An interview with shading art director from pixar

By Jesse Cutrell

Recently, a Shading Art Director from Pixar, Bryn Imagire visited CCAD. She came to give a one-hour presentation about the art and story of Pixar’s upcoming film, The Good Dinosaur. During the days approaching the visit, CCAD students were excited and talking all about the event. The auditorium where she spoke was packed while she was there. After it was over, I was able to sit down with Imagire and have an interview about her work. It was really cool to sit down with such an established artist in the industry and talk to her. Imagire was very nice and excited to be interviewed. I asked her questions specifically about her career, but also about the industry in general. Here’s what Imagire had to say.

What is a Shading Art Director for those who might not know?

I have to design the colors and textures for the characters, sets, and objects. So, I see both sides of everything. I see characters and sets. At Pixar, those two things are separate, but I get to see both. So it’s kind of nice because I can have an overall image in my mind of what the movie is going to look like. It helps me know how to make the characters stand out from the background. It’s really nice to see both all the way through production.

What was your life like after college? How did you go from a college graduate to working for Pixar?

When I graduated from Art Center, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I got my BFA in Illustration and then I moved back to Sacramento. Then, I moved to the bay area near San Francisco because it was bigger and it seemed like there would be more work. I started freelancing and doing advertising illustration and graphic design illustration and some editorial illustration. I was doing a lot of illustration work for this company, “The Nature Company”. It’s not in business anymore, but they had a lot of T-shirts and puzzles, and it was all nature-themed. I was drawing a lot of bugs, worms, trees, and leaves. Then, I heard Pixar was making a bug movie and I just thought “I could do that” [Laughs]

I applied, and I didn’t get anything right away. But, I was very persistent, I kept calling back and calling back and after about four months, I got an interview. At the time, Pixar was only about 100 people. Now it’s about 1500 and I’ve gotten to watch it grow and grow with it.

How did you come to transition from a digital painter, to a Shading Art Director?

I was a digital painter on A Bug’s Life, then was a digital painter on Monsters inc. then Toy Story 2 became very busy because it was originally a straight-to-video, but then they decided to make it a feature release. So, some us had to transition from Monsters to Toy Story 2 and that’s when I got promoted because they didn’t have a Shading Art Director for it at the time.

What part of being a Shading Art Director is most challenging?

I guess it would be collaboration in the beginning. I’ve done it so much now that I love everything about it. I was so used to working by myself as a freelance illustrator and managed everything about my own business, but when I came to Pixar, I became part of a group in the art department and as the film as a whole. I learned to collaborate and how important it is to be part of a group. We’re all making one thing as opposed to me making one thing on my own. I think that was hardest thing in the beginning to come out of that discipline and to become part of a larger company. But now, I feel like that’s the part that I really love and that it’s become much easier for me. I’ve learned new communication skills and how to delegate. I wouldn’t say I’m a pro at it, but it’s much easier than it was. [Laughs]

How much time would you say goes into texturing a single character?

From the beginning, until the end… A long time and I might guess and say… A year. But it’s different on different characters because dinosaurs are different than humans, and different than cars. It kinda depends on the character, but as a ballpark guess, I would say a year. I’m probably way off. [Laughs]

It might even be more, maybe a year and a half. [Laughs]

How does making a clay model work with making digital models?

That’s a really normal process for us at Pixar. [The Design] goes from very flat, 2D drawings. It’s very loose and conceptual. Then, it goes to more refined drawings and it gets more and more refined until it’s the final drawing that we go with. But, the step between the 2D drawing and the 3D computer model, there is always a clay sculpt done. It’s just those are done for main characters almost never done for really secondary characters just because there isn’t a lot of budget to spend a lot of time on those.

Is there any advice you’d give students currently pursuing art?

Work really hard. Get used to getting critiqued and be flexible without being too precious with your work. In the real world, you have to put your work up every day for people to judge it and a lot of times, you have to do another idea the next day. So, being resilient and getting a thick skin is good and gets you prepared for the real world. The thing I loved about art school was just being exposed to different artists, movies, styles, documentary, and just having time to see it. Try to look at all sorts of architecture and design, and art history, and just try to absorb as much knowledge as you can while you’re there.

It was such a pleasure to talk with Bryn Imagire and an amazing opportunity as well. The Good Dinosaur comes out November 25th, 2015, and I can’t wait to see it.

Jesse Cutrell is a Junior Animation major at CCAD who enjoys making video games, playing other people’s games, and sleeping in.