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SCAD Alumna Leads Next Generation of Pixar Animators

Thirty years ago, a computer company known as The Graphics Group officially rebranded as Pixar Animation Studios.  Since its 1986 debut of the Pixar Image Computer, Pixar has revolutionized and reinvented the animation medium from the first full-length computer-animated film “Toy Story” in 1995 to this summer’s latest hit, “Finding Dory.”  SCAD’s own animation undergraduate program has produced many next-generation animators, with Pixar regarded as the golden standard.Consider alumna Becki Tower.

Attending SCAD for both undergraduate and graduate studies, Tower earned her BFA in computer art in 2004 with minors in both animation and drawing, and then her MFA in animation in 2008.  Among her list of accolades, she was named valedictorian in 2004 and awarded the Graduate Presidential Medal of Honor in 2008.  In addition to her scholastic achievements, she was co-captain of SCAD Women’s Basketball Team, named SCAD Female Athlete of the Year, and an NCAA Academic All-American.

Tower is currently the Crowds Animation Supervisor and Second Unit Animation Lead for the upcoming “Cars 3” film by Pixar. As a character animator, she worked on the Oscar-winning films “Up,” “Toy Story 3,” and “Brave,” in addition to “Monsters University,” “The Good Dinosaur,” “Toy Story That Time Forgot,” “Finding Dory,” as well as Disneyland Paris’ “Ratatouille: The Adventure” Theme Park Ride.  She has represented Pixar for various educational presentations, lectures, and seminars, including the CTN Women of Pixar Panel in 2014.

“Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be an animator,” Tower said.  “Since 7th grade, I dreamed of working for Disney, so much so, I even wrote to Michael Eisner, who was in charge of Disney at the time, and asked him for a job. Weeks later, I got back an info packet of skills to learn and potential schools to attend to focus on Animation.  In my mind, I was on my way!”

Tower chose to attend SCAD to nurture her love of both animation and Basketball. Her mother, a former art teacher, had attended a teacher’s forum at SCAD in the late 90’s during which she was able to experience the campus and take a class from current faculty.

“I remember her coming home all excited,” Tower said.  “Not only did they have an incredible animation program, but also offered collegiate sports.  This was the illusive combo that I dreamed of… and SCAD made it possible.”

Tower’s creative process weighs heavily on a team mentality, an attitude Tower has continuously applied from her studies to her career.  “My whole life I have been an athlete – an arena where team is always the top priority,” Tower said.  “This notion carried through during my time on the SCAD Women’s Basketball team.”

“Having learned so many skills through athletics, I practice time management, dedication to a higher standard, and a team focus every day here at Pixar,” Tower said.  “Just like in sports, I feel the rush and reward of being an individual contributor, because I am part of a grander vision.  The unity of purpose that comes within a dedicated team is my favorite part of the studio environment.”

As a Second Unit Animation Lead, Tower oversees the animation in the mid-ground of the animation shots.  According to Tower, this animation serves to complement and support the hero animation, while also fill out “the robust world of cars.”

“Our Crowds Team, along with our extended Second Unit group, not only handles the vast installation of cars within race and action sequences, but also addresses more subtle, mid-ground character needs,” Tower said.

Tower said she and her team of fellow animators strive to encourage and better each other while making “each shot shine as bright as it can.”  According to Tower, this manifests in creating a safe environment where creatives are free to express their ideas, make mistakes, and feed off the knowledge and energy of everyone involved in their group.

Asked what advice she would give to her college freshman self, Tower replied to keep dreaming big.  “Life is too short to settle,” Tower said.  “My life motto has always been to go ‘all in.’  Dream big, reach high, and understand that the deeper you dive, the higher the potential of success.  Committing to a team, to a concept larger than yourself, brings me incredible enjoyment and fulfillment.”

Written by Emilie Kefalas.