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By: Bina Patel

Allison Rutland is arguably one of McMaster’s most notable alumni. She graduated from the Faculty of Humanities in 2002 with a concentration in Multimedia and Fine Arts. She now works for one of the world’s most renowned animation studios, Pixar. Just a few weeks ago the talented alumna won an Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement for Character Animation in A Feature Production at the University of California for her work in Inside Out.  

Rutland considered pursuing a career in animation early on but she did not give it much thought, especially while attending high school. She recounted, “I was interested in it when I was younger but then in high school I thought I would be an environmental scientist, and then ended up going to McMaster for Art.”

She credited McMaster for establishing a theoretical perspective of art, and noted two professors in particular. “Judy was the painting professor and Hugh was the life drawing [professor] — they were really good, I really enjoyed them,” Rutland said.

The move from McMaster to Pixar Animation Studios was a gradual process. After her undergraduate education, Rutland applied to Sheridan College for computer animation. And after working on film and television in Toronto and London for a few years, she decided to apply to Pixar in California, something she says friends helped her accomplish. “I had friends who were at Pixar three years before me and it kind of made me want to apply here. They helped me submit a reel.”

Rutland says working on animated films requires a range of skills. Animators are assigned various shots by the leads, followed by a shot briefing. “You get a series of shots and you animate what’s in those shots. Sometimes there might be several characters and sometimes there might be one character. It’s not a definite thing,” she explained. Rutland and her team have worked on some high profile movies, including Brave, Toy Story 3 and Monsters University. She says that Sully remains one of her favourite projects. “I had a fun time on Monsters University. I ended up getting a lot of Sully shots and kind of got to know that character well because I got so many shots with him. It was really fun.”

The staff works rigorously on these films and, according to Rutland, animators always feel their comfort zone is being pushed. “It’s one of those jobs where you’re always learning. You kind of have to approach it almost as a student every time and you’re always going to come across something that’s really difficult,” she said. “I like that aspect of it because I always challenge myself to learn and get better.”

Of the 120 animators at Pixar there are roughly 25 women, a ratio Rutland explained has affected the way some characters are created. Brave for instance was a female heavy film and therefore required for a high level of femininity in its characters. “When there’s a female character, you kind of end up getting the women to animate them cause they can bring a certain amount of femininity that maybe the men wouldn’t know about. All my shots were Merida, she was the only character I animated with them,” she explained.

Rutland is thankful for all the small steps that led her transition from an undergraduate at McMaster to an animator at Pixar. “It’s a really great job, I love it. I feel very lucky to have gotten in at this time to be where I am.”

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