Exclusive Interview: Pixar’s Brian Green on what Steve Jobs taught him

Robyn Foyster Robyn Foyster has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
on 2 February 2018

Pixar’s Brian Green reveals what working with Apple co-founder Steve Jobs taught him and how a boy with big dreams from Dingley, Melbourne, ended up as the technical director of the world’s greatest animation company.

Brian is one of the leading speakers at Pause Fest 2018. Here, he talks to Women Love Tech.

Now, tell us how a boy from Dingley, Melbourne, ended up at Pixar?  For those wanting to follow in your footsteps what do you have to say?

My talk at Pause Fest this year is inspired by my experience working for Steve Jobs, and seeing in action some of the quotes that he is famous for. I think this quote is perfect for this question:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

quote by Steve Jobs

For myself I had an impossible dream of one day working for Disney as I was so inspired by their movies. I loved art and technology and pursued opportunity until the opportunity at Pixar presented itself. Fortunately my work in Australia, and my resume was attractive to them and I was able to join them in 1996.

I have had friends go to RMIT and then get their dream job at WETA working on Narnia. Director Michael Gracey and I worked at Animal Logic together and he just reached his dream by directing Hugh Jackman in “The Greatest Showman”. There are no guarantees but finding and pursuing your passion is a key element to success.

There are no guarantees but finding and pursuing your passion is a key element to success. 

Steve Jobs, what’s your favourite personal story about him? What did you learn from him?

One fun story was running into him in the parking lot at Pixar and inviting him to take the afternoon off and go-carting with my team. I tried to guilt him into joining us with a quote from Ferris Bueller.

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” 

Ferris Bueller

and although he seemed to seriously consider it he concluded that meeting with our president Ed and getting us paid was his priority for the afternoon. He did come to other activities such as ice skating and the ballroom dancing,  but sitting in a go-cart with him would have been great!

Exclusive Interview With Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak
Apple Founders Steve Jobs pictured with Steve Wozniak. Check out our Exclusive Interview With Steve Wozniak

My biggest lesson from him was on focus and learning to say “no”. Your time is limited so use it wisely. For myself, it was focusing on making the best possible characters for the features I worked on and not get distracted by all the other opportunities available here.

What direction is animation taking in terms of technology? What is the type of animating technology in the future you are most excited about and why?

Animation is acting. Ideally in a shot, every component would support, in a believable manner, the idea behind the performance. With new tools arriving to support collaboration and directability, it is becoming possible for, say,  a gifted 2D artist to be able to draw over and direct the simulated movement of water, hair, cloth, smoke and other fx. Combining traditional skills with the latest in technology allows more meaningful performances to be possible.

Of course, there are new mediums emerging for creative expression and the level of complexity and believability increases every year which makes it an exciting time to be a technical artist!

Were there any specific technologies or developments in technology that Pixar used to reach the level they are at now? For example, what technologies helped Pixar be the best of the best?

What people most remember from our movies is the story and characters involved. The software we use to create our characters and have them give their animated performances is written in-house and called Presto. There was a conscious effort to own and develop this technology as it is so important to what we do. Coincidentally we were just recently honoured with a Technical Academy Award for Presto:

Exclusive Interview: Pixar’s Brian Green On What Steve Jobs Taught Him

To Rob Jensen for the foundational design and continued development, to Thomas Hahn for the animation toolset, and to George ElKoura, Adam Woodbury and Dirk Van Gelder for the high-performance execution engine of the Presto Animation System at Pixar Animation Studios.

Presto allows artists to work interactively in scene context with full-resolution geometric models and sophisticated rig controls, and has significantly increased the productivity of character animators at Pixar.

What are Your Top 3 apps or programs used at Pixar for animation? And what do you think are the cleverest apps people are least likely to know about?

A lot of the software is internal. However commonly used “workhorse” software solutions are Maya, Houdini, Photoshop and our renderer RenderMan to render our results.

A really fun “niche” piece of software is Marvelous Designer for Costumes. I have a work friend Sonoko who uses it at home to make her Halloween costumes for our annual competition at Pixar. She typically wins.

How is animation going to change in the future? 

I am excited about the explosion of technology and creativity in so many areas, from using the cloud to collaborate on animated projects to VR turning up as a creative option for directors at the Sundance Film Festival. The diversity of options is such a great opportunity for creatives to explore and do new things. 

Diversity, for me, is the keyword for the future.

Favourite animated movies. What are they?

I am going to cheat on this question and share some movies that have impressed me lately with their animated performances.

I love movies with fantastical creatures and the merman from “The Shape of Water” was a favourite for me this year. He achieved the look of latex and practical effects and the merman’s animated performance didn’t feel CG.

The team at Laika also did a fantastic job on Kubo and the Two Strings. Stop motion has always had a soft spot for me.

I have always loved Sci-Fi. Gravity was a breakthrough movie for me as it was the first time I really felt I was actually in space with the actors.

More about Brian Green, technical director at Pixar

Brian Green’s 20 years at Pixar Animation Studios have seen him create and supervise the creation of some of the big screen’s best-loved characters. From his very first project – the character of Slim the stick insect – Green has gone on to supervise across The Good Dinosaur, Toy Story 3, Ratatouille, Nemo, Monsters Inc. and A Bugs Life, amongst others Hollywood hits.

You can hear Brian’s talk ‘How Steve Jobs Took Pixar On The Magical Journey To Stars’ about working in close proximity to Steve Jobs where he will share how Apple legend Steve Jobs steered the small-fry company into an animation juggernaut.

About Pause Fest 2018

Pause 2018 has a fabulous lineup of high-profile names and industry leaders across the business, creative and tech worlds joining forces from Feb 7 – 9 in 2018. 

Along with the incredible Brian Green from Pixar, the speakers include Design Lead at AirBnb, Michael Sui; Chief Evangelist of Canva Guy Kawasaki; NASA Ph.D. Astrophysicist Marissa Rosenberg and Kelsey Whelan, Product Manager at Netflix…ALL at Pause Fest. 

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