What do you look for in Animators?
One of the most common questions Pixar receives nowadays is, “How can I become an Animator at Pixar?”. There’s really no good answer that’s both short and useful, so we’ve put together some information to hopefully provide guidance for people who dream of being involved in Pixar's animation process. Pixar places the technology of computer graphics firmly at the service of the art of animation, not the other way around. This priority is expressed clearly in Pixar’s production process, in which the Animators specialize in animation, with virtually all technical concerns handled by Technical Directors.
The implication of this structure and this value system is what Pixar looks for first and foremost in Animators—
we want you to be able to bring the character to life, independent of medium. Computer-graphic technical prowess
is of course important, but the emphasis is not as strong within the Animation Department.
The reality is that computer graphic animators have no advantage over pen-and-ink animators, clay
animators, stop-motion animators, etc. So while it’s preferable for someone to have 3D knowledge, it’s
not paramount. In fact, three-quarters of the Animators on Toy Story were new to computers when hired.
A common question is, “What software should I learn?” The answer is implied by the above: “Software
doesn’t matter; learning to animate matters.” Still, you might expect that learning the software that Pixar
uses would give you a leg up. However, even this isn’t true: Pixar uses its own proprietary software. Your
knowledge of basic animation fundamentals is the foundation for your computer training,
not the other way around.
What are the qualities of a good Animator?
A Pixar Animator should be able to bring life to any object or character, showing the character’s internal
thoughts and feelings through its physical external motion. To do this, the Animator must be a good actor.
His or her work should communicate clearly, containing simple ideas with which an audience can empathize.
The animation should be entertaining to watch, employing good timing and relying on individualized, believable
characters to put forth humor and emotion. The Animator also needs an understanding of physical motion.
Knowledge of weight, balance, overlap, texture, and form should be evident in the work. In fact, in evaluating a
prospective Animator, Pixar relies very heavily on the demo reel presented by the candidate.
You could say that three things are important in pitching yourself to Pixar: the reel, the reel, and the reel.
Other factors will of course come into play, including collaborative spirit, timeliness, and compatibility with Pixar
itself, but these issues never even come up unless the reel passes muster. Of course, the more a reel shows the
qualities discussed here, the better. We want to see your ability to demonstrate a strong sense of acting, more
so than movement. Reels that show fast-moving spaceships, etc., are difficult to judge because we're not able to
get a sense of someone’s ability to understand physics and the fundamentals of animation. We would much rather
see a simple story line with strong acting.
We’re interested in your animation ability—not your ability to model,shade, and light. Acting is the
key element and then we review reels to get a sense of weight, timing, staging, physics, etc. People frequently ask if they
should include a flatwork portfolio demonstrating their life drawing skills. While this is nice, it doesn’t give us a
sense of your ability to animate a character and bring something to life.