July 28, 2014

PixArt Special Feature: Ringing In Pixar’s 25th Anniversary With Animator Chris Chua

Checkmate by Chris Chua

As today is the 25th Anniversary of Pixar Animation Studios, we wanted to run a special edition of PixArt to celebrate. Now, we are absolutely thrilled to present a piece by Chris Chua, an animator at Pixar. Since he joined the storied studio a few years ago, Chris has worked on films WALL-E and Up. Last week, we got a look at a turntable video for Cars 2 character, Carla Veloso, which Chris animated.

We asked Chris a few questions about his evolution into an animator, his time at Pixar, and his influences. Read on to go on a journey through the mind of a great Pixar animator!

Chris Chua hard at work

Blog: http://www.cchua001.blogspot.com

Hometown: Born in Manila, Philippines

Currently live in…Berkeley, California

Tell us about your piece.

I’ve always loved the Pixar short, Geri’s Game, and thought it would be amusing to see Geri playing a game of chess against Carl, from Up. As you can see, Carl isn’t very good at chess and is soundly beaten by Geri, who’s had plenty of practice! The name of the piece is called, “Checkmate!”, by the way.

How long have you been drawing/painting for?

I’ve been drawing since I was a little boy! I’d watch classic Disney movies, Warner Bros. cartoons, read comics and be inspired to draw from them all the time. I remember making flip books on the corners of my school notebooks and even making comic books with my friends.

Was it difficult to land your first job in the entertainment industry? What did you work on?

It was difficult in that I really had to work very hard in college – not only to get a firm grasp of basic animation principles, but also to make a short by the end of each year! Up until then, I had never animated before so I really had to learn a lot along the way. The summer after my sophomore year at CalArts, I did a short stint working on Futurama at Rough Draft Studios in Glendale, and then learned computer animation the following summer at Rhythm & Hues in Marina Del Rey. I then returned to CalArts to finish my fourth year and promptly began working at Dreamworks soon after I graduated in 2002.

What helped you decide to make the jump into animation?

Well, I was already pretty much in love with films, drawing, and cartoons by the time I got to high school so there really wasn’t that much of a debate as to whether I should study animation and hopefully make a living from it. I was also fortunate in that my parents were always very supportive of me.

Many people dream of working at Pixar. Can you talk about what you went through and how you felt when you learned that you would be working for them?

Sure. By the time I applied, I already had several close friends working here who kept urging me to submit my reel. The interview process was one of the most intimidating experiences of my life but it was a good way for them to get a feel for me as a person and see if I would fit in with the company. When I got a call not too long afterwards and found out I was offered a position, I really felt a sense of elation and accomplishment!

Collaboration is a word that is often equated with Pixar. Can you describe a situation where collaboration with your fellow employees led to something better?

It happens every day! It’s most evident when each animator shows their shots in front of the director every morning in dailies. Everyone is allowed, and often encouraged to offer ideas, suggestions, or ways to make a scene better. I’m always in awe of the attention to detail and creative insight that’s so casually tossed around during dailies. Not only is it a great support structure for the artist, but it also heightens the quality of the work to a whole new level.

As an animator, what do you personally find most challenging?

For me, blocking out a shot has always been the hardest and most painful part of animating. It’s always scary having to come up with something that’s fresh and entertaining without relying on acting patterns that you’ve done before. Trying to keep things simple and not getting bogged down with unnecessary details early on is also something that I’m constantly trying to refine in my own workflow.

If you were not an animator at Pixar today, what would you most likely be doing?

I’ve always loved film so I might have gone into live-action directing if I weren’t an animator. Books are a huge passion of mine as well so writing could have been another possibility, although I’m not very good at it. Pretty much anything involving creativity, I think.

Can you talk a little bit about what you enjoy doing in your free time?

Sure! I love going to cafes and other public places to observe people and draw. Playing videogames and boardgames, reading novels, and comic books are also other ways that I tend to relax and unwind. And let’s not forget: watching TONS of movies!

Seeing movie magic happen every day might make this question difficult to answer – do you have a memory at Pixar that stands above the rest?

I remember seeing the early reels of Up and being quite moved. The married life montage of Carl and Ellie was a sequence that the story team absolutely knocked out of the park and seeing it go from storyboards, to animation, to lighting, and finally, with Michael Giacchino’s score was just a thing to behold.

We have often heard about the great environment at the studio. What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

I can honestly say that the most fulfilling part of my job has been the friendships that I’ve made since I’ve started working here at Pixar. I’ve grown so much working with, and being around such great artists in the relatively short time I’ve been here. The people here are truly among the most talented individuals I’ve ever met and I consider it an honor to not only work alongside them but to also be considered one of their peers. I still pinch myself occasionally to make sure I’m not dreaming!

It sounds like working at Pixar has led to many situations where you have felt inspired. Who/what inspires you?

I’d have to say people who create and who are passionate about what they do. Whether it’s a filmmaker, a musician, a painter, a sculptor, you name it. There’s something very addictive about experiencing art that’s sincere and comes from a personal place. A great artist has the power to change your perception of the world and challenges you to stop and see something in a whole new light. I’m in awe of people who can do that.

Recommend something/anything (books, movies, games, etc…) to our readers.

Let’s start with books: I’m a huge fan of Haruki Murakami’s book, “Kafka on the Shore”. Reading it makes you feel like you’re in a waking dream. It’s very impressionistic and has a great sense of mood.

My favorite TV show is HBO’s The Wire. It’s 5 seasons of great writing, acting and phenomenal storytelling. It’s an angry show that manages to make a social commentary without sacrificing entertainment value. A masterpiece.

My favorite movie is Fritz Lang’s M. It’s a film about a murderer played by Peter Lorre, who is hunted down by both the cops and the criminal underworld. Lang made the film shortly after sound was introduced into films and the way he plays with both sound and cinematography is really astonishing. The film is often overshadowed by his other masterpiece, Metropolis, but I feel very strongly that M is his crowning achievement.

And last but not least, my favorite boardgame is called “Cosmic Encounter.”  It’s a game where you and up to 5 other players take on the roles of different alien races scrambling to colonize planets. The game gets absolutely cutthroat as players make deals, negotiations, and alliances around the table. It’s a great way to make enemies out of your closest friends!

What movie are you currently working on? I know you can’t talk about the film, but can you talk briefly about what your role has been?

I’m currently helping to finish up Cars 2, which will be released this summer. After that, I’ll be rolling right back onto Brave, Pixar’s first fairy tale, which is set in medieval Scotland! It’s being directed by Mark Andrews who was head of story on The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. I’m animating on both films!

Where can we stalk you?

You can see my sketches on my blog and you can follow me on Twitter.

Thanks, Chris. Good luck on Cars 2 and Brave and check back in with us soon!

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We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Chris for finding time in his busy schedule to share his talent and wisdom.

Click here to view all of our PixArt pieces.

About Samad Rizvi

Samad is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Pixar Times and The Disney Times. His favorite films include The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Vertigo, Back to the Future, Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, and of course, Pixar's Monsters, Inc., WALL-E and Up.

  • http://a113animation.blogspot.com/ William Jardine

    Awesome picture, Chris is a great animator!

  • http://twitter.com/RogerRadcliffe Josh

    Great interview with Chris! I really do love the Carl Fredrickson (Up) / Geri (Geri’s Game) illustration, as they really are the elderly folks of the Pixar films. (Not counting Buster from Toy Story 3).

    Also, the way you worded the last question “Where can we stalk you?” is a bit awkward as when you say Stalk something else comes to mind… ;)