Passion, hard work lead to BYU-Pixar dreams

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They’re movies students have grown up loving: “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles,” “Finding Nemo” and “Cars.” Since 1986, Pixar has paved the way for cinematic computer animation and captivated audiences around the globe. Being a part of the Pixar family has become a dream for many aspiring illustrators and animators — a dream that might just be in reach with the help of some BYU programs.

Forty BYU animation alumni work at Dreamworks and 15 at Pixar, according to the Daily Herald. Almost every year, at least one BYU animation student lands one of nine highly-coveted Pixar summer internships from a pool of 1,200 applicants.

Seth Holladay is a professor in the Computer Science Department at BYU. (Sadie Anderson)

Animation and computer science professor Seth Holladay was able to realize his dream of working for Pixar after the company hired him following an internship he took while pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at BYU.

When Holladay first came to BYU as an undergraduate student, there wasn’t an animation program established on campus, but he knew animation was what he wanted to do and found classes that would help him reach his goal. Shortly after, the animation program was organized and Holladay was one of the very first accepted into the major.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in animation, Holladay decided to stay at BYU and pursue an MFA. It was while studying in this program the opportunity to apply for a Pixar internship arose.

According to Holladay, Pixar sent recruiters to BYU to hire interns. Though hesitant at first, Holladay decided it was a great opportunity to prepare for future job applications.

“I thought about it and went, ‘well, I do need to put together my portfolio. When they tell me no, I won’t be sad,’” Holladay said. 

The “no” never came. Holladay received a phone interview a month later and was eventually hired as an intern in the rendering department. He spent the duration of his internship fixing poor pixelation and spotty pictures.

Pixar hired Holladay after his internship to work on film effects — different objects and parts of the environment that interact with the characters. Holladay worked on Pixar movies like “Up,” “Ratatouille” and “Wall-E.”

“I did spaghetti noodles in ‘Ratatouille’ and Eve’s blaster in ‘Wall-E,’” Holladay said.

Holladay said one of his favorite parts of working on the animation effects was problem-solving: finding a way to make an object in animation look and move the way it would in real life.

Holladay’s advice to anyone who aspires to work in animation or Pixar comes down to two things: passion and hard work. He said constantly working on challenging projects will help students get noticed in the industry.

Holladay uses programs such as Maya and Houdini to create objects that can seemingly interact with the real world. (Sadie Anderson)

Illustration student Karly Catto was inspired by Pixar movies to follow her passion for creating art and telling stories.

I love the challenge of trying to tell a character’s story in their design — how their face is shaped, what clothes they wear, how their hair is styled, whether or not they have any scars, how they walk — everything tells something about who they are and what they’ve been through and are going through,” Catto said. “It’s magical when you finally make a character whose design says exactly what you want it to.”

For Catto, creating characters is about observing the world. She advises aspiring artists to pay attention to the way people move and act in their day to day lives.

“Notice how everyone waits in line with a different attitude and posture, notice how people eat, how they interact with each other, how they sit when they are studying and what it says about who they are,” Catto said. “Notice the differences both subtle and obvious between every person and try to capture that in your sketchbook.”

Catto’s creative drawings and designs show her passion for character creation. Catto said she is eager to share her work with the world and is looking forward to opportunities to continue to follow her passion.

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