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Allison Rutland

The Sound of Silence

May 19, 2016

Alumna Allison Rutland shares her Pixar experience and the importance of pauses in animation

There’s an art to subtle animation, and it begins with the eyes, Sheridan grad Allison Rutland told a packed room of students at a guest lecture on April 21. Rutland, who won an Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement for Character Animation for her work on Pixar’s Inside Out, broke down her process of getting from concept to final product using two memorable scenes from the Oscar-winning movie. “Pauses are really juicy in animation, because you can do a lot with them,” she said, referencing her use of blinks, eye movement and gradual shifts in body posture to build not only characters, but anticipation of dialogue.

In animating two key scenes in the movie regarding main character Riley’s adjustment to a new home in San Francisco, Rutland could very well have drawn on her own experience working in different locations. She began her journey towards animation by studying Multimedia and Fine Arts at McMaster University, but fell in love with Sheridan’s animation program.

After graduating from Sheridan in 2003, Rutland launched her career in Toronto at STARZ Animation and Guru Studios, where she cut her teeth working on commercials, television and film. She then received an opportunity to head to London, England for two years, an experience she highly recommends to animators early in their careers. Her travel allowed her to broaden her animation style at MPC and Framestore, working on films including Where the Wild Things Are and The Tale of Despereaux. “If you have a chance to apply to a different country, go for it,” she says. “It’s such a small industry, and you’ll work with people again and again.”

After joining Pixar as a character animator in 2009, Rutland worked on celebrated films Toy Story 3, Brave, Monsters University, Inside Out and the upcoming Finding Dory. Although her previous work with gregarious character Scully in Monsters University dealt with a happy-go-lucky personality, Rutland had the chance to explore a sadder perspective with Riley’s struggles in Inside Out. “I was lucky enough to get cast in two sets of crying shots,” she joked. Rutland also took a look at sadness and its use in dealing with deeper emotions by illustrating the children’s book Sammy the Snail, a story of emotional resilience.

When animating, Rutland draws from all elements of her experience to sculpt a performance in her character work, whether using her music background to write notation for a sequence she’s imagined, or using handwritten drawings and flowcharts to map out dialogue including pauses and breaks. Despite her emphasis on stillness and pauses, Rutland constantly moves forward to try and improve. During her presentation, when reviewing key scenes in her past work with students, she pointed to areas where she could have pushed the physicality of an expression or posture. “I’m really critical of my stuff right until the very end,” she says. “One thing that's important is to be constantly learning.”

More about Allison Rutland here
More about Sheridan’s Bachelor of Animation here