The Process of a Pixar Artist

Emily Moser
    Staff Writer

It seems like everybody had a favorite Disney-Pixar movie growing
up. “Monster’s Inc.”, “Toy Story,” “Finding Nemo”: these heartfelt critically acclaimed films create genuine connections with their audiences. I often think of Pixar movies as part of my childhood; each new production an excuse to act like a kid again. Behind these fantastic movies are the brilliant minds of artists and designers.

        UNCG was lucky to hear from one of those artists on Tuesday Feb. 28. Dan Holland, an art director from Pixar, came to campus to meet students and faculty, answer questions, and give a presentation on his creative process.

        Holland’s main point was giving insight on “personal inspiration for creative problem solving in a collaborative environment.” To achieve this, he first reviewed his principles of successful art making. During his explanation, Holland used examples from his contributions
to the films “WALL-E,” “Cars 2” and “Inside Out.”

        The first “principle of successful art making” discussed was passion. Without passion, Holland explained, the artistic process will be draining and pointless. Holland explained that it is important to draw and create what we know. Further, we all know different things, and it is that difference that makes things interesting. He stressed the imperativeness of having various inspirations that are personally exciting and enticing. These are hobbies and things that we love, know well and want to know more about.

        For Holland, his passions include trains, children’s books illustrations and toys. To make his work interesting, Holland uses these objects in his work. He shared sketched of toys he designed for “Toy Story 3,” possible trains for “Cars 2,” mechanic robots from “WALL-E” and the fascinating variations of the “train of thought” in “Inside Out.

        The second principle, Holland said, is to trust your instincts. During the creative process, artists are left to make extremely intuitive decisions. Whether deciding how to approach a subject or which composition looks stronger, these decisions are often solely based on instinct. Holland showed drawings by children, where he believes this characteristic is demonstrated perfectly.
Trusting instincts allows for gorgeous, genuine artwork, Holland said, that feels as though the viewer has a window into the artist seeing the world for the first time.

        Holland showed examples of times he trusted his instincts during the production of aspects from “Inside Out.” The world in the film is an entirely new one; nothing like that already exists. Therefore, it was incredibly difficult to start creating this world with no true direction of point of inspiration. So, Holland trusted his instincts and began designing. Drawing from shapes and patterns within the human brain, he shared process sketches and ideas of an imaginary place. His contributions can be seen in the designs featured in the film.

        The third principle is honesty. Strong artwork is created by an artist who shows hidden and subtle truths; further, these truths are found through research and examination.
Usually done in a sketchbook, this visual and informative research will allow for the artist to understand an idea or subject fully and honestly. This honesty requires hard work, and yet, it is extremely important to understand and practice.

        The final principle Holland explained is concept. What concept is, he said, is not always about the finished drawing; rather, the cleverness, emotion and feeling communicated. Like a coin, Holland said, the human mind has two sides: how we see the world, and technique. He expressed that while technique is extremely important; concept and idea are just as so. Artists should create work that is entertaining and witty, and not get distracted by having perfect proportion or scale.

        So, with these
principles, Holland then explained how to find “personal inspiration for creative problem solving in a
collaborative environment,” aka “using stuff you like to make cool art with
other people.” Collaborative work is challenging but important, he said,
neighboring artists hold valuable different perspectives and ideas.  

        An inspiring and informative presentation, Holland
shared a final thought in leaving. He encouraged audience members to take
advantage of our time as students; to experiment, push ourselves and learn.

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