Q&A with pixar animation studios art director deanna marsigliese blog graphic title

Q&A with Pixar Animation Studios Art Director Deanna Marsigliese

Pixar Art Director Deanna Marsigliese was welcomed to Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design (RMCAD) as a part of our Visiting Artist, Scholar, + Designer Program. Marsigliese’s talk “The Art of Exploration” was masterfully presented to an ecstatic public audience both on-campus and online. Afterwards, we sat down with Marsigliese to learn more about her life as a Pixar artist, vintage fashion collector, and received valuable advice for artists looking to make an impact in the field of art and design.

Marsigliese's sketches from Pixar's Luca.
© Deanna Marsigliese. Courtesy of the artist.

Can you briefly walk me through your career journey as an artist?

I decided I wanted to be an animator when I was just seven years old and knew that I wanted to study at Sheridan College as well. During this time, I interned at a small animation studio in Toronto, Canada as a 2D inbetweener and cleanup artist. After graduating, I enrolled in a CG program at Seneca College, where I also acted as the TA for 2D animation students. I was later asked to join Seneca’s faculty as the professor of classical animation. I did this part time for six years while working as a 2D animator in the industry.

During my time as a freelancer, I made a lateral move into character design because I knew this would keep me drawing and I didn’t really want to be animating on the computer full-time. I began working in television and eventually, freelancing for a number of feature animation studios. Pixar became a client and it was my work on the original Inside Out that led to my move in-house, which is where I’ve been ever since.

Can you speak to the importance of deadlines in a studio environment and how you manage them.

In a studio, you’re on a tight production schedule. Repeatedly missing deadlines affects your colleagues, especially those whose work begins further down the line — it’s basically a domino or snowball effect. Deadlines are a fundamental aspect of any commercial artistic job. Knowing how you prefer to work and having a process in place is the best way to navigate production demands and meet your deadlines.

Where did your interest in vintage fashion start? How does it impact your art?

My interest in vintage fashion started very young, much like my love of animation. My grandparents’ basement was full of tchotchkes and vintage clothes. I would go through them, asking questions and playing dress-up. Over time, I became addicted to the concept of an item being much older than myself, complete with its own history; that they came with a stories that helped me to better understand the people around me.

As far as my work is concerned, animated characters need thoughtful costuming, much like they do in live action films. It’s a powerful storytelling device, not only in what they’re wearing, but also in how they’re wearing it. I love getting lost in those details. Sometimes I’m able to reference my own closet, which I did for Edna’s fashion line in Incredibles II. This sequence never made it into the final film, but it was a very fun challenge.

Marsigliese's artwork from Pixar's Soul
© Deanna Marsigliese. Courtesy of the artist.

When you aren’t busy being a professional artist, what do you find yourself doing?

I find myself traveling, but not always by plane. I travel within my own city, on the street where I live and even in my own home. I find myself in a constant state of exploration and idea collection. Otherwise, I love hanging out with my husband and friends and just making new memories.

What does it mean to you to share your expertise and knowledge with the next generation of artists and designers?

It’s an honor first and foremost. Teaching is something that’s organically unfolded in my life. I’m grateful for it because I love visiting new places and I love meeting new people. The Visiting Artist series is a perfect example of this; I get to do the things I love while making a positive impact on the next generation of artists. At the same time, it’s bittersweet because I still feel like a student in so many ways. To be simultaneously teaching, yet still learning is a really interesting and amazing feeling.

What has been your favorite project you have worked on throughout your career?
My favorite project has to be Luca. I had more than one lead role on this film. I was the Character Art Director but was also one of the animation sketch artists. I genuinely love Luca’s cast of characters and the world itself. It’s near and dear to my heart because I’m a first generation Italian-Canadian. I saw so much of myself and my family in that film, so it’s quite precious to me.

Marsigliese's artwork sketches from Pixar's Luca.
© Deanna Marsigliese. Courtesy of the artist.

What challenges do you see young artists facing? How do you overcome challenges in your own work?

I think they face similar challenges to those I faced in school. Fretting about things like personal style and wanting to stand out, for example. Accepting that this is a very organic process and trusting in that process — this can be really challenging, but it will come to fruition if you keep drawing and doing the work to get to know yourself. Exploring and experimenting will sharpen your personal tastes and set you on a path toward your own style, but you must be patient.

More practically, I see many artists struggling with employment. The industry is flooded with wonderful talent at the moment and there’s seemingly not quite enough work, but know that the animation industry is always in flux — it has its ups and downs, much like any other industry and that it’ll be okay. Focus on your love of the craft. That’s something that always keeps me going through the highs and inevitable lows; times of frustration and success. I’ve always loved animation, plain and simple.

What advice do you have for art students as they go through their degree program?

Fine tune your technical skills. You’re going to need those! Along with this, leave space for inspiration. Get outside the classroom and do the things you love. For me, it’s exploring, antiquing, puppetry, miniatures! Learn what makes you tick. Know what you love and don’t forget to revisit those spaces to refill your tank. Hang out with your classmates, get to know each other and build meaningful relationships. This is a wonderful time to connect and grow. Most of what I’ve learned in my career has come from colleagues and friends. I’ve learned a lot just being out in the world and hanging out with people who are brilliant and funny. Work and work hard of course, but don’t forget to live your life. I’m proud of everything I’ve accomplished in this way and there are many folks to thank for that. Be open to all lessons.

Are you interested in learning more about RMCAD? Explore our on-campus and online programs today. To catch our next Visiting Artist talk, view the program’s latest updates here.

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