It was back in May when Kelly Juarez, a former animation major at Long Beach State, picked her mom up from work and then received an email about her new job.
“We just started crying,” Juarez said.
Juarez was hired as a fix animator for Pixar before she graduated from CSULB, the campus already shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was my time to say, ‘I’m going to do this and just enjoy it,’” Juarez said.
The job involves intricate problem solving that has to be precise and creative.
Juarez’s art spoke volumes for her and turned what was supposed to be a second internship at Pixar into a job for her.
The art that Juarez creates celebrates her culture and involves a lot of her own life experiences being second-generation of Mexican-Guatemalan descent.
Born and raised in Anaheim, Disneyland was not far for Juarez, but growing up an only child with parents who are immigrants and had to constantly work, a career as an artist did not seem close.
“I was never really thinking about the future,” Juarez said. “I was just thinking, ‘I just like art.’ I was so close to L.A. where the entertainment industry was, but yet I was so far from it.”
While in high school, Juarez surrounded herself in art, enrolling in Ryman Arts, Otis College of Art and Design and the University of California Irvine’s Summer Academies in the Arts.
It was a road that would eventually lead her to CSULB, where she enrolled to receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in animation.
At CSULB, Juarez became the student ambassador for the School of Art, where she helped create career building events like an internship workshop.
“A lot of my reasoning on why I did that was because I had a lot of things I wanted to give back,” Juarez said. “I had a lot of things I knew, resource wise, and I was sure that every other student wanted to know about this stuff.”
Thomas Decker, an illustration and animation professor and former professor of Juarez’s, said that persistence is what it takes to break into animation and talent is only part of it.
“She has what Pixar/Disney is looking for in an animation artist because she has an innate understanding of character and personality in her work,” Decker said.
For Juarez, feedback from her friends at CSULB proved to be an important resource.
Alysha Nunez, a second-year animation major, followed Juarez on her Instagram but
never spoke to her until they ran into each other in a class.
“Kelly takes more of a raw approach by drawing what she feels like drawing and letting it speak for itself,” Nunez said.
Juarez noticed that Nunez was drawing an army soldier in class once, a design that would later be used in Nunez’s upcoming film “Sow Don’t Sing.”
Nunez and Juarez frequently share notes with one another to better represent all perspectives in their new work.
Within that circle of friends for feedback is Ryan Chu, a recent graduate from CSULB, who enlisted Juarez’s help on his film “Deep Fears.”
“When I look at Kelly’s art, to me it screams the word natural,” Chu said. “Pixar or no Pixar, she’s a hard worker. She values her work, she takes pride in it and she has a story to tell.”
“Luca” is the new Pixar film that Juarez is working on, set in the Italian Riviera about an unlikely friendship that grows between a human and a sea monster disguised as a human. The movie is set to come out in 2021.
However, even with a job at Pixar and a personal project that Juarez is working on, the eagerness to keep learning is very much alive in her.
Juarez is enrolled at Santiago Canyon College, where she is taking courses to learn how to utilize a drawing technique called blending.
“I know how it feels when you’re still trying to find yourself,” Juarez said. “I’m still trying to find myself, even though I have this job and project. But to learn and ask questions is really all you need.”