Creativity Always Finds A Way
Story by Matthew St. Amand
Photography by Leah Colechhia
Some people just know what path to take in life. Windsor native and Pixar Animation Studios Character Art Director, Deanna Marsigliese, was quite young when she had her plan together.
“I was in second grade when I made a formal announcement to my parents that I would be an animator,” she said during an interview.
If this occurred in a modern animated movie, that would be the moment where the main character’s parents attempted to “talk sense” to their daughter, advising her about the realities of this world and steering her toward more “practical” career choices, such as teacher, technologist, or tree trimmer.
Luckily for Deanna, she didn’t grow up in a cartoon.
“My mom started taking me to the library every Saturday,” she continues, “so I could pull books and try and understand what it was. I grew up on cartoons. I loved cartoons and my parents told me that adults make these, like, as a job.”
Among her favourites were: Disney movies, Warner Brothers cartoons, Jem and the Holograms, Tom & Jerry, The Jetsons and The Flintstones.
“As a kid, I used the window on the school bus as a light table,” Deanna recalls. “I was drawing clown faces—sad and then happy—flipping the pages to see movement, trying to figure out what the middle point was.”
Growing up in South Windsor, Deanna attended Holy Names High School. There, she connected with one of her many mentors.
“There was one art class,” Deanna says, “and my teacher was Mr. St. Pierre and I took it every year. After a while, especially in my last year, he let me do my own thing at the back of the class. He was like: ‘You can paint. You can do whatever you want.’ He was very supportive.”
Following graduation, Deanna was accepted at Sheridan College, the premier institution for the study of classic animation.
In a 2019 interview with VoyageLA, Deanna explained: “The following three years
involved a lot of hard work, all of which culminated in the creation of our own short films. While in college, I interned as an animation assistant at a Toronto-based commercial
studio and after graduation, I went on to obtain my certificate in digital animation at Seneca College.”
In her third year, Deanna made a short film titled “Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow,” about a magician and his uncooperative rabbit. It won a Best Film award.
At the end of each academic year, Deanna remained in Toronto, seeking internships with various animation studios. She landed one at Chuck Gammage Studio as a “clean up artist”—someone who creates drawings between the “key poses” drawn by animators and often redraws sketches that are too rough for the finished product.
Upon graduating from Sheridan, Deanna leapt right into feature animation, knowing there were production houses in Toronto doing whole sequences for Disney. Around this time, her parents offered an observation: “You know, the computer looks like the way things are going. You may consider looking at learning ‘CG’”—meaning, computer generated animation.
Deanna’s response was unequivocal: “No, I want to draw.”
She continues: “I love to work with my hands: pen/paper/paint. I don’t have as much control—you have that beautiful imperfection. It makes the art more tactile and interesting. On computer, everything is perfect, so you must work to make it imperfect. Toy Story, however, taught everyone that the computer was not something to be afraid of. The story is what matters.”
After doing a one-year post grad certificate in computer animation at Seneca
College, Deanna stayed on as an instructor for 2D animation students. She did this
on a part-time basis for six years while continuing her career as an animator.
At some point, work in 2D animation began to dry up. Just as she was thinking: “I may have to figure something out,” Deanna received a telephone call from the Toronto animation studio, Nelvana.
“We’re looking for a character designer,” the Nelvana rep said. “Is that something you’d like to try?”
Deanna said yes.
So, how did her new role designing characters differ from being a classical animator?
“As Character Art Director, I design the look and feel of our characters through explorative art,” Deanna explains, “and then collaborate with our technical artists to build them. An animator is the puppeteer. Once they’re built and controls have been added, an animator brings the characters to life.”
She joined Nelvana and Pixar became one her clients, along with Sony and Laika.
“I was working on the film Inside Out from Toronto,” she recalls. “After several months, Pixar asked me to come in-house and moved my husband and I down to San Francisco.”
Among the other animated features Deanna worked on are The Good Dinosaur, The Incredibles 2, Toy Story 4, and Soul. Her most recent project is Luca. Set on the Italian Riviera in the 1950–1960s, the film centers on Luca Paguro, a sea monster boy who can take human form while on land. He explores the town of Portorosso with his new best friend, Alberto Scorfano, experiencing a life-changing summer of adventure.
“I was able to contribute in multiple ways on Luca!” Deanna says. “After completing my role as Character Art Director, I was embedded in the animation department as an Animation Sketch Artist Lead in order to help develop the style of animation that would complement the designs.”
For all the complexity of the animation technology, Deanna says that story always comes first at Pixar.
“We challenge the technology,” she says. “The goal is never ‘Let’s make this look as realistic as possible.’ It’s: ‘Let’s create a style that elevates the content and the story.’ As a trained 2D animator, I felt very strongly that Art and Animation should be sharing the same artistic goals. They’re both equally satisfying.”
Along with her high school art teacher, Mr. St. Pierre, Deanna credits her parents as being a strong, encouraging force in her life. Other mentors include Chuck Gammage, Ralph Eggleston, Director and Production Designer at Pixar, and Daniela Strijleva Production Designer on Luca.
Working for one of the world’s premier animation studios could very well be all-consuming, but Deanna finds time for other pursuits. Among these is her love for mid-century style clothing and furniture.
“My love of vintage was sparked by my Nona’s basement on Erie Street,” Deanna says. “It was a treasure trove of random tchotchkes and oddities. I would try on clothes I found and look through old photographs. I loved the idea of treasure hunting, holding something and thinking: ‘This object is older than I am. It has a whole history behind it.’”
Her other passion is travel. “I love hiking, camping,” she says. “Highlights for me are the 10 days my husband and I spent in the Himalayas, trekking between villages, staying with families, learning about the culture. In 2019, we did Machu Pichu for five days with no guides. Another time, we backpacked Africa, going over land from South Africa to Uganda.”
To young, aspiring artists, Deanna offers the following advice: “Stay curious and
observe the world around you! This attitude keeps me young at heart. It moves me to create and keeps me inspired!”
To view some of Deanna’s work, visit her website www.dmarsigliese.com.