Heedless Ambition: The life of a Pixar animator



He started young.

Evan Bonifacio’s earliest memories of drawing were of Kid Pix on a Macintosh computer and of using archaic digital brush tools to paint a picture of his old man.

Dad was in the business, too, as an animator on Disney’s Mulan and Don Bluth Productions films like All Dogs Go to Heaven and Fern Gully.

These days, Bonifacio, 28, carries on what he calls the “family business,” working with Pixar, one of the most respected animation firms in the industry.

Now, after roles as crowd animator on Brave and shot animator on Monsters University, he reflects on how he got there in the first place.

“The culture they had going was great,” Bonifacio said of a major stepping-stone in his career: studying at Sheridan College and working toward a Bachelor of Applied Animation.

He remembers his time at Sheridan as “being in a space full of artists,” where everyone had a passion for the craft, a far cry from the hodgepodge crowd of high school art class, he said over the phone from Emeryville, Calif.

It was four years that taught him everything he needed to know about the business.

In 2007, he wrapped up his education with a short 2-D animation called Heedless Ambition, a film about a man chasing an apple tied to his back, much like the old donkey and a carrot shtick, he said.

His first steps out of college led him to Nelvana in Toronto, working on TV animations and a year later, he was working at Starz Animation on Gnomeo and Juliet.

All this while, he was living in an apartment above a nightclub, pumping bass skittering up the walls and into his living space.

But he got used to it, he said.  It wasn’t until later, when he moved to a quiet suburb, that the silence freaked him out.

He wouldn’t be there for long anyway.

Using his animation from Gnomeo and Juliet as an application reel for Pixar, he would soon be travelling almost an entire continent away to a place where he “wouldn’t miss the snow.”

Pixar made the move easy for him and though he could have taken a plane, he opted for a road trip instead.

With his wife Karen in the passenger seat and their two pugs Abby and Winston in the back, they made the trek to California, where Bonifacio would come to work on his favourite project to date.

Monsters University “was a crazy, fun, kooky project where you could push the boundaries (of animation),” said Bonifacio.

Animating monsters, as opposed to human beings, allowed him to really flex his creative muscles.

It took eight months of shot work to complete the feature-length movie.

While working at Pixar, Bonifacio still finds the time for ongoing personal projects, where his love for the movies he grew up with shines through.

His favourite animated film remains The Secret of NIMH, a Don Bluth Productions film from 1982.

“I liked how dark it was,” Bonifacio said.  “Moody colour, ugly creatures … it was not happy-go-lucky.”

Those dark themes will surface a little in his next Pixar project, Toy Story of Terror, a Halloween TV special slated for release Oct. 16.

And the show goes on with one project still in its infancy, Inside Out, a feature-length film about personified emotions inside the mind of a little girl, coming to theatres in 2015.

“You can do a whole lot of stuff with make-believe,” Bonifacio said, and the wondrous concept behind Pixar’s next film should let him roam even further into the fantastic.