In March 2012, Pixar-Planet was able to interview Leo Santos, layout artist. Learn more about what her job entails within Pixar Animation Studios.
You recently joined the Pixar crew to work on Brave. How did you come to work for the company?
I've been working with animation since 1998, and along the way I did a bit of everything, but mostly layout and character animation. Before Pixar, I worked for about 8 years at a place called Blur Studio in Venice, CA, where I went from animator and layout artist to supervisor and then director.
In the past you have worked a great deal on video games, commercials, short films… Was working at Pixar one of your goals?
Yes, of course. But I enjoyed doing all those other things. I often see beginner animators wanting absolutely nothing else other than feature film animation, and I think it's silly. You'll be a much more experienced and complete professional if you allow yourself to have all kinds of different experiences, which includes videogames, commercials, small companies, large companies, etc.
Could you tell us what a layout artist does?
The job that normally is assigned to a Director of Photography in a live action film has to be split in two categories for computer animation: Lighting and Layout. It changes from studio to studio, but at Pixar a Layout Artist is responsible for building the first version of the shot in 3D, using simplified character rigs and rough animation, with emphasis on camera work (lenses, camera motion, framing and composition, etc.) and staging (character placement, basic timing, rough poses, etc.). We also explore multiple solutions for a sequence, with different camera angles, "shooting coverage" for the editor, etc. There's a great deal of trouble shooting, since it's much cheaper to deal with experimentation while you're still in Layout.
Your work comes into play between the storyboarding process and the actual filming. In the overall film-making process, does this stage stretch out over a long period of time?
Yes, although Layout is one of the first departments to finish (right after Story), the changes usually keep coming till late in the process. Also, some of the Layout work can only be finished after animation is done, since the character motion ends up affecting the camera.
Have many layout artists been working on Brave?
Hmmm, not sure... something between 10 and 20!
What skills do you need in your job?
You need to like film a lot, take seriously the design process that goes into a shot. Nothing is too small to consider. An eye for composition, timing and continuity is essential.
What is your typical workday like at Pixar?
Well, first things first, so a stop at the cereal bar every morning is mandatory! Then, I usually know when my deadline is, so I manage my own time as far as deciding what I should work on first, as I move from blocking the sequence to shot building. I Usually take breaks in the middle of the day, and lately I've been alternating between swimming and taking boxing classes that Jan, one of the layout artists, gives right here in the campus!
The cereal bar.
Pixar attaches great importance to employee creativity. Would you be interested in directing a short?
Right now I'm happy doing what I do. I used to direct before coming here, and it could get very stressful at times. I'm enjoying not being a manager and just being an artist again, satisfying my creative drive during my day job. But after my batteries are fully recharged (in a couple years, probably...) , I may go back to thinking about personal projects again.
Brave is coming soon to cinemas. Are you already working on another project?
Yes! It's green, short and only has one eye. Can you guess what it is?
Thank you very much for answering our questions.