If you don't know who Brenda Chapman is, you probably haven't been reading this blog for very long. Chapman, who became the first female co-director of a major animated feature with DreamWorks' The Prince of Egypt, made headlines in 2010 after being replaced as director of Pixar's Brave.
Having officially left the studio following Brave's release this June, Chapman is now working as a consultant on an unannounced project at Lucasfilm, which she joined after getting a call from Lucasfilm's new co-chair, veteran producer Kathleen Kennedy.
In a recent email conversation, I asked Brenda about her start in the animation industry, working on Beauty and the Beast (a favourite of mine), and how she feels about Pixar today. This is what she had to say:
"I got in to animation in 1985, after my first year at CalArts. I worked on syndicated TV shows for DIC [Entertainment]—Hulk Hogan's Rockin' Wrestlin' was my first gig. I always knew I wanted to have a job where I could draw. I've drawn since I could hold a crayon. It was when I realized that people actually created the animated films I loved as a kid—my senior year in high school—duh!—that I knew what I specifically wanted to do.
"[Beauty and the Beast] was my favorite to work on as a story artist! It was the first film that I was invited to give my creative voice to the film as a whole. The directors and head of story invited me into meetings to kick around ideas with them. It was wonderful.
"We went to Fishkill, NY early on in the story process to work with the late Howard Ashman, who wrote the lyrics to the songs and had a big hand in the storytelling. We didn't realize that he was sick from AIDS at the time. He was so passionate about the storytelling process on that film. I feel very privileged to have gotten to work with such a talented and creatively passionate man.
"I was also fortunate enough to work with Roger Allers, who was head of story, and share and office with him. I have learned so much from Roger over the years, but those two years were and intense training time for me. Mentors are such an important component of my career. He taught me so much, so that when my time came to be head of story on The Lion King, I was ready for the challenge.
"The late, great Joe Ranft called me and asked me to come to Pixar to help him with "a woman's point of view" on Cars. Joe was one of the best story guys I've ever worked with, as well as being one of the most generous and nice people I have ever known. It was a great lost to our industry and our hearts to lose him. So I am so happy that I said "yes" and was able to work with him for two years before his untimely death.
"I left Pixar because I was ready to move on. I had planned on leaving after Brave was finished anyway. I wanted to work on my own personal work for a while and do more part-time consulting (to pay the bills), and spend time with my family in the meantime.
"Pixar makes entertaining movies—I thought that before and I still think it now. Working in the field you want to be in is a good start, period. You learn that way—what works for you and what doesn't. Experience is a good thing."