With Pixar’s latest well-reviewed family jewel Coco ready to hit theaters, the animation house is once again showing just how special their movies are. In conjunction with the film’s release, longtime Pixar DP Danielle Feinberg stopped in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado to discuss the feature, as well promote some causes near and dear to her heart: science, coding, and getting girls involved in STEM.
A longtime member of the Pixar team, Feinberg began working with the studio on the 1997 (nostalgia alert!) A Bug’s Life. She continued with Pixar, contributing to films like Toy Story 2, Brave, Wall-E and Monsters, Inc. A Harvard educated computer scientist, Feinberg worked her way through the lighting departments, eventually securing the role of Director of Photography- Lighting. She describes her position at the animation studio, “I oversaw the color script… you map the emotion of the film. You’re trying to get the color, lighting and the time of day to map to the right emotion”.
While continuing to make monumental advances with each movie she works on, Feinberg is also a powerful advocate of women in STEM. A prominent speaker in the tech fields, her TED talks are fun and illuminating. Her passion for these subjects absolutely shines through the screen. She’s a much needed and important advocate in these arenas, which continue to be vitally important in education. With more inspirational idols like Feinberg, it can be hoped that more girls will continue to enter these traditionally male dominated fields. She discusses her advice for girls entering STEM areas:
One of the best things girls can do is to find their tribe… one of the cool things I’ve seen happen… Girls Who Code does this summer immersion program. It’s twenty girls, and they’re going through this course together. They spread through the United States and end up in all these different places. They’re all connected. When something bad happens, they have those people to connect to.
Feinberg’s insights as it relates to getting (and keeping) kids involved in math and science are riveting. She brings a lifelong love of the subjects: “I went to this small, private elementary school in Boulder… every kid had a handwritten math assignment tailored just to them. By the time I left elementary school, I already loved that stuff… I had some armor that I might not have had otherwise.” Her love of all these topics is truly infectious.
Furthermore, she shows kids (and adults, for that matter) how fun coding can be. Gone are the days of struggling to explain how the equations in math class apply to the real world. She discusses creating her own worlds through her work in the Pixar universe:
We build that whole three dimensional world and then we actually put lights in… I’ll put a sun outside, and the light pouring in. Because it’s a computer I have all kind of control over that light. Obviously, color and intensity… I can have super soft light, and super sharp light. I can take away a shadow.
The complexity of creating an animated universe is staggering. With each film, Pixar takes massive steps forward. Toy Story blew our minds when animation first ventured fully into the computer. With each movie the technology continues to evolve, but so do the hurdles. Feinberg discusses how Monsters, Inc. posed the challenge of adding fur. When Brave came around, the task at hand became animating a character with long curly hair. With all this constant evolution, it will be fascinating to see where things continue to head.
Coco follows a young boy named Miguel who is struggling to determine his path in life. While his entire family makes shoes, Miguel aspires to be a musician. However, his family hates music. It seems it all started with Miguel’s absentee Great- Grandfather. He was a musician. When the Day of the Dead comes around, Miguel finds himself transported to the mythical Land of the Dead. It seems only a blessing from his family can bring him back to the living. Feinberg discusses her work on the movie fondly:
Coco is my favorite… I’ve never said that (before). I think visually… it’s the most fun thing I’ve gotten to work on. It’s so colorful and the settings are so much fun. Each set we got, I was so excited to light… I also had more creative impact on this movie than I’ve ever had on any up to this point. I went on multiple research trips…
Check out Danielle Feinberg’s amazing work at Pixar when Coco premieres this week. Her work with STEM and coding can be accessed through her website. She provides tons of links to other resources for anyone interested in learning more about the STEM community.
Pixar’s latest film Coco opens in theaters around the country November 22nd. Stay tuned for our GGA review.