EngineerGirl @ Pixar Animation Studios

#EngineerGirlShow highlights amazing women in engineering to inspire the next generation. This series was produced by George Retelas with his digital art students at SAE Institute

Watch an interview with Danielle Feinberg, Director of Photography at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California.

Interview Transcript

Hi, so I’m Shannon, I’m in eighth grade. What do you do here?

I am a director of photography for lighting at Pixar Animation Studios, which means I direct the lighting for our films.

What types of projects have you worked on here at Pixar?

My first movie was A Bug’s Life, and I got to do just the tiniest bit of lighting on that film, and I fell in love with being in the finishing department that creates the final image from all this hard work everyone’s done, and then you put the lights in and it comes to life. And I got to work on Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. On Monsters, Inc. I got to build some of the background characters and some of the stuff that was in the factory, and all kinds of things like that. That was really fun. Then I did lighting on that one, too.

How do you, like, do the lighting?

When we’re making the movies, we set up this, we build a whole world inside the computers. And then, when we’re, say we had a scene at sunset, I actually have an option in my software that says “add new light” and I add a new light, and I have an icon of the light in that world, and I would position it maybe at the horizon and color it orange and have purple-ish blue light coming down from the sky. It’s sort of this balancing act between stylizing things and storytelling and setting the mood, but keeping it so it’s believable so the audience is just immersed in the world.

Do you have any stories from earlier in your life that helped you decide that you wanted to do engineering?

Yeah, I think when I was in eighth grade I took this shop class that was called power mechanics all about, you take apart a broken lawnmower and you put it back together with the idea that at the end, the lawnmower works. So I took that class but I was the only girl in the class, but I loved that class. And so at the end of the semester you finish, in theory, you’ve finished your lawnmower. I think some of the guys in the class had just sort of piled some things together and put some screws in and rolled it out. So we roll our lawnmowers out at the end of the semester and it just so happens that I’m sort of at the end of the line and the teacher is filling up the lawnmowers with gas, because they were gas lawnmowers. And I’m just watching everybody pulling on the cords and nothing’s happening. And then he got to mine and filled it up and I pulled the cord and it came to life immediately. And so, it was this thing were it was really fun and I had success, and I was the only girl in the class and I had succeeded where others hadn't. It just sort of reinforced my love of putting things together and figuring out how pieces work together.

Was there any other careers that you thought that you would have other than engineering?

When I was maybe eight years old, someone, some adult asked me what I wanted to do for a living and I said “I want to me an artist.” And the adult said, “no, you don’t want to be that, you can’t make any money doing that.” So it was pretty exciting when later in life I don't, probably just a couple years ago, I thought I am an artist! I got to be an artist. I'm like an engineer and an artist, so that was a good moment.

And why do you think coding is so awesome to do?

If you know code, it opens up everything to you. Instead of you pick a profession and you're, you feel like they're sort of shutting things down, it's kind of opening up this whole world.

Are there any Pixar characters that are like role models for you?

Merida is a great one just because I love her spirit and how she sort of attacks things, and her faith in herself. And I also love WALL-E because WALL-E finds beauty in these crazy things and he has such a big heart that I love him, too. So I think those two characters are really two of my favorites.

What advice would you give to the girl wanting to pursue a career in engineering?

So you have to have a natural curiosity and take lots of classes. Make sure it's the stuff that interests you whenever you can. So I was doing computer science but I thought animation was really cool, so I took an animation class through the art department, which clearly worked out great, now I'm working at Pixar and I'm using my engineering and my art. But also when you find that thing you're passionate about, it sort of makes any other challenges surpassable. You can fight through them because you found the thing that you love. So I think that that's really the important thing is finding the things that you love.

You're actually one of my role models. Can I please have a hug?

You can absolutely have a hug!