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Building the digital dream at Pixar

Sisler High School's Interactive Digital Media students recently had the opportunity to meet one of the key figures behind the computer-animation powerhouse Pixar.

Lawrence Levy served as Pixar's CFO, EVP and board member over a 12-year period starting in 1994. His time with the company saw the release of films such as Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles.

The Information and Communications Technology Association of Manitoba, which initially brought Mr. Levy to Winnipeg as a speaker for its annual Innovators showcase, made the Sisler visit possible.

"The things that Pixar does there are similar to the things you are doing here, just on a different scale. The challenges are very, very similar," Mr. Levy told students.

He advised students to learn the structure of a story and understand how their work supports the telling of a particular story.

As well, he said students should become confident in accepting critiques of their work—and expect to revise, redo and reinvent many times over before they achieve a final product.

"In order to succeed at Pixar, you had to be able to take critique," Mr. Levy said.

"Those two things, learning the structure of story and being able to take critique, and then iterating over and over again, making those storyboards over and over again. Don't be afraid throw it away and redo it."

That spirit of reinvention and perfectionism extended up to offices of Steve Jobs, one of the major forces behind Pixar's development.

"He was much more interested in getting to the right answer than he was being right himself," Mr. Levy said.

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Mr. Levy added that every Pixar film hit roadblocks throughout production.

"This happens to a lot of Pixar films. It hits a wall, where something is wrong. The main character isn't working out or the film isn't funny enough…test audiences aren't relating to it at all," he said.

"When you get to that moment, you have to dig your way out of it."

Sisler IDM students admitted to being starstruck, but quickly peppered Mr. Levy with questions about his career and the industry in general. They said his message was an important one for anyone with designs of working in the industry.

"We need critique for improvement…things don't just magically happen," said student Jemimah Suva. "I think that was important for me to hear."

Film and Visual Effects Teacher Jonathan Dyck-Lyons said Mr. Levy was able to relate his experiences to the students and show them some of the possibilities in their own careers.

"This is someone who is on stratospheric levels in terms of the industry, he's as big as it gets," he said. "But when it comes right down to it, they are people like you and me. They're creatives. So I think there's that common thread. Having someone with that scope of career come here and get on the same level as students, and really relate to them, is huge."

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