Want to work for Pixar? How art school can help

Learn how art school prepares you to work at top-tier companies like Pixar.

You grew up with the Pixar classics: “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “Inside Out,” “Brave,” or “Up.” Or maybe you were a DreamWorks kid, preferring the goofier “Shrek,” “How to Train Your Dragon,” or “Kung Fu Panda.” Whatever animation style painted a grin on your childhood face, now it’s your turn to bring laughter, adventure, and unforgettable characters to the next generation.

To work for Pixar or another of the top animation studios is the aspiring animator’s dream. Who wouldn’t want to perfect their art alongside animation legends like John Lasseter and Pete Docter? But the animation job market is, as one art professor puts it, “Insanely competitive.”

As you plan for your formal animation education, how can you give yourself an edge in your quest to work for Pixar or another leading studio?

Step one is to choose the right art school. No art school can guarantee you’ll get a job at Pixar (and run the other way if any do), but the right art school will help you immensely.

You could have a master’s degree or a [doctorate] in animation if it was possible to get one, it doesn’t matter. I think any art-based job is more about your portfolio and less about credentials. At the end of the day, we're looking for people that have a quality or a sensibility of either animation or design.”
Andrew Gordon, directing animator at Pixar

Three ways the right art school can help you land a job at Pixar

A degree in animation is a prerequisite for most prestigious animation studios, but it takes more than that to land the job.

But that’s not to say your choice of art school is irrelevant. In fact, if you’re hoping to work for Pixar, your choice of art school could make all the difference. Here are three reasons why:

1. You will learn the fundamentals of animation

On its careers website, Pixar admits that the most frequent question it gets is, “How can I become an animator at Pixar?”

Impressing Pixar isn’t about “whizzy technology,” the careers site says:

“A Pixar animator should be able to bring life to any object or character, showing the character’s internal thoughts and feelings through its physical external motion. To do this, the Animator must be a good actor.”

In fact, if you want to work for Pixar, learning the latest animation software won’t help you very much. Pixar uses its own proprietary software. Instead, you must master the fundamentals of animation.

The right art school will understand this and will teach you to tell engaging stories with authentic characters while remaining tech-forward on the latest animation techniques.

2. You will assemble a winning reel

“Three things are important in pitching yourself to Pixar,” the studio says, “the reel, the reel, and the reel.”

Developing a demo reel that shows off your knack for storytelling, compelling characters, and creative imagery is possibly the most important step on your path toward a top animation studio. That means working with instructors — faculty and visiting artists — who understand what the studios are looking for and who can help you extend your artistic reach.

“You get a lot of reels that are the same type of reel all featuring the same exercises,” says Pixar animator Andrew Gordon. “But the ones that are rare are where the applicant has done something different in their approach.”

The experienced mentorship you’ll find at the right art school will help you set yourself apart from your competition with a reel that is not just “more of the same.”

3. You will have internships and networking opportunities

Creative talent and a killer reel will increase your chances of working for a company like Pixar. But like any career, it also can’t hurt to have a foot in the door.

For example, CCA student Daniel Gonzales made good use of his school’s Bay Area location and industry connections to land a coveted internship at Pixar. After working his way up at Pixar, he’s now an animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios.

“I arrived as an intern at Pixar through hard work and with the help of my teachers in college,” Gonzales said in a 2013 interview. “My teachers were amazing animators and I learned so much from them every day. They encouraged me to apply for the internship at Pixar.”

Do you dream of working at Pixar or other top animation studios?

Wouldn’t it be great to help tell the stories that animated your childhood? No art school is a “guaranteed in” to Pixar. It takes hard work, the right coursework, artistic growth, and the development of a stellar portfolio. But choosing the right art school will definitely help make all of that a lot easier.