Meet recent Texas A&M graduate Cheyenne Chapel. She grew up in Chappell Hill, Texas, a small rural community located between Brenham and Hempstead where her love for art as a child evolved into a job working for Pixar Animation Studios owned by the Walt Disney Company; Not too shabby for someone who grew up without access to a computer.
Pixar’s origins can be traced back to Star Wars creator George Lucas who in 1979 — two years after “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope” opened in theaters — was in the process of using computers to enhance the movie-going experience. CGI or computer-generated imagery was born as “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” became the first film to benefit from the technology in 1982. Thirteen years later Pixar delivered the world’s first CGI animated film “Toy Story” which was executive produced by Steve Jobs whose name greets all those who enter the two-story facility at Pixar that can house up to 1600 employees.
You may be surprised by the number of Aggies that have taken Pixar and Hollywood by storm. Last year “Toy Story 4” won the Oscar for Best Animated Film, but did you know that 16 Texas A&M graduates who worked in the college’s “Viz Lab” were part of the film’s success?
This Christmas, Pixar achieves another milestone with the release of its 23rd feature “Soul” which features the studio’s first black protagonist, jazz pianist/ schoolteacher Joe Gardner voiced by Jamie Foxx under the direction of Pete Docter who helmed “Monsters, Inc.” as well as Oscar winners “Up” and “Inside Out.”
Cheyanne worked as a Sets Modeling Artist on “Soul.” I asked her about her role in the new Pixar film and her plans for the future.
FRIAR: What does a Sets Modeling Artist do?
CHAPEL: A Sets Modeling Artist is responsible for helping with the worlds/backgrounds of the film. Things like buildings, cars, trees, and furniture are what a modeling artist creates digitally in 3D modeling software. It is one of the first production departments on the film, and they help to create the worlds our characters live in!
FRIAR: What was the best part about working on “Soul”?
CHAPEL: For me, the best part of working on “Soul” was having the chance to be a part of a film that I saw myself in. Representation in the industry is important, and for me, “Soul” gave me the chance to put my heart into a film that celebrated life and also people that look like me.
FRIAR: You lived in Brenham near College Station and attended Texas A&M University. Did you study animation?
CHAPEL: Yes. At Texas A&M, I studied Visualization (animation). It was there that I got to immerse myself in the field of CGI.
FRIAR: You work primarily with computers as a CG artist. As a kid, were you always drawing? And how old were you when you started working with computer animation?
CHAPEL: As a kid, I was always drawn to art. It was my life growing up and as I grew in age, my hunger to learn more current mediums drove me to animation. Growing up, I actually didn't have a computer that was readily available, so I first got into computer animation in college. My first project was a fish!
FRIAR: I would imagine it takes lots of patience to do your work. How long did you work on “Soul”?
CHAPEL: I worked on “Soul” for about 10 months. It was so fun to be a part of the film for so long.
FRIAR: Tell me about your future goals.
CHAPEL: I'd like to see myself progress further into the animation field and hopefully be involved with new stories with diverse backgrounds and artists. I want to see more people of color and women of color get to take roles in animation and really see it as a career. Hopefully, I will get the chance to facilitate that in a way, and who knows - I may be creating my own stories one day.
I have a feeling that we will all get to see Cheyenne’s stories on screen in the future. “Soul” features the vocal talents of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, and Angela Bassett. It premieres on Disney+ this Friday, December 25. Grammy nominee Jon Batiste wrote original jazz compositions for the film that features a score by the Oscar-winning duo Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.