Cassandra Smolcic discusses the challenges she’s faced in the animation industry and how it’s helped shape her future.
Academy Award Winning Animator, Pixar Studios
How did you first get into computer animation?
When I saw the Little Mermaid, it lit me up. So at six years old, I already had big dreams of working in animation one day. Two things that I always knew were essential to me were art and writing. Graphic design and filmmaking are a great combination of those. When I interned at Pixar in college, I learned so much. I immediately fell in love with digital design from my first project.
STEM classes have not necessarily been popular amongst women and girls. Why do you think that is?
At my various internships, the leads in the design studio were always men. I made friends with younger women, but we were vastly outnumbered. That wasn’t the case in our college classes, however. I wondered why so many women were studying these things but weren’t in the lead chairs once in the industry.
There aren’t many leadership roles for women. I would speak to women who had brilliant educations and were best in their class, but many had a hard time landing the internships or jobs they’d been hoping for, and I often wondered if it was because of their gender. They were forced to go in the side door just to enter the industry, taking on assistant or clerical roles instead.
More women need to be encouraged to follow their own path. We are underestimated, talked over, and shut out. We’ve been conditioned to think a certain way, and although we are more than capable, we are told that we aren’t, so we don’t believe we are.
What advice do you have for women in the industry?
Whatever it is you choose to do, do it with your heart and don’t allow your mind to trick you into thinking something is right for you if it no longer is. Our fears of the unknown are more horrendous than the realities of what’s ahead. Don’t let a job shape you or your identity, and just keep moving and investing in yourself.
Did your experience on the gender front impact your love for design and filmmaking?
Holistically the answer is no, although there was a period of time that I needed to step away from work altogether — for both my mental and my physical health — before I could come back to it with renewed energy and enthusiasm. In the end, I feel more love and passion for both design and filmmaking after my experiences in the animation industry. Being a “Pixarian” was a profound education for me in so many ways. Despite all that took place, I don’t regret or feel jaded about the time I spent there; it was instrumental to my personal and professional growth in more ways than I can describe. I’ve been stretching my wings lately — bridging into product design and even fashion — but I certainly hope that my name will roll with a new line of credits one day. Time will tell.