Field Trip with Pixar

On Wednesday November 18, we held a virtual event, “IGNITE Worldwide Field Trip with Pixar” with 12 Pixar STEAM professionals! STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics.

Emily Davis, Feature Film Department Manager at Pixar, kicked the event off by showing a video of the creative process of producing the movie Brave, showing how a movie is developed through the skills of many technical and artistic minds. 

She talked about how the “A” for arts in STEAM is because Pixar started as a technology company first, then became an artistic enterprise. Emily also described how it’s so important that skilled, well-paying STEAM career opportunities should be available to different people from different backgrounds and ways of thinking.

The panelists then described how their different roles help to create the beloved films we all know and love.

Holly Lloyd, a Technical Director and Sequence Lead who has been with Pixar since 1996, shared the basics of animation alongside fellow colleagues, Yun Lien. They defined some basic terms, then showed a diagram of all the different roles from technical to artistic, describing how a job starts with story and progresses through to color, light, and shadow to create a realistic composition.

Yun Lien, a Technical Engineer Lead who joined Pixar in 2005, elaborated more on the technical aspects of rendering, the process by which an animation is converted through computer calculations from 3D to 2D. Her team manages and monitors this process through careful management of Pixar’s Render Farm, a data center with hundreds of machines, by writing Python code to help automate the many simultaneous tasks these machines perform.

Cheyenne Chapel, Sets Dressing Technical Director, described her path starting as a student at Texas A&M University. After her initial rejection from the animation program, she worked in architecture and ended up falling in love with environments. She was able to get into the Visualization program, and from there got into the Pixar PUP (Pixar Undergraduate Program), which led to her current work creating the worlds and environments that Pixar characters live in.

Jessica Wan, Media Systems Engineer, joined Pixar in 2012 and has been serving on the Media Systems, also known as the AVengers (for AV Engineering)! She described her daily work of managing recording studios, editorial suites, and other AV-heavy systems on campus. She followed her interests in math, science, and physics, and discovered the field of entertainment technology through her internship at Pixar.

Susan Salituro, Engineering Manager with the RenderMan team, expanded on Yun’s description of the rendering process as a partnership her team of engineers has with the artists. She explained how achieving specific artistic effects like shadows require technical work to create the movie’s own rules of reality! She also described her career path, starting as a technical writer and transitioning into engineering which led to her role today, leading teams.

After hearing the panelists’ stories, students got to ask questions about working at Pixar, including the following:

  • What does a typical day look like?
  • What can you do if you aren’t good at art or math?
  • Do you ever feel burned out enough to put a pause on a project?
  • Is being a woman of color an obstacle?
  • Why would you suggest STEAM as a career for girls and non-binary students? 

The panelists described their daily work, and also how this has had to change and adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic when there’s no separation between work and home. 

They offered several pieces of advice to these questions

  • Cheyenne described turning to walks and reading, but also how working at Pixar in different environments keeps things fresh
  • Susan described how technical writing could be good for folks who may not think of themselves as “good at art or math,” and also how her own skills have grown since joining Pixar
  • Bree Jenkins, who works in Leadership Development and served as Tech Host, described the challenges of not seeing people that look like you at work. At the same time, the company and her peers greatly support making diversity a part of their jobs too
  • Lastly, all the panelists talked about how any career in STEAM offers skills that can open up many opportunities. It’s about representation, and while being the first person can be hard, it helps the others who follow on this journey

After the Q&A, Pixar volunteers led student groups in breakout rooms to do a short activity: with pencil and paper, each student made a flipbook of a ball bouncing. The activity demonstrated how animation works, but also that it can be tricky and a surprising amount of work!

Lastly, the breakout room leaders closed the event with a lightning round of things they wish they knew when they were the students’ age. They encouraged students to stay curious, don’t let discouraging voices get you down, and surround yourself with people who push you to be the best you can be.

Thank you so much to everyone involved in this event, and a special thank you to Emily and Bree, the Facilitator and Tech Host, the panelists (Holly, Yun, Cheyenne, Jessica, and Susan), and the breakout room leaders (Christine, Wendy, Mara, Joyce, and Trina) for your inspirational stories in STEAM!

After attending this event:

92%

of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class

84%

of students know more about STEM career choices and the benefits of working in a STEM field

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities

79%

of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM

90%

of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

Pixar is a company that I have loved for my entire life, this event really showed me how much work goes on behind the scenes. I loved that the women shared their stories and it made me realize that I don’t have to know everything currently and that my path could change in life. I was inspired because there are many ways to work at Pixar so I shouldn’t give up on being my dream job. – 12th grade

It has inspired me to continue to love art. It has inspired me to be proud to be a woman of color interested in STEM. – 10th grade

Today’s event inspired me to look in deeper to careers in STEAM, and entertainment. – 9th grade

Today I was able to figure out that I can always try out anything and that I shouldn’t be afraid of trying out new things. This inspired me because with the things I am afraid of trying, I believe I can try them out after hearing many awesome women share their stories. – 9th grade

It was nice to be in a space where I can feel included and safe. Also, they were all so kind. – 11th grade

Today’s event inspired me to continue believing in myself and pursuing my passions. It also made me consider what other professions there are for what I am interested in. – 11th grade

Today’s event inspired me because I know that as a woman it might be harder to pursue a career in stem because it might seem as something that is ¨more for boys¨ but seeing these inspiring women super happy about their career choices is very encouraging. It’s also very cool how they could have gone through a lot of things yet they didn’t give up. – 10th grade

This event inspired me to continue exploring animation. It also inspired me to persevere and keep trying new things because the things we do will bring us unexpected opportunities. It made me think that maybe an internship at an animation studio in the future would be something I’d like to explore as well. – 12th grade

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