Grace Villaroman was born and raised in Anaheim, or as some like to call it, “Oh that place where Disneyland is?” She rarely goes to the legendary theme park, but she just started an internship at Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios in the East Bay.
She is San Francisco State’s first Pixar intern since Jonas Rivera (B.A., Cinema, ’96), the studio’s first-ever intern and now an Academy Award-winning producer (Inside/Out).
Villaroman, a Cinema major, says her mother always pushed the importance of education and persistence. Borrowing a quote from Ratatouille, “Not everybody can be a great chef, but a great chef can come from anywhere,” she says.
“Grace’s performance in my classes was amazing. The subject matter she chose was always edgy, humorous and thought-provoking,” Assistant Professor Ben Ridgway says. “Her most recent film addressed the life of a female minority police officer working in an urban environment and the struggles she had to overcome to succeed. These are the kinds of stories that need to be shared with the world, and it has been wonderful seeing Grace channel these great narratives into her work.”
When did your interest in animation begin?
I was always drawing, crafting and writing stories from the time I was a child. With this being said, I went into college knowing I wanted to do something art related, but was incredibly bored and under stimulated with only painting, drawing and illustration.
When I started the animation program at SFSU, I had an overall rounded interest in several things, and I just naturally found it was my calling because of its complicated, multidisciplinary nature. It’s hard work. It requires massive attention to detail, technology, illustration, storytelling, filmmaking, editing and sound design combined. The collaborative nature is really one of the biggest selling points, and although I found a lot of gratification in working on all aspects of production alone, I immediately felt comfortable around the other Animation students and found that they are a very open, humble and hard-working collective.
Which professors inspire you as an animation student?
Martha Gorzycki had always been incredibly loving, supportive and helpful in developing our creative strategies. She gives us a lot of fair advice and has helped me tremendously in figuring out the right timing in visuals, story and audio. On top of that, she’s also encouraged all different types of forms in our stories which gives the SFSU Animation program its unique experimental flavor.
Ben Ridgway has also done a great job in the introductory Animation courses and during our thesis films. He offers a good technical perspective that complements the program.
Our institution is also honored to have ASIFA San Francisco Chapter’s president and editor, Karl Cohen, who teaches History of Animation. He’s an inspiration in my work because of his genuine love for animation as an art form and not just entertainment, which is something I plan to bring with me into the industry, which seems dangerously lacking today.
Finally, I would like to mention Norm DeCarlo, who was a guest professor and facilitated a great experience in teaching me stop-motion animation and how vastly creative the form can be.
Overall, I’d say that my professors have made a positive impact on me by showing me the limitless potential of animation and giving me the drive to experiment with my medium to create interesting, creative work.
Describe the [Pixar] application process.
I applied online after the recruiter’s visit and heard back weeks later in the midst of thesis film stress. A recruiter sent an email wanting to talk, so I was freaking out whether or not there was an interview process. She called a few days shortly to tell me it was intentional, as there was no interview process and that I had been accepted. The acceptance was determined primarily on review of the submitted reel. ...
During the internship, multiple instructors will be teaching us their pipeline in their classroom-based program, which also involves mentorships and opportunities to network with all branches of the studio. The internship pays well and opens all the same amenities and benefits that a regular employee would receive, as the company highly values the contributions and energy that interns bring.
What is your advice for students looking for animation internships?
Take advantage of your time in school to have as much creative liberty as you want. Always think about how to take your work one step further in originality. Nowadays, authenticity is vital when competing with students from all types of schools public and private, and it will be the thing that helps you stand out. Don’t try to make a reel that will fit an industry look like a puzzle piece, but make your own unique, personal work. The department here is set up the way it is for this reason, with an open classroom setting and loose guidelines in order to encourage Animation students to think like artists. I thought my demo reel was insufficient because it lacked any 3D work, but it turns out people look for more than that.
Unfortunately, creative culture in animation is being stifled by the state of the industry today, but don’t let the pressure to cater to it get to you. Companies like Pixar value originality and look for artists with new ideas.
What are your plans after graduation?
For short term, I have to make money and begin building a wider portfolio to diversify my skill set. One the one hand, I definitely wouldn’t mind working at Pixar. However, I would also like to experience a smaller studio or be able to create more independent films when I’m more secure in the future.
Who are your mentors, living or dead? Describe how their work in animation influences your creativity.
First, my uncle Ricky Manginsay, who was a director at The Simpsons while I was growing up. Although I wasn’t able to speak much to him before he passed away, it’s because of him that the possibility of becoming an animator was conceivable, and my parents were always supportive of my talent. Ricky was always also known to be a kind and compassionate animator and an advocate for Filipinos in the industry.
My sister is also one of my biggest influences, because she worked extremely hard to get a good education and go overseas, receiving full rides to UCLA and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and graduating with a master’s [from] Berkeley and UCSF. Working as a bio engineer, she never stops learning, growing and being ambitious. It is almost scary, but immensely helpful to have someone driven to look up to. Her attitude translates a lot to how I pursue my own goals because she fortunately (and unfortunately) sets the bar so ridiculously high.
— Ufuoma Umusu
Photo courtesy of Grace Villaroman