Interview : Gini Santos


Pixar animator for “Ratatouille”

Working at Pixar animation studios must be one of the coolest jobs on the planet, but surely it’s more than just having metings and sitting at computers. Don’t we all do that? Drew Turney asks Pixar animator Gini Santos more…

Tell me about your background

I’d always wanted to do art but my father was a banker and he always wanted me to do commerce. We had to meet half way so I did advertising. But I’ve always been on the creative side of advertising – I’m actually an illustrator. I worked on the creative side of advertising for about five years and after that I wanted something a little more so I decided to go back to school. I did my masters in fine arts at the school of visual arts in New York and they offered a major in computer art.

That was about the time desktop publishing was going to explode so I took it, and one of the areas you could get into was computer animation. We were supposed to make an animated student film using the software and that was the reel I sent to Pixar about the time Toy Story had just come out. They hired me the next year.

The software was very different. We were constantly trying to improve it to make things easier but it’s this weird vicious cycle where when you improve something it’s a platform that allows you to see more into what you can do, so you’re constantly raising the bar on yourself.

Describe your job on the film as animator?

The director assigns us a shot and we do whatever research we need for the shot and the characters. We always start in the morning with dailies when the animators and director get together in the screening room. We show the director where we’re at and he gives us notes – that communication is very important. In the afternoon we have a walk through when the director goes to each animator’s office and goes step by step through each shot.

There are a lot of digital animation studios encroaching on Pixar’s territory now and a lot more competition around, why is it still the best studio around?

They have very grounded principles of story and character. Anything else you do in the computer comes second to that. The technology really does help us do whatever we can imagine but the artistic integrity is what drives a lot of stuff – not the computers.

Some critics so far have praised film’s subtlety. Is that something you were conscious of building into the animation style?

Definitely. What tends to happen is because you can move something you’ll animate it, and part of really good acting is to do a lot with less. So subtlety is something that’s really hard to achieve, especially when you’re animating.

When you’re a young animator you try to put a lot of stuff into your animation, and we’ve really tried to hone our acting but putting a lot more subtleties into the characters so they’re more believable/

Does it involve a lot of role playing?

Yes. It’s part of our research – we videotape ourselves acting out the script just to be aware of what our bodies are doing when we gesture or where we put our weight when we move around.

We research characters in other films that remind us of the character we’re about to animate. It adds to any idea we may have about personal mannerisms or characteristic tics so it becomes distinct to that character and you believe what that character’s thinking.

Does it get boring waiting for computers to render frames and the other technical aspects?

Some of the technical aspects can get a little mundane and sometimes I still struggle with it because I’m not a technical person. I learned as much as I can to work in this medium and sometimes it frustrates me because I can get lost in the technical side of it and I forget to get back to the basics of what I’m doing.