Interview conducted by Dan Boulos, ACM Mānoa chair and animation track coordinator
Meet Jennifer Migita, an alumna of the UH Mānoa Academy for Creative Media’s Animation Program. Migita has been accepted to an animation internship at PIXAR Animation Studio to be held this summer at their main studio in Emeryville, California. She will then move on to accept an animation position at Sony Pictures Vancouver Animation Studio to work on an upcoming feature film. ACM Mānoa Chair and Animation Track Coordinator Dan Boulos recently sat down with Jen to learn more about her life and pathway to PIXAR.
Dan: Jen, are you an O‘ahu native or are you from the neighbor islands?
Jen: I was born and raised on the island of Maui, in a small upcountry town called Kula.
Dan: Have you always been interested in art?
Jen: From a very young age, I’ve always been obsessed with telling stories with my drawings. While I’ve always doodled on my notebooks throughout elementary and middle school, my knack for fine arts was first discovered at King Kekaulike High School, where I graduated in 2008. After high school, I decided to attend the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa for college.
Dan: Did you find the ACM Animation Program right away, or did you begin in a different department at UH Mānoa?
Jen: During my freshman year of college, I declared my major in the Fine Arts program and also joined the UH Marching Band and became heavily involved with that. However, as the year went by, I soon discovered that my love for painting was dwindling down, and I quickly grew bored with fine arts. It wasn’t until my sophomore year, where I learned of the Academy of Creative Media and their Animation Program.
Dan: Tell me about your experience in the ACM Animation Program.
Jen: The ACM program allowed me to truly explore my creativity, utilizing different media tools. I was able to mix my love of art, storytelling, and music to create these moving pictures for other people to enjoy. When I first joined the program, we learned mostly 2D animation, which sadly, was a dying art in the animation industry. With the growth of technology thriving, the animation industry was also evolving along with it and many studios were converting to 3D computer animation.
Dan: I heard you were part of an early internship with an animation company on O‘ahu?
Jen: Yes. Fortunately for us, the ACM program was able to set up a 3-month computer animation internship opportunity with the Hawaii Animation Studio. The Hawaii Animation Studio (HAS) is where I first got to learn the basics of 3D computer animation, using a program called Maya. My mentor at HAS, Erik Girndt who is currently a technical director at Disney TV, was the one who really pushed me to continue pursuing animation after college.
Dan: But that was a few years back. Did you take time off after ACM?
Jen: Despite the internship and my mentor’s persistence, after graduating college in 2013, I was still very unsure of my career path and ability to enter the animation industry. So I worked in various admin jobs and even dabbled in graphic design for about 2 years. It wasn’t until 2015, when I discovered an online animation school called Animation Mentor.
Dan: What was that like?
Jen: Animation Mentor is an 18-month, intensive online computer animation program where students have the opportunity of learning from professional animators within the entertainment industry. My mentors came from studios such as Dreamworks, Blue Sky, Disney, and MPC. This is where my passion for animation truly skyrocketed. During this time, I had also heard of a Pixar internship seminar being held at UH Mānoa.
Dan: Yes, that was great timing. Last November was the first site visit PIXAR made to the ACM Mānoa program. I remember seeing you there. Did that event help? What happened next?
Jen: At the Pixar internship seminar, I was able to meet 3 amazing recruiters, Allison Parker, Kim Diaz, and Andy Beall. After hearing the recruiters talk about their own experiences with applying to Pixar, I finally mustered up the courage to apply to the 2017 Summer Internship program.
Dan: That’s great. It does take courage, you are right, but as they say nothing ventured nothing gained.
Jen: I was also able to reconnect with you there. Then you offered me an opportunity to become an instructor at UH Mānoa for the ACM 215 – Intro to Maya course for the Spring 2017 semester.
Dan: Yes, your demo reel looked great and I knew you would be a good fit. What happened next?
Jen: My journey towards an animation career truly began rolling along after attending a convention called CTN in Burbank, California. CTN is a place where aspiring artists have the opportunity to have their demo reels reviewed by big name animation studios and meet with recruiters. Studios such as Pixar, Disney, Sony, ILM, Blizzard and Dreamworks all participate and hold panel discussions, seminars, and workshops. It’s a great place for networking within the entertainment industry.
Dan: Yes, CTN is a great expo and artist-driven, a real contrast to Siggraph which is tech-heavy. Did CTN help you connect?
Jen: After attending the CTN convention, I had posted one of my Animation Mentor shots on Facebook and shortly after was contacted by a Sony Imageworks recruiter. An animation director at Sony had seen my shot on Facebook, and after interviewing with him, I was offered a Junior Animator position for an upcoming feature film (position starting in November 2017 in Vancouver, Canada).
Dan: That’s awesome! So you got this job, but what about the PIXAR internship?
Jen: I then recently discovered that I have also been accepted into the 2017 Pixar animation internship program!
Dan: That’s an amazing achievement. There are over 2,000 applicants from all over the country that try to get into that internship. You are one of about 25 animation interns right?
Jen: Actually, for animation it is only 8 interns. The others are interning in different departments.
Dan: Wow, 8 applicants out of more than 2,000 got in. That’s excellent! I know it is hard for other students growing up in Hawaiʻi to imagine one day finding similar success. Do you have any advice for students just starting their animation studies?
Jen: My journey has taught me many things about this industry. I’ve learned that animation is not for the faint of heart. It requires hard work, patience, networking, and dedication. You have to be willing to put in the time and effort required for learning such a difficult art. Accept the fact that you will never stop learning, because this industry is constantly evolving. There’s a Zig Ziglar quote that helps describe one of the most important lessons I learned throughout this entire experience: “There is no elevator to success, you have to take the stairs”… but I believe that if you’re a good person, there just might be an escalator for you.