Pixar artist motivates students to move ‘onward’

Students Stephanie Des Roches and Kianna Dorsey attended the recent School of Communication event featuring Pixar Animation Studios artist Carlos Felipe Leon. Photos: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami 
By Ashley A. Williams

Students Stephanie Des Roches and Kianna Dorsey attended the recent School of Communication event featuring Pixar Animation Studios artist Carlos Felipe Leon. Photos: Jenny Hudak/University of Miami 

Pixar artist motivates students to move ‘onward’

By Ashley A. Williams
A one-hour, behind-the-scenes presentation hosted by the University of Miami School of Communication featured insights into Carlos Felipe Leon’s set design process, followed by a Q&A.

Kianna Dorsey wants to pursue a career in film. To make that happen, the Maryland native is majoring in motion pictures at the University of Miami, making sure she’s soaking up all of the knowledge and taking advantage of all the opportunities.

When Dorsey, a first-year student, got word that Pixar Animation Studios artist Carlos Felipe Leon would be speaking at the School of Communication last Thursday, Feb. 27, she seized the opportunity.

“These special conversations really give you an insight into the industry,” said Dorsey, who was thankful her professor, Margaret Cardillo, replaced the usual class discourse with this special presentation. “Particularly, this one was really exciting because everyone knows Pixar, and it’s almost like a little bit of nostalgia because it was a big part of many of our childhoods.”

Carlos Felipe Leon
Pixar Animation Studios artist Carlos Felipe Leon

In an overflowing lecture hall, Leon took the audience on a journey through his career and explained how he went from freelance work to becoming employed by Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios. He spoke about his role as set designer in the upcoming animated movie, “Onward,” and gave detailed looks into the process from beginning to end. He included two, short clips from the movie as well. 

“There’s really no shortcuts,” Leon said, referring to how to break into the animation film industry. “You have to do the work to get good, get better, and to get noticed.”

Stephanie Des Roches, a first-year broadcast journalism student, was inspired by Leon’s presentation. She said her obsession with all-things Disney prompted her to attend the event.

“Someone like him coming to the school is such a big deal for us—especially for people who want to go into film,” she said. “I found it really interesting to see how he constructs the set from the bottom up. I was excited that someone came to talk to us about a movie that I am actually excited about, and looking forward to, seeing. I’m such a big fan of Disney Pixar.”

Justin Stevens, a senior double-majoring in broadcast journalism and media management, attended the presentation. Although he isn’t interested in filmmaking, he said that he left feeling inspired and grateful to learn directly from Leon.

“The amount of layers and work that goes into it is astonishing and eye-opening,” Stevens, a Livingston, New Jersey native, said. “It’s so cool to think that there’s someone who’s spending hours creating and designing the set that will sometimes only be shown on screen for four seconds; but every second counts.”

The new Pixar film “Onward” is set in a fantasy world and follows the story of two teenage elf brothers. Following the lecture, students had the chance to ask Leon questions about animation set design and seek his advice. Students also were able to take photos with a replica of Guinevere, the purple van featured in the movie. “Onward” hits theaters nationwide on Friday, March 6.