Q&A with Pixar animator Albert Lozano

Veteran Pixar Animator came to USC to give a talk previewing Pixar’s next film, Inside Out. The CalArts grad sat down with lifestyle writer Sara Grzywacz to talk about his time with Pixar and what comes next.

Daily Trojan: Your presentation was very interesting. Your role is art director, what was your role exactly in creating the movie?

Albert Lozano: There are actually several art directors, but I was the art director for characters specifically. My role was designing the characters. The job starts at the beginning where you’re doing a lot of exploration before you get to the final cut of the film. It took about four years and thousands of drawings. It was a long process to get to that back and forth. It wasn’t just coming up with the idea of the characters, but shepherding them through the whole film, making sure the character is acting the way we originally envisioned years ahead of time.

DT: You play a huge role in designing these characters and their personalities. How much leeway did you have in creating them?

AL: Well for this one in particular, I was given a clear vision of something to shoot for, but emotions are inside the mind. So really the sky is the limit. Gosh, what does it look like inside the mind? Let me just try playing with a few things. It was so open-ended; there was no specific trait to follow at the very beginning. Questions that came up were things like, ‘Are they going to be little humans inside the head? Are they gonna be animals?’ When you go inside the mind you can start from anywhere. We couldn’t say it was at a specific location, so there were no specifics at these beginning stages. It became more flushed out as the process went on, but it was a long process getting to that point

DT: You mentioned that you struggled with creating Sadness. What in particular about Sadness made her difficult to create? You mentioned empathy as well, how did you incorporate empathy into Sadness?

AL: I ran into a lot of dead ends with envisioning Sadness when I was at the drawing table. I started viewing her as this dark, goth personification of sadness. That wasn’t really working with what we wanted to do with the film. When we viewed her as a Debbie Downer, who reminds you of how everything sucks, you can’t really get behind that character. You almost want a character that you can sort of root for. The easiest way to say it is the character that you kind of just want to reach up to and hug. When it’s that dark, you just don’t feel as much empathy for them, and when the word ‘empathy’ came up, it became a lot clearer on how to attack Sadness. She is someone who really cares about her girl, who is Riley in this film. She almost takes on all the sadness and the weight it because she loves her girl so much. Once we discovered Phyllis and heard her voice, we just knew instantly she just has that empathy so that really felt like the right way to go with Sadness.

DT: What about the other characters? Did you face any big challenges with the others?

AL: They were all actually challenging. Somebody did ask me which one was the easiest, and I said Anger was sort of the easiest to kind of figure out, and that was never easy in itself. Compared to the others, the other one that was difficult was Joy. With Joy being the main character, the whole film had to revolve around her and her journey. When we thought of Joy it was really difficult to create her where she wasn’t gonna be joyful all the time. We didn’t want her to be overly cheerful [to the point at which] it gets annoying. We sort of think of Joy as somebody you want to root for as well. When we discovered Amy as the voice it really started coming together. We were already really far down the design process with Joy as far as what she looked like and when we discovered Amy her voice fit towards what we were designing and looking for at that point.

DT: You seem to really enjoy working at Pixar. What do you like the most about working there?

AL: I like working with the people. It’s fun to work on these projects but you kind of do have to work in isolation sometimes. You’re tasked to go to your desk to figure out some of these problems but really it’s about working with all of these people. I had a litmus test when I was drawing Sadness, as I said she’s somebody that you want to hug. One of our PAs [production assistants] just graduated from the film school here at USC and started working with us. My test was to just walk by her desk and show her a drawing of Sadness and ask her to take a look. If she looked at it and went “aw,” I’d know that I was on the right path.  I was more excited about getting a reaction out of people. You know, I could stay in my box all day creating these things but the best thing for me is putting it out and showing it to other people and getting their reactions, but that’s just on a smaller level. Ultimately it’s making this entire film that you’re going to put out for the entire world. I was just saying when we put out the screening of the first seven minutes of the film, it was fun for me to look out into the audience and just see everyone reacting to it. That’s very exciting; that’s what I love about working on films. When we screen it at work, we’ve seen it so many times we don’t get any reactions like the ones we got today. This screening at Pixar would be flatlined the entire way through cause we’ve seen it so many times. So getting everybody’s reaction to it, especially during key moments — that’s what we are striving to do and that’s always really exciting. That’s probably the thing I enjoy the most.