Virtual Panel with Pixar

On December 2, 2021, IGNITE Worldwide partnered with Pixar to host panelists from Pixar and students from eleven schools in California, Oregon, and Washington. The event kicked off with a fun poll asking the students what they are really good at. Answers ranged from weightlifting to drawing to ballroom dancing. The Pixar team shared a short video showing the progression of production stages in making Coco, including sketching and final lighting. 

Facilitator Emily Davis, Feature Film Department Manager, introduced the students to Pixar and STEM. Pixar Animation Studios released Toy Story, the world’s first computer animated feature film, in 1995. Emily explained that STEM careers are amazing opportunities for girls and are the fastest growing careers in the world. There are more STEM jobs than people to fill them, and companies want to hire more women and nonbinary people. Technical skills are useful in all industries such as art, fashion, and sports, and it’s fun to get paid to do what you love!

After this introduction, each panelist shared their personal story.

Shubha Jagannatha, Technical Director, works as an engineer partnering with artists to make the final movie through rendering. She started on her journey by using art and music to interact with the world and tell stories. She then focused on math and science, which changed her beliefs about herself and what she was capable of. She makes art that impacts the world.

Wendy Avalos, System Administrator and Project Coordinator, makes sure the computers at Pixar are in good health to create movies and get them out on time. During the COVID shelter in place, she sent computer equipment to employees and remote artists so they could continue to work. There are more than 1200 employees at Pixar to support.

Laísa Barros, Production Support Engineer, supports Pixar employees with equipment, especially computers. She interacts with people on a daily basis and develops algorithms for them. She fell in love with computer science as a way to combine passions such as art and design. She advises students to take advantage of clubs at school, as well as other free resources and opportunities.

The students then had a chance to ask the panelists questions. Here’s a sampling of those questions along with summaries of the panelists’ answers.

What’s a normal day working at Pixar like?

  • “Interacting with artists, software developers, helping them with their computers, checking logs to see what happened to their workstations both virtually and physically, and solving computer problems to get them up and working again.”
  • “As an SRG [Studio Resource Group] Lead, I get to bring fun, informative events to Pixar, such as Hispanic Heritage Month. Other clubs at Pixar that people join include photography and drawing.” 
  • “As a Technical Director, I’m in the middle of the spectrum from computer science to art/film/storytelling. We make a movie by first scoping it out and looking at the story to determine what technical issues we may run into such as how to create a character with curly hair or a beautiful forest. We determine what tools will be needed. We watch the new movie, find mistakes, and determine how to fix them with computer graphics technologies. It’s also great to get involved and interact with people in the community through the Women at Pixar group and LGBTQ, and PixWIT [Women in Technology].”

How did you prepare for getting an interview and job at Pixar?

  • “To prepare for my dream job, I wrote down questions I had, practiced my speech, and recited answers to questions I expected to be asked. I made sure my technology was working for the interview. It was a great experience.”
  • “The most important thing is confidence and feeling good about yourself—that you’re worthy and capable. Build your skillset in math and science. Preparation is what will help you feel less nervous. Keep telling yourself good things. See it as a challenge, and believe that whatever happens is for a reason. Whether you get it or not, it’s a good learning experience. For technical interviews, review your materials to jog your memory and refine your skills prior to your interview. Believe in yourself!”

How can I get started with my art and animation career?

  • “I used to draw in middle school but thought art wouldn’t help me to succeed. However, when I started at Pixar, I saw that wasn’t so. Be consistent in practicing your art, and look for programs that will support your passion as an artist. There are lots of careers in art that you may not know about. Art and computer science are very connected. It’s important to understand technology in today’s world as an artist.”
  • “It’s helpful if you can work with your current art teacher as a mentor. It’s important to understand the fundamentals of lighting and human form and anatomy. Or you can draw environments such as parks and buildings. Work on your portfolio by including different subjects.”

What was it like when you started working at home?

“It was madness at first, with only two weeks to prepare. It was also fun to work with so many departments to make sure they knew how to use the systems. We needed many hands on deck to make it work.”

How do you choose your artist for each movie? How does casting work for each movie?

“Each movie is scoped out, including how many people will be needed for each role. Slowly people are ramped on. As a Technical Director, I’m also casted. I let them know what skills I am interested in, what skills I want to gain, and then they can take those into account when casting for my role.”

How did you figure out what you wanted to do for a career? How did you get to where you are now? 

“It helped me to form a support system with friends, teachers, and other adults. I was encouraged by that support system to join college. I started at a junior college and then transferred to a university. I worked hard and took advantage of resources available through the college, such as the MESA [Math Engineering Science Art] community. It’s helpful to get a job on campus if you need financial support.”

How do you get an internship at Pixar?

Great question! Pixar has a robust internship program.

What degree do you need to be an artist?

  • “You can go to an art school and study visualization, animation, and storyboarding. However, you don’t need a degree since so much is available online. Learn about Pixar for free through Khan Academy. Watch people draw and animate on YouTube. Make use of free stuff online.”
  • “Go to informational events at different schools to see their curriculums and what they offer.”

Lightning Round! What final advice did panelists have for the students?

  • “Keep trying everything you can until you find what speaks to your heart. Take advantage of clubs and opportunities such as STEM.”
  • “Take advantage of teachers, resources, and programs you have at school to help you prepare for college. Be involved in programs such as coming to this panel.” 
  • “You have no idea what you’re really and truly capable of until you go out into the world and challenge yourself. Take those hard, scary looking courses. Keep pushing yourself, and don’t let anyone (even yourself) convince you that you’re not enough.”
  • “Continue learning and growing. Pixar offers Pixar University, which is available to all employees.”

We would like to thank Facilitator Emily Davis and Panelists Shubha Jagannatha, Wendy Avalos, and Laísa Barros for a wonderful and lively discussion, as well as behind-the-scenes volunteers at Pixar including Joyce Lacey, Yun Lien, Holly Lloyd, and Tech Hosts Stephanie Raymos and Anne Fu. We would also like to thank our IGNITE Volunteers, Blogger Lori Salmonsen and Jenna Marx, for supporting this IGNITE panel and helping to introduce girls and nonbinary students to STEM careers. 

After attending this event:

93%

of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class

76%

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

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities

77%

of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM

79%

of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the event:

Halfway through I started looking into internships and now I’m about to ask my mom if I can go to California for a summer internship. I’m also realizing that this is the first time I’ve been truly excited about a career in a long time.” – 11th grade

“It made me feel like it’s not out of reach to work at Pixar. I feel like I know more about the people behind the Pixar movies.” – 9th grade

“This event inspired me because it showed how women can be involved in STEM. I also learned about all the opportunities there are to work at Pixar.” – 11th grade

“Today’s event inspired me by showing me the large variety of different choices I could potentially get within Pixar. Background, sketching, etc—they all intrigued me and I heavily enjoyed the meeting.” – 9th grade

“In today’s event the way they shared personal challenges in their lives while growing up and them not giving up [was inspiring]. Also, how they all talk about STEM made me be more confident.” – 6th grade

“Today’s event was very inspirational because we now know that there are other people who put themselves out there to help us women follow our dreams. They also allow us to ask questions we have to get a better grasp of what we might get ourselves into.” – High School

“It was nice to hear about some of the struggles that they have overcome in their work. The speakers made the field feel more open and told us how we can overcome obstacles.”  – 9th grade

“I learned about jobs I never knew existed and learned ways to pursue jobs I want to do. I was inspired by the passion that I saw from the guests.” – 12th grade

“It inspired me to start looking into animation and/or computer technology careers again! Thank you for all of your parts in creating these amazing movies and thank you for taking time to answer our questions!” – 11th grade

“This event inspired me because it taught me more about STEM and helped me figure out what I want to be when I’m older.” – 6th grade

“I didn’t think about the technical aspects of animation much before now. Thank you for sharing with us.” – 12th grade

“I didn’t realize how many different jobs there were that came with animation. It inspired me to find a job that I personally like that involves animation, whether it be about technical stuff or physics and whatnot.” – 9th grade

“I appreciate everyone taking the time to talk to us about careers in STEM. I feel excited and hopeful.” – 9th grade

“Today’s event made me want to continue pursuing STEM and art career paths. It also made me want to learn about different parts of STEM careers.” – 8th grade

“Today’s event inspired me by giving me more information about things people do and their careers.” – 6th grade

“I felt more comfortable and I’m ready to learn more. I hope that I can do something like this again to learn more. I feel really inspired by their answers.” – 9th grade

“Today’s event showed me how and what I can do. I feel like I know more about Pixar than I did before.” – 6th grade

“I think it’s great to learn new careers and I think I would love to become one of them.” – 6th grade

“It helped me to have a wider variety of career options.” – 12th grade

“This inspires me to have a worthwhile future.” – 6th grade

“One of the speakers has a similar background to me.” – 10th grade

“I definitely want to know more about this career option and how it is similar to other jobs.” – 11th grade

I want to work harder because I know that I do have a chance at the point I am at.” – 10th grade

“When I see people at Pixar, I feel my hopes getting better and it inspires me to do my best on art and animation.” – 10th grade

“I am very excited to pursue a career in STEM. I will continue to practice art like I have been doing. Everyone was very friendly and well-spoken.” – 9th grade

“They really inspired me today.” – 6th grade

“I want to learn more about art and gain the skills to become a professional artist. I also want to apply for internships and online courses.” – 12th grade

“It was interesting to hear the professionals talk about their points of view of working at Pixar.” – 9th grade

“I feel that today is a good day and Pixar inspired me.” – 6th grade

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