Victoria-raised animator earns Oscar buzz with Pixar film
VICTORIA – Kristen is on vacation in her hometown, walking along the beach she used to run across as a child.
"I'd be like, 'Bye Mom!," she recalls. "'I'm going to the beach!'"
With her seven-year-old smile as big as it could be, Kristen would scramble towards the nearest tide pool and spend hours making up stories about the sea creatures she found there. "And I'd be like, 'I'm a mermaid too,'" she says with a laugh.
Kristen would then draw colourful pictures of the characters she created, and dream about her future. "I always said I wanted to be a marine biologist or work for Disney."
A decade or so later, Kristen had decided it would be more sensible to become a doctor, and completed two years of pre-med. "I was getting good grades," she says. "But I was finding I wasn't happy. I wasn't satisfied."
Then she and a friend watched the movie Blue Crush. "[It's] all about good-looking surfer ladies," Kristen laughs. "We were going to get washboard abs! And we're like, 'That's what we're going to do with our lives!'"
They planned to quit university, move to Australia, and surf until they could figure out a happy future for themselves. But then, the friend Kristen was supposed to travel with said, "Don't come with me. Go to school and become an animator," Kristen recalls her friend saying.
So Kristen went to college for animation, and got jobs across Canada and the U.S. "When I calculated how long it took to me to do my jobs versus how much I was getting paid, it was under 25 cents an hour," Kristen says. "It was like, I've made the wrong decision."
That feeling seemed to be confirmed when Kristen applied to Disney/Pixar. She was denied six times in a row. After she tried a seventh time, the recruiter started laughing. "She was like, 'You finally made it!' And I was like, "I finally made it!'" Kristen laughs.
It was also wonderful the former marine-biologist-Disney-dreaming girl's first project at Pixar was the underwater adventure Finding Dory. In the six years since Kristen started at Pixar's California studio, she's worked on Good Dinosaur and the upcoming Onward.
Kristen was also picked to create her own Pixar project, Purl. The short film about a ball of yarn trying to be one of the guys was written and directed by Kristen. "It's awesome and terrifying at the same time!"
It's awesome for the all the obvious reasons, including creating with such a great team. The terrifying part: "I hope people like it," she laughs. "Because it's so much of you."
People do like it. Purl has earned more than 12 million YouTube views. Last month it won an industry prize that makes it an Oscar qualifier.
Kristen credits her current success with her past failures.
"Had I gone straight out of college, I don't think I would have ever got the breadth of experience," she explains. "And that has actually been super helpful to me. Super great for my career, who I am, and how I think. I'm actually grateful."
After vacationing in Victoria, Kristen will return to California to begin pre-production work on her debut as the head of a Pixar feature. "I hope I make art and movies like the ones that touched me as a kid," she says. "The movies I valued most where the ones that gave me a new perspective on life and moved me."
The kind of stories that, like this beach, could inspire a girl to never stop striving to realize her dreams.