Scoring an internship at Pixar 24 years ago was a dream come true for AAA Member Jonas Rivera, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area on a steady diet of Disney and Star Wars. Today, he's an Oscar-winning film producer (Inside Out, Up) preparing for the June 21 release of Toy Story 4.
Q. How did you turn your childhood passion into a career?
A. Pixar is a place that rewards passion, and I don't mean that to sound trite. Everyone loves Disneyland, but the difference for me may have been that I started to make things: I made my own little films, wrote music, put myself out there. You have to back up what you love by doing it.
Q. You were an intern, then an office assistant. Any tips for people who want to work their way up?
A. Come at it with an attitude of "How can I help?" as opposed to "How can I get the experience I need?" The people who just jump in, ready for dirty, hands-on work, get rewarded.
Q. What advice do you give creatives?
A. Whatever you do—writing, music, or filmmaking— you have to make it personal. Inside Out is the thing I'm most proud of, not because it did well, made money, and won awards, but because it's a true reflection of the group that made it.
Q. Why are animated films important?
A. I don't think of animated films as being animated. There's a level of caricature to them, but underneath, there's as much sophistication as any film. Movies are expressions of who we are and the time we're in—made one frame at a time by hundreds of animators. It's a miracle that it even works, but there's nothing more rewarding.
Q. You make movies for kids. What was your own childhood like?
A. I was a total child of the ’70s. Star Wars imprinted me, changed me. So did my first trip to Disneyland. It shaped my childhood. When we were making Inside Out, we did a lot of research about memory and about how core memories work; definitely, if that film were about me, the key core memory would have been my first time walking into Disneyland. I also grew up loving sports and going to A’s games. And my mom would always show me old movies and expose me to music and the arts. All that stuff in a blender. I still love all that stuff, still talk about all the stuff I talked about when I was 8. I think a lot of us at Pixar do.
Also—and I’m not just saying this—but growing up, my parents always had the AAA magazine out. I vividly remember flipping through it as a kid, and my family would plan all the trips we wanted to take out of it.
Q. What has been your favorite thing about working on Toy Story 4?
A. There’s a tremendous sense of pride in Toy Story at Pixar. These characters are like our Mickey Mouse. I’ll never forget, as long as I live, being an intern on the first Toy Story and watching a screening of the Army Man scene, not even understanding what I was seeing. So winding up as a Toy Story producer feels like a tremendous honor. Even though I’ve been here so long, when I told my mom that I was doing this, she said, “Wow, they’re letting you?”—but I understand what she meant. I feel the pressure but also the pride of it. Standing there in front of Tom Hanks, seeing Woody walk across the room, I got emotional. Seeing it animated for the first time, before the audience does, feels big and important. We carry it as something precious.