Over the summer we had two fantastic animators, Nicole Ridgwell and Spectra Sani, get the Pixar animation internship and we got them to drop by Tea Time on November 14th to share their experiences and any tips on how others can structure their reels to match what Pixar would be looking for. Getting into Pixar means they're amazing right? Well just what did they do to be amazing? It's definitely not just sitting in front of a computer plowing through animation day in and day out all alone. Nicole and Spectra recommended going to the labs to be able to socialize with others and be inspired by talented friends. Getting into the Pixar classes is great. If you feel that you're not getting the education that you need, try taking a class over at the Animation Collaborative. Take some drawing classes or workshops along with acting and story classes to get those creative juices flowing. Also, make sure to observe life and go to the movies to find inspiration.
Thinking that you're all ready to apply, let's take a look at your reel. Make sure you have your best shots and it's fine if your reel is simply short and simple as 2 shots can be enough to do it. Create believable characters and only add sound if it adds to the shot. You don't need to have fancy final rendered shots and they can even be work in progress with blocking. Just make sure that your idea is clear and your animation is clean. Use a simple title card to introduce yourself and tailor your reel for the company as a company like Pixar probably doesn't want to see something super gorey with zombies ripping of people's heads and having blood spurt everywhere. When animating your shots though, don't just make the shot for the purpose of applying to the studio; make it personal and relatable, emote yourself through the character, and people will respond to it.
Your reel showcases your work but it's your resume and cover letter that is your face. Make them short and simple as no one wants to or has time to read through a novel but make sure you present yourself as interesting and not weird. It's vital to have good spelling and grammar. Always. If you have references, make sure that they like you so that they will be a good reference and it's not reluctant or even worse, negative. Also make sure that they know they are going to be a reference; surprises are only good for parties and gifts!
You were chosen? Great, now you must be wondering what to expect other than probably having to wear silly outfits, such as a bright pink jumpsuit. Each intern will be assigned a personal mentor and the rest of the Pixar animation internship is a lot like the Pixar classes where you will be doing assignments animating a Lifesaver, the Luxo Lamp, posing, walkcycles, pantomime, and 3 dialogues. Through these assignments you'll learn how to have a clean workflow, create appealing poses, owning confident ideas, making clear choices, and have clear blocking.
A quick note on pantomime, from Andrew Gordon, as visual storytelling is so important and greater than words. Before starting make sure you think about the objective of the characters and the progression of the shot, where the entertainment is, being true to the character, to push poses, and the analyze emotional beats. Got all that? Now when you're actually animating your shot make sure to have spark, solid poses and timing, clear reactions and staging, exaggeration, contrast, situational comedy, a gear change, specificity (avoid cliches), have a payoff at the end, a progression of reactions, and offset the action so things don't happen all at once.
Even if you weren't chosen, don't be discouraged and remember to keep in touch. Feel free to keep in touch every few months and at the end of projects to showcase your continual interest and growth, but don't be annoying. Social media is great but make sure you don't have a weird picture and before pressing that enter key read back on what you're saying and think if you need to censor yourself.
Pixar is great but it shouldn't be your only goal. There are tons of awesome opportunities out there so go and explore the world. Don't let your ego limit your choices. Don't get discouraged. Don't compare yourself to others. Be awesome, be yourself, and own it!