Production Powerhouse at Pixar: Erin Kinda ‘14

Erin Kinda ‘14 was an aspiring actress until a new path led to her childhood favorite film studio, Pixar.

Twisting a balloon animal into the shape of a fish wasn’t the main reason she got the job, but it helped.

Eight years later, Erin Kinda ‘14 is doing a different kind of creative work, making movies at one of the most beloved movie studios.

In Production

Kinda is now a Feature Department Manager at Pixar Animation Studios. When a movie, short film, or tv show is underway, she is recruited and cast in a specific department, like Animation, Effects, or Lighting, where she facilitates the relationship between that department and the director and producers. Her role is to support the artists and technicians while delivering on the creative vision. “It’s essentially my job to do the math,” Kinda said. “When we bring people on, how many people we bring on, if it can or cannot stay on budget and on schedule. It’s coming up with creative solutions because you can’t always throw more money at it.”

Her role on a project can last between 6 months to 2 years. She works side-by-side with the lead artists and makes as much time as possible to talk with them. “It’s like the greatest education you can get,” she raves. “I wanted to go to animation school and have a fascination with the content. Even in the times when I’m exhausted, everyone is so generous, happy to share what they do, and geek out about what we’re doing. It’s contagious.”

She’s worked on a number of movies, shorts, and tv shows you love (or at least have heard of), including “Lightyear,” “Incredibles 2,” “Luca,” and the upcoming Disney+ series, “Cars on the Road.”

“There are movies I’ve worked on where I pinched myself,” the Napa native said. “I’m amazed to be in this room or have my voice affect a decision for something that I grew up idolizing.” 

Making acclaimed, popular, and technically-sophisticated movies is difficult. Kinda and her team manage the schedules and budgets, as well as their creative, driven colleagues. “You’re trying to be very sensitive and supportive of the artistic process but also practical and protecting your people from trying to do the impossible. They are so driven. If anything I need to pull this (shot or piece of work) away from them because it’s so good.”

This is a good fit for the effervescent Kinda, who reflected, “I needed a stable career that was as unstable as it could be.” 

From no role to a new role

At Saint Mary’s, Kinda started out as a double major in Theater and English. She planned to be an actress and auditioned for role after role in campus productions, but was never cast in a major production. “I was devastated,” she remembered. “How can I be a theater major when I haven’t gotten to do any of the main stage plays?” 

At the start of her senior year Kinda “took the hint” and stopped pursuing what she thought she should be doing. She dropped theater from her major to her minor and invested her newfound free time into several pivotal opportunities. She joined the Lasallian Community and was intricately involved in the StoryBridge Project, collecting and presenting oral histories from the Saint Mary’s community. 

Academically, one particular course “blew her mind.” Lisa Manter’s “Intro to Film: Hitchcock” explored visual language, film theory, and all that goes into a movie. “I thought, ‘There’s a vocabulary for this?!’ I was already watching DVD extra features and doing this in my spare time. I was just addicted to it.” 

The lessons tapped into familiar theater principles regarding costumes, lighting, and even comedic improv. She was also reminded of her childhood hobby of making homemade movies with her three younger brothers, complete with scripts and costumes. 

“All of this was building together, but I didn't realize it at the time.”

Going all-in

After graduating, Kinda worked several part-time gigs, including performing as a movie character princess at children’s parties. It was similar to the acting she loved doing. While in character, she talked with the kids, painted faces, and made balloon animals. 

A conversation with music professor Marty Rokeach revealed her previously unrealized aspiration to work at Disney or Pixar. She thought a job there would be decades away. But he asked, “Why don’t you start on it now?”

When a friend sent her a Pixar job posting, Kinda ambushed the Saint Mary’s Career Center. A helpful staff member gave up her lunch break to help craft the resume specifically for the job. Kinda included “making balloon animals” in small print at the bottom.

She applied but was not optimistic. A few weeks went by before she got a call. Then, an in-person interview. She was asked to bring her balloons.

On Pixar’s campus, Kinda picked up clues that the role would be involved with “Finding Dory.” Her balloon animal repertoire didn’t include fish. That night she spent hours practicing and, in her follow-up email, sent a photo of an orange and white clownfish, an inflatable Nemo.

“You go all in,” Kinda said.

It worked. She was hired, initially as an intern, then brought on full-time. In eight years she’s worked as a production coordinator, line producer, and motion capture stage manager before her current role. 

She credits her professional success to those unexpected lessons that only became available after giving up her theater dreams. Planning Mission & Ministry Center retreats helps her budget. Listening empathetically to oral histories helps her relate to artists who are pushing themselves hard now. She credits Seminar with learning to create an argument and speak appropriately. 

“When I look at what got me here, it was the random things,” she reflected. “There is no one path.”

It’s a fitting character arc. Kinda has gone from an actress without a part to casting herself in a perfect-fit role behind the scenes.