Lesbians Who Tech Summit SF // Danielle Feinberg

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Danielle Feinberg’s twitter bio says, “Collector of art, curious objects and piles of paper” and as the current Director of Photography at Pixar Animation Studios this all makes very good sense. The Harvard graduate, spends her days changing light to most effectively tell a story. Her recent productions include Wall-e and Brave.

She starts by recounting an experience she had while studying at Harvard in the only computer graphics class when the professor showed a few Pixar short films. At the time Feinberg was struggling with all parts of her identity and had an aha-ha moment where she realized that she could create her own world and could control every aspect of it with her fingertips. She specifically dives into her favorite animated character, Wall-e. Feinberg emphasizes how Wall-e is simply a shell of a robot without proper lighting; his character has no mouth or nose. Wall-e does however have eyes and Feinberg says that much of her job with Wall-e was to get the lighting just right as to show expression and emotion. In depth, Feinberg explains how the proper lighting gave Wall-e a soul and personality.

Then Feinberg’s speech turns personal. She recalls a moment in 8th grade when she chose to take the shop class over choosing to be “cool;”as she was indeed the only girl in the class. The main part of the class was to take a lawn mower apart and put it back together. At the end of the semester the teacher came to put gas in everyones lawn mower and she watched as all the boys’ lawn mowers did not start. The teacher finally arrived at hers and it started right away. She continues on to describe the various types of lights used to create the underwater scenes of finding nemo. She describes the dilemma of deciding what particular lights to use to “be dead on to what was real in the world so that you believed it was underwater and which of those we could stretch for story purposes.” Like putting the lawn mower back together, the lights either work or they don’t, they are either believable and magical or they aren’t.

Turning back to her personal story, she recounts sitting in her senior year of high school math class where a popular guy, the head of the student government was complaining to his friends that he didn’t get into Harvard. She says that in sync all of the friends and the boy turn and look at Feinberg and say “you only got into Harvard because you are a girl.” She notes that at the time she was unsure what to do about his comment other than cringe. Looking back on that moment she can say that his comment was meant to be derogatory and yet what landed with her was the total opposite; she stood out as a woman. Due to her ability to stand out she was able to gain access to Harvard “what stands out more, a woman that wants to do computer science or a white guy that wants to do government?” She went on to complete her degree from Harvard in computer science and shortly after graduation she applied to work at Pixar. She started at an entry level position that her degree qualified her for and in her first movie, A Bugs Life she was able to do a small amount of lighting. She says this is where it all clicked, “I found it was the perfect glorious connection of art and technology for me.”

She briefly shows moments of the movies she has worked on during her career at Pixar and stops at her most recent movie, Brave. She notes that this is her proudest accomplishment because the lead is a female protagonist. Feinberg shares her accomplishments with Pixar, an award by Marie Claire magazine and Oscars for Wall-e and Brave. She ends with gratitude for Pixar for allowing her to bridge her two passions together, art and technology.