Pixar Animator Surprised SDSU Film Students for “The Good Dinosaur” Presentation

Rosie Sullivan, Pixar Animator, and Suzette Valle

Rosie Sullivan, Pixar Animator, and Suzette Valle

Pixar Animator, Rosie Sullivan, Surprised SDSU Film Students with “The Good Dinosaur” Presentation – Lesson: Don’t Ditch Class

Monday, October 26, may not have been a good day to skip class.

About 500 San Diego State University students in Professor Sam Shpigelman’s Cinema Art and Communications class, got the surprise of the semester.

The Good Dinosaur Poster. Courtesy of Disney.

The Good Dinosaur Poster. Courtesy of Disney.

Rosana “Rosie” Sullivan made an unadvertised visit to the campus as part of a tour to talk about her work on Disney-Pixar’s upcoming film, “The Good Dinosaur.” I caught up with Sullivan at Starbucks on campus, and asked her a few things about this film and about her career with Pixar before she was whisked away to the auditorium.

As a recent author of a children’s book about movies, which features several Pixar films, believe me when I tell you I was start struck.

Sullivan is a story board artist. She has the incredibly creative job of turning a script into drawings, “fleshing out the scenes from nothing,” as Sullivan describes her initial involvement with a film script at Pixar.

For those of us ungifted in the drawing department, this skill is impressive especially in the age of CGI. Sullivan is one of those now-rare talents who draws by hand. In fact, in Sullivan’s early drawing days she was a caricaturist at Six Flags. You have to start somewhere, right?

Now at Pixar since 2011, Sullivan is involved with what she calls the blueprint of a movie, the very beginning of a film. She works closely with the director of a film, sometimes for years, before the project moves on to the animators and the modelers who work on the effects and lay out the shots.

“They take our drawings and build the movie from that,” said Sullivan.

This traditional animator told me from the outset that she couldn’t say much about the third act in “The Good Dinosaur” (no spoilers, though I tried!), so we tiptoed around direct questions about Arlo, the dinosaur, and his boy, Spot.

What is one of the most difficult emotions for you to capture in a drawing and why?

That’s a very good question! For me, at least, the emotion that I find both challenging and also so rewarding, would be the emotion of bitter sweetness. When you feel warm, enriched, and flooded with emotions, but at the same time you feel a kind of sadness. For me, it’s one of my favorite emotions. It represents the feeling of: The journey! And, oh…the journey.

Is there a scene in “The Good Dinosaur” where the audience can identify this emotion?

I didn’t work on this scene specifically, and unfortunately I can’t talk too much about it, but there is a scene that captures the essence of this movie. It’s a scene between Spot and Arlo when they connect for the first time in their journey. This movie is basically about their relationship; a boy and his dog, or a dinosaur and his boy! Laughs.

In the trailer, we see that Arlo loses his parents in the film. We’ve seen this Disney formula in movies like “Bambi” and “The Lion King.” How is this Disney movie trait used in “The Good Dinosaur”?

This is a movie that we made with the intention of showing the story about potential, and finding that sort of harmony within yourself and the world around you; when you’re kind of out of your element, like Arlo is. As far as this type of story, of losing your parent and learning to get back on your feet again, I feel like this is such a universal trait that all of us have to go through at some point. It’s about dealing with change, and trying to find your place in that world when you don’t always have control. For me, that is one of my greatest fears, of course, is losing someone I love. The older Disney movies were never shy about that! But we can also become strong from what we watch in movies. If I had never watched “Bambi,” for example, then I don’t think I would have as much of a rich, wealth of emotions that I could put back into this film!

About five years before Sullivan landed her job at Pixar, she scored an internship at Pixar University while she was still in college as a Biology major. Though she drew growing up, Sullivan chose to get her degree in something practical.

“That’s when I really didn’t know what Pixar was,” Sullivan candidly revealed.

I suspect that after Sullivan’s visit to SDSU, and word spreads about her involvement with “The Good Dinosaur,” people will know who this remarkably humble artist is and appreciate her contributions to the animated film industry.

It is unusual to have talent of this caliber just pop into a college classroom in America’s Finest City.

Hopefully, no one ditched class and regretted it.

“The Good Dinosaur” opens in theaters November 25th, 2015.


  1. Janee says:

    Wish I was there to see it. My degree is animation and I just love seeing cartoon movies

  2. Oh that is so amazing, I wish I have been there. And congrats on the interview.


  1. […] For more about “The Good Dinosaur,” read my interview with the story board artist who br… […]

  2. […] real ones. For more on how this movie was made read my interview with Pixar story-board artist Rosie Sullivan, who worked on “The Good Dinosaur” and brought the script to animated […]

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