Pixar Art Director Gives USF Glimpse Into Movie Magic

Pixar is an Academy Award winning animation company that has produced eleven films since 2006, when they joined forces with Disney. “Toy Story” 1, 2, and 3, “Finding Nemo,” and “The Incredibles” are all products of Pixar studios located in Emeryville, California.

Art director Tia Kratter spoke at USF as part of the Center for the Pacific Rim series in Fromm Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Dr. Patrick Lloyd Hatcher, the moderator, pointed out the social significance of Pixar movies: “Pixar has created Nemo swimming over Australia’s Great Barrier reef, a coral empire that is threatened by a warming Pacific, and Wall-E who compacts waste on a toxic earth where no humans can live as they hover above in space ships. They are very intellectual.”

Kratter has been working with Pixar/Disney for almost eighteen years as an art director. Her job is to figure out the colors and textures for the movies. She worked with Disney on such films as “Beauty and the Beast,” but became the fiftieth employee at Pixar when she switched. Now there are over twelve hundred employees. At USF, she spoke to the Center about the inside workings of Pixar: what lies inside the walls of the animation studio, how the team goes about making a film, and the jobs that are available. “Pixar has taken Japanese anime and has made it accessible to kids and adults,” Kratter said.

A peek inside the famous Pixar animation studio across the bay is rare because it is shut off to visitors, but Kratter showed a slide-show that gave proof to Pixar’s motto: “Work hard, but play hard too,” Kratter said. Inside the Pixar fortress lies a game room, a special wood fire pizza restaurant, a cereal room, eight separate bars, and even a love lounge.

John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar, has an office that is filled with Disney and Pixar toys. Also, animators either get an office or a shed they can decorate any way they want. There is even a room of mirrors where the animators can see themselves doing actions that they can then place in their animations.

As for their process, Kratter says for Pixar, “The story is the king. It takes three to six years to make a film and around 2,000 drawings. It takes about twenty-four drawings to make one second of film. Every film I go through is like college. It takes four years and I study everything about the topic.” Indeed, Kratter has to scrutinize every little detail in order to get the colors to fit with the story. She described how in “Monsters Inc.” she had to find a realistic texture that would make Sully appear furry and blue.

Kratter enjoys the process but said there are two sides to it. One side of the studio houses the creative team and the other side houses the scientists and computer savvy technicians. Kratter admits she is definitely not one of the computer savvy employees.

“I parallel the animators. We have this great relationship because we can’t tell each other what to do.” The question came up whether if new technology has quickened the creative process, but Kratter said, “You would think the computer would save us time and money, but it’s the same thing. It still takes around four years to complete a movie.”
With all the success of Pixar, a lot of people want to contribute their talent. Kratter even admits it’s tough, but there are a lot of different jobs available for different talents. She said, “You have nothing to lose!”

All in all, Pixar has made their mark so far in the entertainment industry having won twenty-four Academy Awards, six Golden Globes, and three Grammys. Unlike other entertainment companies, Pixar does not compete in the same ways. “We want to sell our stories, not the actors,” Kratter said.

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