Pixar @ CCA: Summer Animation Intensive Inspires Diverse Voices

CCA animation students outside on Oakland campus

For animation to be successful all components must come together -- character development, sketches and illustrations, sequence storyboarding -- but it’s the magic of storytelling that matters most.

This is a belief that both Pixar Animation Studios, creator of acclaimed animated feature and short films for over 25 years, and the Animation Program at California College of the Arts share.

This summer Pixar and CCA worked collaboratively to nurture authentic, diverse voices amongst animators of the future while focusing on the craft of storytelling.

Pixar @ CCA: Summer Story Intensive / New Voices in Animation, a three-week summer program hosted by CCA and generously supported by Pixar, involved 18 students (including six CCA Animation majors), all from different cultural, economic, artistic backgrounds, and California colleges.

“We were interested in gathering a dynamic group of students who are likely to contribute new perspectives in animation storytelling,” explained CCA Dean of Special Programs Nina Sadek.

Applicants went through a comprehensive review process that included submission of a portfolio and a written statement. Participants were selected for their potential to contribute to the creation of unique story ideas and their interest in further developing their drawing/storytelling skills.

The CCA students were selected through the Animation Program Junior Review process. Animation co-chair Rick Vertolli said they were chosen because of their “strong interest and talent in visual storytelling.”

“What a great opportunity the program offered for CCA students to work with students from outside of CCA and to have direct contact with the Pixar studio,” added Vertolli.

Benefits of Pixar Collaboration

Students were also given exclusive tours of Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters and The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, both located within miles of CCA.

Pixar provided the instructors, paid for all student art supplies, organized an evening lecture series (which was open to current CCA Animation students as well as Pixar summer interns), and even offered daily meals, allowing students to concentrate and immerse themselves in the class.  

Additionally, Pixar extended free housing to the non-CCA students from other colleges who otherwise would not have been able to attend.

The Oakland-based course was led by Jim Capobianco (nominated for a 2008 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Ratatouille) and assisted by Jo Rivers. It included all-day classes and evening lectures in Nahl Hall featuring Pixar guest speakers:

•    Catherine Hicks, animator
•    Nate Stanton, storyboard artist
•    Zaruhi Galstyan & Deanna Marsigliese, sketch artist, character designer
•    Katherine Ringgold, editor
•    Patrick Lin, camera & staging
•    Tia Kratter, manager of art & film, Pixar University

“I was really impressed by how this group of students came in so prepared,” said Capobianco. “They had a huge background in animation, storyboarding, and storytelling.
“Everyone across the board had the skills,” he recalled.

Diverse Voices — Authentic Stories

“With our joint focus on story and interest in fostering diversity in animation,” Sadek explains, “a collaboration between Pixar and CCA seemed inevitable.”

Here’s how several participants described their Pixar @ CCA experience:

Mahmoud Zaini

CCA Animation major, Visual Studies minor

“Animation needs this kind of diversification, and I hope to be part of it. I come from the Arab world [Saudi Arabia] and the region is in desperate need for content that is illuminating, value instilling, and aspiration providing.

“A new generation of kids needs this, and animation that is capable of synthesizing Western and Eastern values is a must. 

“This will be our job as rising artists in an increasingly interconnected world, and I think the Pixar @ CCA program is outstanding in initiating that.”

Laneya Billingsley

CCA Individualized major
“My work is definitely out of the ordinary, to say the least. I'm one of the very few experimental animators here at CCA. Prior to CCA I majored in illustration, theater, and graphic design with an everlasting interest in dance and film.

“Eccentric art doesn't often make it into the mainstream . . . at least not yet. I'd love to change that.”

Siyu Zheng (“Mandy”)
UC Berkeley
“So amazing. I never thought in my life I’d be in there [Pixar] . . . sitting down to talk to storyboard artists and designers.

“The variety of their backgrounds . . . my peers . . . all of their unique ideas . . . different approaches to projects . . . all really brilliant minds.”

Mr. Kennedy (James Kennedy Jr.)

CCA Animation major
“The program was another eye-opening situation of how if you gather creative minds in a room, regardless of the age, sex, or ethnicity, the result is an atmosphere that allows for ideas to surface.

“Everyone was free to express themselves and tell their personal story. It was through that openness to share that we all were able to trust one another's insight into their style of narrative.”

Rosie Murillo

Cal State Fullerton
“The Pixar @ CCA program was a tremendous experience. I firmly believe that diversity in any group is necessary in order for rich ideas to surface; otherwise, the content becomes too bland and uninteresting.

“Everyone I met at this program showed great potential in creating amazing stories, and they had the work to prove it.”

Charlotte Norris

CCA Animation major

“I think cultural diversity is an important element to what we did in the program. . . . We cultivated better stories by asking each other for help and hoping that the others could see something in the drawings that we ourselves didn’t.

“I’m a unicorn of sorts. As a conservative Christian, I don’t have a lot in common with my fellow students or teachers in terms of political, social, or personal beliefs, and this allows me to offer a differing viewpoint to their own.

 “As Pixar always says, “Story is king!” And I think those three weeks in August really embodied that.”

Alyssa Surmillon

Cal State Long Beach
“Everyone wants to see themselves represented in the media they watch, but when you don't see yourself represented, it's easy to get frustrated.

“The ability to be your own voice and create what you want to see in the world is extremely empowering. I feel like we exist in a very special time when diversity and authenticity in storytelling are now demanded.

“I was surrounded by people with unique lives who made themselves vulnerable by sharing their experiences and showed support by listening, and I feel so thankful for that.”

Christine Le
Cal State Fullerton
“Everyone had come from vastly different backgrounds. But we had one thing in common: we all loved to tell stories.

“Coming from a background of refugee parents, creating stories influenced by Asian folklore and traditional customs is important to me.

“It's a way to keep those traditions alive and loved and to feel in touch with the past. By being able to use these themes with an approach of respect and understanding, the audience, in turn, gains a respect for others' traditions and culture.

“Hopefully, one day, I can help be that voice.”

Next for CCA & Pixar?

“It was great to work with Director of Pixar University Elyse Klaidman,” Sadek added. “We shared a vision of what the program could be. The Pixar/CCA collaboration made it possible for the students to have a life-changing experience.

“I'm hoping this will be an ongoing partnership!”


•    Animation Career Review: Fostering Tomorrow’s Leaders: Q&A with Andrew Lyndon
•    Pixar’s Mary Coleman: Short Films, Big Leaps
•    The Pixar-CCA Connection: Animation Faculty, Alumni, and More!