Maybe you already know a little about me, and that’s what brought you here. But maybe you don’t. So I figured it might make sense to tell a little bit of my story. So here goes.
I started on my official creative journey at Cal Arts because it seemed like a natural fit. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil, and I always knew that I wanted to do something that would allow me to draw. I considered career paths like fashion design and commercial art, but animation captured my attention—and my imagination. After all, there had to be somebody drawing all of those characters – probably a lot of people – so why couldn’t I be one of them?
I graduated from Cal Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. With the help of a student film I made while in school entitled A Birthday, I landed a job at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios—talk about a dream come true! The timing couldn’t have been better; I started at Disney as the big reemergence of animation began to unfold. I cut my teeth on projects like Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Later in my Disney career, I worked as head of story on The Lion King, which was an amazing journey. Looking back, I realize that I grew up in the industry at Disney, and those experiences paved the way for my future career.
Of course, as anyone involved in any career path knows, transition is inevitable. You’re consumed with a desire to push yourself, to try something new, and to accept challenges that are as exhilarating as they are frightening. After nearly eight years at Disney, I left to help launch a new animation studio: DreamWorks Animation Studios.
While at DreamWorks, I expanded my experience and also had the chance to work in a different environment. DreamWorks has always tried to do something different than Disney—after searching for its own voice, it’s become an edgier studio that takes a more irreverent approach to storytelling in animation, yet the films still have heart. The highlight of my DreamWorks experience was undoubtedly the opportunity to direct the 1998 film The Prince of Egypt. I became the first woman to direct an animated feature film for a major Hollywood studio. It’s not something that I consciously strove for, I just wanted and want to tell great stories in whatever capacity I can. I actually find the distinction embarrassing most of the time. Titles and accolades aren’t as important to me as what my work might mean to young women (and men) who are interested in the animation industry—I hope I can serve as an example to them and show them that limitless possibilities await.
In 2003, I joined Pixar Animation Studios as a senior story artist at the urging of the late, great Joe Ranft, a dear friend of mine, not to mention one of the most brilliant story artists I’ve ever had the honor of working with. I worked on Cars, an experience that helped me become more comfortable with the studio and its processes—enough so that I soon stepped up as director to create the upcoming feature film, Brave, which features Pixar’s first-ever female protagonist. The film was inspired by my relationship with my daughter. Even though we frequently clash and are both control freaks, my love for her is fierce and unwavering—and I channeled those feelings into a story that gives contemporary working moms, their daughters and their families something to relate to in a fairy tale/folk tale setting–in Scotland, no less! There’s no doubt that Brave is an atypical princess story (no prince!), but it also allows viewers to immerse themselves in a magical world (à la the old Grimm’s tales) that has as much wonder as it does a positive, empowering message…something moms won’t cringe at when their daughter asks to dress up like Princess Merida for Halloween!
I’m no longer on the film due to creative differences, but I have high hopes that it will still carry those values when it is released.
Although I am currently still working for Pixar, I have more time in which to pursue a number of exciting projects including writing a memoir, as well as writing and illustrating a children’s book. Art has been my lifelong passion, and storytelling through drawings and writing are deeply rooted within that. I feel lucky every day to have been given the chance to have a career in which I can express myself through my art. I’m in the midst of writing my own story, and as exciting as it is to relive the highlights of the past, I’m even more excited to see what the future holds.