Pixar Animation Studios artist Kiki Poh made her way home to Malaysia to celebrate the upcoming release of Disney•Pixar’s “Cars 3”. Not only was she a part of the filmmaking team behind the movie, she’s also the first Malaysian Disney•Pixar animation artist.
Born and raised in Johor Bahru, Kiki was recruited by Pixar Animation Studios, located in Emeryville, California as an intern back in 2010. She has since worked on “Toy Story 3”, “Monsters University”, “Inside Out“, and the latest release, “Cars 3”. Her role as shading and grooming technical director involves working on the surface texture and colours of the characters.
We had the opportunity to speak to her while she was in town last week.
Here’s what went down:
Welcome back to Malaysia, Kiki, and congratulations on the release of “Cars 3”! What were some of the challenges that you faced while working on the film?
So, for this..I think the biggest challenge for me is that..I was actually assigned as team leader for one of the character’s projects in the Crazy 8 scenes. The biggest challenge is that we needed to shade about 60 different car variants while running on a very tight schedule. We needed to be very smart and as team leader, I had 2 other team members to work on it with me so my challenge was finding the fastest and easiest way to work efficiently and give 60 variants in a very short period of time.
Tell us, how did the opportunity to work for Disney•Pixar come by?
In 2008, I went to pursue my graduate degree in Savannah College of Art and Design, which is in Georgia. One summer, I heard that Disney•Pixar was coming to visit our school to look for new talents and I was encouraged by one of my teachers who said that she saw something in me, even though I thought that I wasn’t ready at that moment. She encouraged me to apply for the internship program, so I gave it a shot because..what do I have to lose, right? After the interview, they selected my portfolio and brought it back to their office, and I was picked to become an intern for Disney•Pixar. I worked on a production for “Toy Story 3” as my first project in Disney•Pixar. It was a really fun and amazing experience.
With so many cars featured in the film, including a few newcomers, which would you say is your favourite character in “Cars 3”?
“Cars 3” is such a special movie to me not only because I worked on it but also because I studied in US and I had to be away from my family. It’s a movie about mentorship and about passing on the knowledge from one generation to another. In “Cars 3”, Lightning McQueen has to face a big challenge in Jackson Storm who has all these like..he was built on such advanced technology. So on the journey to better and rediscover himself, Lightning McQueen meets Cruz, who becomes his trainer. Cruz is such a fun and young character, and I felt myself resonating with the character a lot. Cruz grew up in a small town but with a big dream, and she’s a female character. I myself am a girl who grew up in Johor Bahru so being able to follow my dream and chase my dream and make my dream come true, like Cruz, is really special to me.
What were some of your favourite Disney•Pixar movies? And why are those movies meaningful to you?
To me, my favourite Disney•Pixar movie is “Monsters Inc” because I love the really cute relationship between Boo and Sullivan. Now that I have a baby, he’s 10 months old, it’s really cute to see how kids grow up and I can’t wait to show him the movies that I’ve worked on. Boo and Sullivan (Kitty!) are very cute together. I really like the story a lot.
Did you work on “Cars 3” while you were pregnant?
Oh yeah! So my little baby kinda helped in making the movie. His name is actually in the credits! Every year, whenever Disney•Pixar makes a new film..I’m not sure how many people sit through the credits..but we have a section called the production baby and at the end, we get to see the names of the babies who were born during the production of the movie because Disney•Pixar really focuses on and puts great emphasis on giving us a healthy working environment. They really value family because they understand that families sacrifice their time for us to work on the movies.
Are there any other Malaysians who are currently working in Disney•Pixar?
Oh, I’m glad that you asked! Currently..so I’ve been with Disney•Pixar the longest but later on 3 more Malaysians joining us. And we also have a Malaysian intern who just joined us so in total there are 5 of us. We miss Malaysian food so much so when I go back after this trip, we’re all going to have a Malaysian lunch together.
Can you share with us your key learnings on working in such a reputed company like Disney•Pixar?
In this industry, the tools are always changing. The learning experience for me is not really about what kind of tools I’m using but it’s more about keeping my passion alive with the work that I’m doing and being able to keep practising and doing what I love to do. At the same time, not being afraid to share my techniques or knowledge that I have with someone else or offering help to people at work. It’s really like “Cars 3”, because you actually learn that by sharing your knowledge, in a way, it allows you to learn from someone else too. In Disney•Pixar, I’d go around the office to ask questions and by doing that, I was able to share some of my knowledge with others as well. For this movie, I had the opportunity to become a mentor and I was mentoring a young intern who is super talented. So by sharing my knowledge with her, I also learnt a lot from her.
Do you have any advice for local talents who want to pursue their career in the United States?
I would say..that personally, the journey to getting a job with Disney•Pixar is not really only about aiming to work in the company. You need to work on it step by step. Along the journey, you will face failures and that’s totally normal. Just don’t let anything stop you and try to understand that each failure is temporary. I take every challenge and every obstacle as an opportunity for me to grow. If you stay within your comfort zone, you will stop growing. In order to achieve your goal, you have to stay grounded and take it one step at a time. Eventually you’ll get to your goal. Always check up on yourself to make sure that you’re on track. As long as you’re on the right track and you keep working hard, you’ll get there!
Kiki wrapped up her trip back to Malaysia with an animation workshop at The One Academy, where students got a chance to learn from her and gain more insights into character shading and grooming. She also shared her animation career journey and answered questions from fervent students who were inspired by her and her work.
“Cars 3”, the latest instalment in the hugely popular “Cars” franchise, opens in cinemas nationwide on 24th August 2017.
For more information, hit up the movie’s Facebook page.