Nick Pitera is a Pixar artist, born in 1986. Within the animation studios he works as a "Sets Modeling Artist". He is, however, famous on the Internet due to his talent for singing. This interview was conducted in May 2012.
How did your passion for animation start?
I have been interested in animation ever since I was very young. As a little kid I was infatuated with Disney films such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast. I knew very early on that animation was something I wanted to be a part of.
What studies did you do?
I received a BFA in computer animation from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota Florida.
How did you come to be hired by Pixar Animation Studios? What is a typical job interview like there?
After graduation I interviewed for a residency position at Pixar. This is something between an internship and a job. In this position, you spend a year working on a production under a mentor. The interview process consisted of an in person interview/evaluation, and many follow up phone interviews. After completing the residency, I went through another evaluation process, and was lucky enough to get to stay on.
I have worn a couple of different hats while working here at Pixar. For Up, Cars Toons, Cars 2 and La Luna I was primarily a set modeling artist. This meant I would receive art work, and model packets from the art department, and create the 3d models based off of that art. The sets department is in charge of anything that is not a character or a prop heavily used by a character. I am currently working with the International team on Brave. In the international department we take any artwork with graphics or text, translate it, and re-produce it for the foreign markets. For example, one of my tasks was to create the 3d model for the Brave logo in a multitude of languages. This way when you see the film in countries outside the U.S. (i.e. France) it will feel tailor made for that country.
Designing sets is a substantial job as each detail matters when you are creating a world. Do you only ever do computer modeling or do you also design sets with the help of artwork?
As a modelor, every once and a while you will have some liberty to flesh out a prop or set piece, but for the most part we are given artwork to use as our guide.
You worked as a Sets Modeling Artist on Up and then on Cars 2. The latter featured scenery that was awe-inspiring and highly elaborate. Did the technological advances made between these two films enable you to push the boundaries of photorealism even further?
I think with every film the hope is to push boundaries, and do something new. Cars 2 was no exception. It was a very set heavy film, and the whole team did such an amazing job creating detailed and lush landscapes. From a set standpoint it was a really fun project to work on. The story took us around the world, and allowed for great variety in modeling projects.
In addition to sets you are also in charge of modeling those props which will endow the scene with a lifelike quality. Which prop was the most challenging to model and why?
Off the top of my head I am having trouble recalling the most difficult. One that I really enjoyed working on though was the tool cart used in La Luna. Since it needed to interact with the characters, there was a lot of back and forth during its creation.
What skills do you need in your job?
I find myself using a lot of the skills learnt during my college years. The job is a fusion of art and technical skills, so it requires tapping into both ways of thinking.
Creative Film Services refers to my work with the International department. On both of those films I worked with the team that localized the feature for international release. I am once again working with this team on Brave.
Some artists have highly customized offices within Pixar Animation Studios. What is yours like?
This is true! There are many really amazing offices and work spaces at Pixar. A lot of which are themed and very heavily decorated. I haven't altered the structure of my office like some, but I have made a point to fill it with fun things. Mine looks a bit like a toy store. I have way too many Disney posters, and shelves full of things that would make 5 year old me jealous. I just recently started adding Brave merchandise to my collection in anticipation of its release.
Do you have one or several anecdotes you would like to share with us regarding your work?
One of the most memorable moments at Pixar for me was my first day. I moved to the area about a week before my start date. A couple of my friends had started about a month earlier and were already working. I drove them nuts, because I was adamant on not letting them tell me anything about the studio. I didn't want to see pictures, hear stories, or go near the campus. I even made a concious effort to avoid going past the front gates. I wanted to save everything for my first day. I am so glad I did. It was a childhood dream of mine to work for Pixar, and seeing and walking through the gates for the first time as an employee was a very surreal and emotional experience. One I will never forget.
Are you currently working on another Pixar project?
As mentioned before I am currently finishing up working on Brave.
You are famous on the Internet thanks to your very unusual voice which enables you to impersonate both male and female voices. Where did this passion for singing come from and when did you become aware of your "gift"?
Funny enough my passion for singing came from the same place as my passion for art and animation. I learned how to draw, and I learned how to sing from Disney films. I have always been able to sing in the higher register, so it never really occurred to my as anything strange. As I got older, I noticed I could still reach the high notes. I figured I would just keep using them and have some fun with it.
Your most watched video is Me Singing A Whole New World Disney’s Aladdin (it has amassed over 28 million views since late 2007). Were you expecting such a great success?
I had no idea anyone would see that video. My friends told me to put it up, so I did without any expectations. I was and continue to be surprised by the exposure that the video receives.
How do you experience the craze you arouse with each new video?
I am always so grateful and appreciative when or if people take the time to watch my new videos. YouTube has provided a great platform for me musically and I am so happy for the opportunity. Because of it, I have been able to travel the country playing shows, release a series of cover EPs on itunes, and am now working on my debut EP of original content. I feel very lucky!
Would you like to compose and perform a song for a Pixar movie soundtrack one day?
I would love to !
Thank you very much for answering my questions.
View more videos of and by Nick Pitera on his YouTube channel.