Virtual Women in STEM Panel with Pixar

On December 12, 2022, IGNITE Students from eight schools throughout California and Washington state joined a Virtual IGNITE Panel with Pixar Animation Studios!

IGNITE Facilitator Emily Davis introduced Tech Host Camryn Gray, who shared that Pixar has a long history in animation, starting with their first film, Toy Story, and continuing through more recent films, including Luca, Turning Red, and Lightyear.

Pixar regularly talks about STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), and every team member is considered a filmmaker.

Holly Lloyd, Technical Director, Win or Lose (Streaming Fall 2023), shared about the film pipeline, including that each film takes 4-6 years to complete! While audience members may hear most about animation, there are many more roles involved. These roles include coming up with ideas for stories, managing teams of hundreds of people working on films, voice recording, cinematography, creating sets and props, and specializations within animation, working on crowds, simulation of hair and cloth, lighting, and more. There are also team members building the tools that everyone else uses! 

The team then shared a behind-the-scenes reel from a Pixar feature film demonstrating how different layers of animation are added to a scene, from rendering to effects and final lighting. A mix of technical and creative elements is needed to bring every film’s frame to life!

Grace Kumagai, Software Engineer, Tools Engineering, PixWIT (Pixar Women in Technology) Co-Lead, graduated from the University of Toronto in 2018. Grace knew she liked math and science in high school and thought majoring in engineering would be a good place to start. At first, she didn’t like computer science because she felt like her classmates were better from the start, but she realized this was just because they had more experience. She learned to stop comparing herself to others. She loved computer graphics, working in various organizations, including Ubisoft, and now works on backgrounds like landscapes and props.

Kenz Cherban, Senior UI Human Factors Engineer, started working at Pixar this past summer. She enjoyed pottery, sewing, and design in middle and high school. She studied jewelry and graphic design and later returned to school to study physical computing, incorporating textiles and tactile creativity into computers. She still doesn’t know what she wants to do. She previously worked on UX/UI at Microsoft and now works on UX design at Pixar.

Deepanshi Sharma, Software Engineer, Tools Engineering, went to UT Austin and majored in computer engineering, after which she came directly to work at Pixar. She wanted to study animation but couldn’t let go of coding, math, and physics, and ventured into space and satellite technology to create satellite animation. Now she works on Pixar’s animation software, Presto, which allows other animators to manipulate the animated puppets inside their films.

Questions asked to the Panelists:

What is the biggest challenge you have faced while working in STEAM?

It is a very male-dominated field. Deepanshi was often the only one in her classes who looked like her. She realized that you shouldn’t ever let anyone tell you that you are smart or not smart – everyone’s brain works differently. Believing in herself was all she needed to excel, and she brought a unique and important perspective to her team.

Do you need to learn math?

Kenz shared that UI does not require a lot of math! Holly uses middle school and high school math in her role. Engineering requires more math, but many engineers at Pixar can help team members learn specific math as needed.

Are there alternate paths to college?

Kenz suggests looking at the skills required for the job you want and developing those. It’s all about building skills, and there are many ways to learn skills outside of the traditional college path. Deepanshi suggests being open to new things and always learning. Holly knows an entirely self-taught animator who did not attend college and recommends using the internet to develop skills!

What are the biggest roadblocks that come up in your work? 

For Kenz, many roadblocks are technical, requiring workarounds, including for issues for which there isn’t yet a technical solution. Grace shared that sometimes the team has dreams that can’t be done easily and has to create the technology to achieve them! Deepanshi shared that there is a tradeoff between how many cool things the team can do and how much time they may take. 

Does Pixar do claymation?

Pixar does not do claymation–yet!–but does do some traditional 2D animation.

What’s the hardest thing to animate?

Four-legged animals are the hardest to animate!

How long does it take to create a Pixar movie, and what movies have you worked on personally?

It takes anywhere from 4-6 years, but the team is trying to work on shortening that timeline! Grace has worked on Lightyear. Deepanshi worked on Turning Red and will be in the credits for the next movie, Elemental. Kenz doesn’t have any credits yet, but they will be coming soon. Emily worked on many short films and came into Pixar when Up was wrapping. Holly has worked on every Pixar film except Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Turning Red, and Lightyear.

Was there any particularly hard movie to create?

The Good Dinosaur was particularly difficult, as much changed in production, including the movie’s focus. Similar challenges occurred with Brave, and it also included new animation software.

Lightning round of advice:

  • Grace: I wish I were more patient! I was doing everything at 100 miles per hour, but coding isn’t something you learn overnight!
  • Kenz: There is not one way to learn–you have to find the way that works for you. It’s ok if someone doesn’t understand something; it just might not be for them.
  • Deepanshi: Nobody knows what they’re doing, no matter how cool or accomplished they seem. We’re all just figuring it out, and that’s fine.
  • Holly: Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. You don’t have to know everything, and there are a lot of people who can help you.

Thank you to all the volunteers who made this event possible! Thank you to Holly Lloyd for recruiting volunteers, organizing the event on the Pixar end, and speaking on the panel, to Facilitator Emily Davis for moderating the panel, Tech Host Camryn Gray for running the meeting seamlessly, and Panelists Grace Kumagai, Kenz Cherban, and Deepanshi Sharma for sharing their personal and professional experiences as Panelists.

After attending this event:


of students are interested in STEM

Take STEM Class


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

Ask Teacher about Additional STEM Activities


of students feel more confident in pursuing STEM


of students gained perspective and feel more hopeful about the future

Here’s what the students thought of the evenhow

“I really loved seeing the steps of animation. Now I realize how complicated it is to animate a movie. I definitely think I could pursue a job in STEAM, this was really inspiring!” – 8th grade

I really liked learning all the things STEM is involved with. It was very interesting and inspiring to me.” – 7th grade

It was really cool to hear about what the panelists do at Pixar!” – 8th grade

“I really liked how the panelists talked to us about what they do within STEM.” – 7th grade

I enjoyed learning so much about animation, like that animation isn’t all drawing. I wasn’t interested in animation before this event because I can’t draw, but I’m good at math so it might be a path I can consider!” – 12th grade

“Today’s event made me realize the hard work that goes into production careers. I also learned that having women employees greatly impacts the work environment. My big takeaways were to keep working hard for a good future and commitment helps an end goal.” – 11th grade

“This event made me realize I want to join STEM because I love movies.” – 7th grade

It was interesting to hear about how many jobs other than animators there are at Pixar.” – 12th grade

I was inspired by the art involved!” – 8th grade

“Today’s event made me more inspired to take initiative on my independence in career options. I also feel inspired to follow my dream of working at Pixar. I am taking away that there are so many more opportunities than just animation at the studio.” – 11th grade

I really liked all of the job details and the Q&A. This was a really fun experience and I hope we do this again!” – 7th grade

“This event inspired me to keep my interest in arts, science, and technology. Seeing these women let me know I could work for a big company like Pixar, too.” – 7th grade

Today gave me more confidence.” – 8th grade

“The panelists were very nice and I appreciated how they talked about their experiences. This even inspired me to not give up, even if I feel unmotivated.” – 8th grade

“I really liked the stories from such diverse people. Today reminded me that women can do anything!” – 7th grade

“This event inspired me because of the many opportunities and options there are to find a fulfilling career.” – 8th grade

Today made me want to be an animator!” – 8th grade

I feel much more informed and more connected to the field I’d like to pursue in STEM. Seeing people that look like me working at Pixar is heartening and has helped me feel more capable of working there. There are many interconnected teams that work together in Pixar and many couldn’t do their jobs without each other.” – 12th grade

“Everything that everyone has shared today made me think that I should definitely try animating. I find all the animations of Pixar to be really well made and super cool.” – 7th grade

Today made me feel more comfortable with the idea of pursuing STEAM. I am interested in the Technical Director position and am going to further research into Pixar jobs.” – 7th grade

“Today’s event inspired me to follow my dreams and goals. I am also more interested in this creative field. I really like how the speakers talked about animation and films they are working on.” – 12th grade

“It inspired me to learn about the other jobs that I did not know before in the animation industry and in the Pixar Studio. I’d like to learn more about those jobs, what they do in the progress of making Animation in the future, and find the fittest career for myself. I am thankful for bringing all different panelists who have different type of jobs, but still work on the same movie and in the same studio!” – 11th grade

I absolutely loved learning about the career opportunities that Pixar offers and the hardships and opportunities’ that the speakers shared with us. As a junior in highschool who is still looking for career ideas, learning about this was really cool the insight on Pixar productions.” – 11th grade

This event encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams for the future. The Technical Director position sounded like an enjoyable and comforting job for me.” – 7th grade

Today’s event inspired me to go into software.” – 8th grade

“This event showed me that there are more opportunities than I originally thought. It’s made me think about what I might want to do in the future. It was fun learning how the Incredibles movies were during the process of being made compared to the Incredibles finished product.” – 8th grade

Today reminded me how much I love Pixar!” – 7th grade

This event gave me the opportunity to see how little women are represented and how we can change that. My big takeaways were that there are many ways that we can help and many ways that we can enter the STEM field.” – 12th grade

Today showed me that there is help for women. Even though it may be hard, there is a chance to do better. I learned that you can be innovative with tons of resources and co-workers. Pixar has a large selection of jobs and opportunities for young girls my age.” – 11th grade

I feel more welcome in STEM after today. I also feel that I have more help to get where I would like to be career wise than before. This event taught me that women are able to be in STEM and you don’t have to have a lot of knowledge in every subject to be in STEM.” – 10th grade

“A takeaway from today was to never give up on your dreams and study hard.” – 6th grade