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Interview with Pixar employee, Jeremy Vickery, a fellow believer in Christ and an artist for Disney’s “Cars” (2006)

by Chris Monroe
Staff Writer

See our review of CARS

On the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), he is referred to as a “Digital Artist” for the Pixar animation “Cars,” but fellow follower of Christ, Jeremy Vickery is technically a “Lighting Artist”—the same title he is credited with on the wildly successful Pixar animation “The Incredibles”. Vickery tells a little about what inspires those at Pixar to produce such wholesome entertainment as well as the great lengths they go to in order to create something so refreshingly original. He also shares a bit about his involvement with foreign missions, as well as Pixar’s upcoming film “Ratatouille”.

Curious about the consistently clean content of Pixar films, I asked Vickery what it was that inspires the creators of these movies (i.e., “Toy Story” I and “II, “A Bug’s Life,” “Finding Nemo”) to produce this kind of uplifting entertainment. What motivates them to make such good movies? Vickery states that their desire is to write movies that speak from the heart about the issues of life. He explains,

“Finding Nemo” was about spending time with your kids—but also needing to let them live. For “Cars”, John Lasseter [writer and director] had taken a road trip with his family when he got the idea for the script. His intention was to say something from the heart.”

Building upon this initial inspiration requires help from everyone at Pixar. Vickery states that there are about 800 people who work for the company and that there is a real team environment when working on these projects. Each movie Pixar produces takes an average of four years to complete. This makes sense considering that “Cars”, for example, has approximately 1800 shots for the film—which is well over the average 400 to 1000 for a typical feature. Vickery states that every scene is also storyboarded, and for “Cars” approximately 47,000 storyboards were created in the production process. What is also amazing is that as real as the pictures look, none of them are processed from photographs. Each one is built from scratch and is 100 percent original.

Vickery’s work is done specifically with the Lighting Department, which consisted of 30 to 35 people for “Cars”. His job is to help create the lighting and shading for shots after they have been created and composed by the other departments. Out of the 1800 shots created for “Cars”, Vickery worked on the lighting for about 70 of them. He says, “Each shot can take anywhere from two days to one month to light.” The scenes he worked on specifically were when Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) goes on a drive with his newfound girlfriend, Sally Carrera (voice of Bonnie Hunt). Vickery also did a lot of work with the opening and closing race sequences, which were so elaborate that it took assistance from the entire lighting department. Those two sequences alone were composed of about 400 shots.

Vickery’s previous digital animation work was with Big Idea Productions and their extremely popular children’s show “Veggie Tales”. Vickery worked with Modeling and as a Texturing Artist and Concept Designer on such “Veggie Tales” episodes as Madame Blueberry, Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed, “Lyle the Kindly Viking” and their feature animation Jonah. Before working for Big Idea, Vickery graduated from Full Sail Real World Education earning a Digital Media degree. He has also worked as Lighting Director with Fathom Studios on a yet-to-be-released feature animation entitled “Delgo”.

Besides animation, Vickery has also been involved with cross-cultural missions since his youth and is still a huge supporter of seeing the Gospel brought to other nations. Vickery himself has traveled to such countries as Nicaragua, South Africa and Cuba, and has also ventured out on an around-the-world trip in 1995, which took him about a year to accomplish. In his life he has traveled to more than 40 countries, and although he and his family are not traveling overseas now, they are still directly involved in helping those who are. Their next trip may be to New Zealand in 2007 after he completes his work on Pixar’s next feature “Ratatouille”.

Vickery was not at liberty to divulge anything about “Ratatouille”, but before a screening for “Cars”, there was a trailer for it. The basic story is about a rat living in Paris who has extremely fine tastes in food and risks life and limb at an upmarket restaurant in order to eat well. The trailer can also be viewed online.

Vickery is enjoying the work he is doing for Pixar and appreciates the philosophy Steve Jobs has of creating quality products. Since Pixar has six to seven productions in the works at any one time, perhaps it would be easier to skimp out on certain aspects in order to produce more films. But, as Vickery told me, Steve Jobs believes that if you spend the time to make things well, then people will buy it. There is a lot of good to be gained by seeing Pixar’s films, and it is also encouraging to know that they are spending their efforts on many fronts to create such excellent entertainment.

See our review page on “Cars”.