Finding Pixar

Becky Neiman-Cobb ’97 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif.

The playful adventures of an old-fashioned cowboy doll and electronic astronaut action figure left a lasting impression on Muir alumna Becky Neiman-Cobb when she first saw Pixar’s Toy Story while studying abroad in England in 1995.

“I remember going to the theater because I heard about the first computer-animated movie was completely blown away by how much I cared about these toys and about the story,” says Cobb. “There were toys that I remembered from my childhood and it was really nostalgic for me, like I was transported back to childhood. It stuck with me for years.”

Years later, it was Finding Nemo, an aquatic (or under the sea) adventure that introduced audiences to the clownfish duo, Marlin and Nemo, and a blue tang fish, Dory, that inspired Cobb to apply for a job at Pixar Studios in the Bay Area. Having previously worked as a photographer and creative director for an independent record label in Los Angeles, she successfully made the leap to film and joined the groundbreaking computer animation studio in 2004. “I wanted to be a teacher or in the entertainment industry… Pixar is the perfect combination of that. I’m in this career that still touches the lives of kids.”

Cobb started as a production assistant on several Pixar short films before working as a production artist on Ratatouille, production coordinator on Wall-E, art department manager on Cars 2, and editorial manager on Inside Out, among other key roles.

Yet in 2013, Cobb was tasked as production manager for Finding Dory, the sequel to Finding Nemo—which by then the highest grossing animated film at the time, and an Academy Award-winner for Best Animated Feature. No pressure, right?

Finding Nemo was such a loved movie,” says Cobb. “I just wanted Finding Dory to speak to the people who loved Finding Nemo so much and that it’s everything that they hoped for.”

As production manager, Cobb oversaw all aspects of the film’s production, including working with director, Andrew Stanton, as well as producers and creative leadership to bring their artistic vision to the screen. “Our films are broken down into a series of sequences and shots,” explains Cobb. “For example, Finding Dory has 32 sequences, or scenes, and 1,226 shots… I help oversee the order and communicate the overall schedule and inter-departmental workflow, beginning with the art department and ending with the rendering department.”

It’s a big job, that sometimes one that includes sharing heartbreaking last-minute cuts or changes. “It’s hard to communicate that information to the crew that worked super hard on a shot or sequence that’s no longer in the film,” says Cobb. “A lot of support, care, compassion and understanding goes into managing people day to day, especially groups of people. It’s a lot of what I learned from studying sociology at UC San Diego.”

For Cobb, it’s all about the stories, characters and environment created by artists that make Pixar films so special. “It’s not that it’s realistic, it’s believable. You can relate to our characters and feels like you know them, or people like them,” says Cobb.

Pixar’s Finding Dory opened in June 2016 to stellar reviews from moviegoers of all ages, as well as box office success. And the unexpected heroine in this splash hit wasn’t from the sea at all, but a frazzled, wide-eyed feathered friend, Becky the Loon, named after our very own UC San Diego Triton.

“Yes, but the similarities end there,” says Cobb with a laugh.

“I met some of my closest friends at UCSD. A group of us from our freshman year still keep in touch to this day. About six years after we graduated – we hadn’t seen each other in a while – we all got together for a trip to Tahoe. We decided from that moment that we would all get together every year and go somewhere. At first, it was a group of 10 of us, but since then, everyone has gotten married and had kids. So now we have partners, kids and dogs… there are so many of us we wonder where we can find a house big enough for all of us. It’s almost 20 adults and kids! This year, we’re going to Yosemite. It’s a tight group. We make t-shirts. It’s hilarious.”

Finding Dory is now available on DVD. Learn more here.