Art directors share a look inside Pixar

Landry Allred

Pixar lovers lined up outside the room hours before the event to hear art directors from Pixar Animation Studios spill secrets about the inner workings of animation.

Pixar art designers Joshua Holtsclaw, Paul Abadilla and Deanna Marsigliese gathered in the Austin Convention Center on March 10 to discuss the processes behind animation, including character, set and graphic design.

The three panel members kicked off the session by introducing themselves, highlighting their experiences and how they each ended up at Pixar. Through anecdotes and childhood drawings, the trio emphasized they had been interested in art since youth.

For set designer Paul Abadilla, he became interested in set design from watching Disney animation classics as a child.

“It was the backgrounds that really resonated for me,” Abadilla said. “I saw them as pieces of art.”

The discussion then moved on to character design. Character designer Deanna Marsigliese explained how her idea of character design evolved from something to just dazzle the audience to something with deeper meaning. It wasn’t until she began freelancing for Pixar when she said she realized the key was to exploratively understand characters through intuition, authenticity and meaning.

Marsigliese said she tries to embed real-life experiences into her characters.

“I love being out in the world, and I genuinely love people,” Marsigliese said. “This makes me a good character designer (because) it’s important to seek authentic inspiration through others and (make) that connection.”

The conversation shifted from character to set design. Abadilla explained that the point of set design is to make the environment feel more believable.

“Computer makes everything perfect,” Abadilla said. “So it’s our job as artists that the story gets behind the wear and tear of things.”

After displaying the fight scene between Elastigirl and the Screenslaver from “Incredibles 2,” Abadilla said he tried to emphasize the idea of Elastigirl feeling like she’s being watched by including two windows resembling eyes in the scene.

The conversation finally landed on discussing graphic design in film, which illustrator and designer Joshua Holtsclaw led. Despite the importance of graphic design, Holtsclaw said people often don’t think about it.

“Some of the most important and iconic information in Pixar films are communicated through graphics,” Holtsclaw said.

From posters, food packaging and car decals to costume logos pictured in the film, Holtsclaw said the graphics must fit in with the rest of the movie.

“A big part of our job is making sure they belong in the world of the film,” Holtsclaw said. “Even though they’re all different, they’re connected.”

Even something as simple as the Disney castle design in the end credits of “Incredibles 2” needed to fit the film’s world, Holtsclaw said.

Overall, the discussion looked into the work behind Pixar, exposing the complexities that come with it. In each explanation, the trio all came to the same conclusion: real life often shapes film.