Inside the lobby of the Steve Jobs Building at Pixar Animation Studios stands a glass case filled with the company’s 13 Oscars, nine Golden Globes, and countless other awards. The newest Oscar in that case belongs to the movie Inside Out, a movie that explores the emotions in people’s heads with Pixar’s classic humor and heart.
“The first time I heard the pitch, I knew it was a special story for the director Pete Docter,” said Chico State alumnus and one of the film’s assistant editors Jimmy Lillard during a recent interview at the company’s Emeryville headquarters. “To see it go on this whole path and then win an Oscar was really satisfying and really rewarding, and I was really happy to see that there is support and encouragement for movies like that.”
Inside Out was also a special story for Lillard (BA, Media Arts ’04), because it was his first feature film for the animation company and because he spent four years of his life working on it from beginning to end. He was hired by Pixar in March 2010, and his first few projects included Toy Story shorts like Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry, and Partysaurus Rex.
Before that, one of his first jobs out of college was working for CafeFX, a now-defunct visual effects house, where he got a gig working on his first film, Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. After several years working as a visual effects editor in the Bay Area and a brief stint in Washington, D.C., Lillard moved into the animation world. That transition gave him much more freedom as a storyteller, he said, and erased every boundary he ever had with films.
“In live action, you get a lot in camera,” he said. “You get the lighting, the environment, the performance, the audio. In animation, you don’t get any of that, you create all of it. When you’re doing a conversation in animation, you record those people separate, so an editor is crafting that conversation—picking the space in between words, picking the rhythm, picking the speed. You’re composing everything, every element.”
Lillard has loved filmmaking and storytelling ever since he took a video production class at his high school in Santa Maria, and he knew then that he was going to make a career out of it. When he attended Chico State, he was determined to make that happened any way he could. He worked at the local NBC, CBS, and Fox affiliates cutting commercials and producing local talk shows; spent countless hours in video production labs checking out equipment and learning to edit on iMovie; and even starred in a one-act student play as a Cupid-like character.
“I didn’t know where I was going to end up, but I knew I needed to do everything I needed to do while I was there to get ready for that next step,” he said.
While his love of film and storytelling was first born in high school, it was a production class he took with communication design professor Jennifer Meadows that allowed Lillard to fully stretch his creative muscles.
“It was the first time I got to be in an actual studio and was told ‘here’s how to use stuff, do whatever you want,’” he said. “Because of the support and resources at Chico, we were able to take advantage of that. We had equipment and tools that we can use and play with.”
As an assistant editor for Inside Out and Pixar’s upcoming Finding Dory, Lillard’s job includes working directly with the lead editor. He helps organize early drafts of films, works on recording sessions to keep track of dialogue, stitches together storyboards, adds temporary dialogue and music to see if certain sequences are working, and essentially recuts the movie together through every phase of production.
“When you can watch rough storyboards with temp music and somebody who works here doing dialogue and sound effects, you can watch it and feel something, you can laugh,” Lillard said. “You have storyboards and story artists, and they’re great, but when you actually see them edited and cut with dialogue, that’s when you start to see if this is working or not.”
Working at Pixar requires a lot, Lillard said, but he puts hard work, ambition, open-mindedness, and being a good listener at the top of that list. Those are qualities he’s used on Inside Out and Finding Dory, and ones, he said, that were really developed during his time as an undergrad at Chico State.
“In every way, Chico has influenced and prepared me,” he said.