

awww. i liked this entry. thanks for the inspiration :)


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