Galyn Susman has been working at Pixar for more than 20 years with stints in various areas of the company. She is currently producing extra features for Blu-ray and DVD releases, along with the occasional foray into shorts such as the recent Hawaiian Vacation. Here’s my chat with Galyn from this past Summer.
Growing up in Illinois and then attending Brown University, when did you know that computers and animation would be your career path?
Animation was really no where in my vision. I went to college as a physics major. I wasn’t really as good at physics as I thought I was. Computer science really spoke to me and meshed with my way of thinking. I loved that way of looking at the world. I went off to Apple to do research on computer graphics.
Was working on the Mac and creating a short film for Macintosh computers what propelled you towards Pixar?
Yes. It was so much fun. The first color Mac was coming out and we thought it would be cool to make a short entirely on a Mac. I worked with a lady named Nancy Taggen on the film, who would later become Nancy Lasseter and that’s where I met John. John coached us on this film in terms of animation. I fell in love with the process and realized I’d rather make animations than programs. When Pixar decided to produce animation as its lifeblood, I left Apple and joined Pixar.
You started with the Pixar commercials division and co-directed two Kellogg’s commercials with Andrew Stanton. How was that?
It was great. It actually wasn’t the first time I worked with Andrew. While working at Apple, John Lasseter told us that he saw this short film from a kid over at CalArts, so we hired him as a freelancer to do some character design to help with our Apple short.
When I got to Pixar, there was Andrew Stanton sitting in the office next to me. It was great fun to work with Andrew. We were all learning and exploring together.
Tell us about your long and varied history at Pixar.
I’ve been at Pixar for over 20 years now. I started as a generalist before we started doing feature films. Sometimes I was doing technical work, sometimes I was producing or animating. It really ran the spectrum. I went the technical route originally and then moved over to the production track starting with Ratatouille.
Why the transition to producing?
It was two reasons really. As I worked more and more on these films, I was finding that solving production problems was very appealing. Before that, I was more interested in doing the nuts and bolts or the “hands on” work. Plus, I was a jack of all trades person and not as technically proficient as the next generation of technical directors. As a company, we were growing and it was time for me to make way for that generation.
It was a huge asset for me as a producer to understand all the other jobs on a project. It really allows me to problem solve much better because of my earlier experiences.
Next you produced BURN-E, Dug’s Special Mission and George and A.J. Tell me more about that. Why didn’t George and A.J. make the DVD and Blu-ray for Up?
It was really a marketing decision. The Up iTunes release was our first foray into same day digital release. We wanted an exclusive for that channel, but we didn’t have time to create something new. Since we couldn’t do George and A.J in full 3D, but felt it would be a valuable extra for the digital release.
As a huge fan of your DVD/Blu-ray extras, have you thought of producing a full length documentary on putting a feature film together from start to finish?
We have certainly thought about it. We just aren’t sure who else we would be doing it for except for ourselves and the die hard fans. By doing the behind the scenes features in bits and pieces, we can target them to specific interests.
Why was Gary Rydstrom the right choice to direct Hawaiian Vacation?
With his experience doing sound on many, many shorts, along with directing Lifted, I think if anyone speaks Pixar Short Speak, it’s Gary. I think Newt was probably a pretty hard experience and I think he was excited to take another project that was going to be so much fun. It was really just pure fun from the get go. I think he really had a good time and brought a super sensibility to the project, along with a great, dry wit.
Do you see yourself producing additional Toy Story Toons?
Maybe. I tend to like to do the first of something. I tend to gravitate toward first time directors and help them find their feet in the short form world. I have a regular full time gig producing all the DVD and Blu-ray extra features. I only take these extra things on when I can find something unique or juicy. But you never say never.
Are all future Toy Story Toons being produced at Pixar Canada?
They are being animated in Canada. All the upfront pre-production (story, art, etc.) still happens in Emeryville. We still produce it down here along with a line producer up in Canada.
Thanks to Galyn and the fine folks at Pixar PR for this interview!