Golden Ticket to Pixar

The Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California, is a campus, except that the students are grownups who love going to class and doing their homework. The 22-acre location is the kind of workplace you see in Silicon Valley documentaries, where the perks and extra-curricular activities seem too good to be true.

Steve Jobs designed this building that was named after him when he died in 2011.

The welcoming committee: Lego Woody and Lego Buzz.



See the rows of trophies next to the Cars characters? They’re the awards that Pixar has amassed.

There are two secret rooms, a bar, and other rooms with names such as “Thinking Room” and “Breathing Room.”

These Pixar employees organized a friendly basketball match, complete with customized Monsters University jerseys. The sprawling 22-acre lot also has a beach volleyball area and football field.

Employees stuck in a creative rut can go for a dip anytime at the company pool or organize a basketball game with the guys from the other department. There’s a cereal station across the coffee shop downstairs for those in need of a quick fix. Out-of-the-box meetings can be held at the football field, the 3D cinema, or the mini outdoor stadium. There’s also a gym and museum hall, among other nooks and crannies.

But Pixar is elusive to public visitors. To get in, you need to have a relative, friend, or friend of friend who officially works in Pixar and is willing to take a few hours off to give you the grand tour. I was the latter—the friend of a friend of a friend. My cousins Nicole Mercado and Yoram Savion of Yak Films got an invite from Yoram’s friend, Mathieu Cassagne, Lighting Technical Director at Pixar, and they took me along for the ride.

After you get past the security booth, you’ll need to get your hall pass from the front desk.

The gallery of employees. Loyal workers get the Golden Buzz when they’ve reached 10 years in the company, and the Golden Woody when they get to 20.

Pixar’s Lighting Technical Director Mathieu Cassagne shows Nicole where his headshot is posted.

A lightbulb moment

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Even with that golden invite, it wasn’t as free-for-all as a Disneyland Theme Park visit. “You’re not allowed to take photos of the tour,” Mathieu told us as we got our Pixar passes printed at the lobby. “But you can take photos down here,” he said, referring to the ground level where you’ll find the café and Pixar souvenir shop.

The second level is off-limits to cameras because it’s where most of the magic happens. The museum-like hallways are decorated with the Pixar theme of the month. For April it was Monsters University. Mathieu gave us the highlights—from the blueprints to random trivia that made the monsters come to life.

Aliens are among us.

ID photo day!

My cousins Nicole and Ally hang with Mike and Sulley.

Inside the Steve Jobs Building




“I hate how we can’t take photos!” Nicole and I said to each other as we got up to the second floor. But I realized that it’s what made this tour more magical. Not having to mindlessly snap souvenir shots made us absorb information and enjoy the experience more.

Like show and tell, there’s a hall where employees get to showcase their art, from sculpture to photography or mixed media. Whether you’re the creative genius who helped draw the monsters or the security officer in charge of screening visitors, you’re free to hang your non-Pixar art on the wall.

We walked past the rooms of the art department members—the names you see at the end credits of Pixar’s digital masterpieces, from Brave to Toy Story. It was how I imagined their workspace to be—an organized mess of post-it notes, toys, photographs, and other colorful knickknacks that help the creative juices flow.

Some areas are off-limits to visitors.

A lot of secret areas are inaccessible to visitors, and the second floor is off-limits to cameras.

Ally’s new college friends

My cousin Ally and I had a ball.

A meeting with Dean Hardscrabble

Speaking of Brave, I mindlessly blabbered to Mathieu how much I love Princess Merida, as if I were the only curly redhead fan who thinks that Merida’s character was patterned after her.

As we entered the Brooklyn Building across the Steve Jobs Building, Mathieu said, “Oh look, it’s Mark Andrews, the director of Brave.” I let out a childish squeal as Mathieu tried to approach the director surrounded by a number of guests.

“He might be busy with a meeting,” Mathieu said, and I gave him my biggest puppy-dog eyes look. We entered the building and he asked the front desk secretary if it was a good time to approach the director. “Stay here,” Mathieu said as he approached Mark. I couldn’t figure out what he said, but I saw him pointing to me as Mark grinned. I took that as a yes and excitedly ran towards him.

“Here, let’s take a photo at that Brave wall,” Mark said. The only words I could remember coming out of my mouth during our entire conversation was, “Princess Merida was my Halloween costume!”

The moment I met Mark Andrews, Director of Brave and Story Supervisor of The Incredibles.

Brave director meets Brave fan.

My own action figure

After Mark left, my cousin Nicole asked, “So what did you guys talk about?”

My mind drew a blank. “I don’t remember anything!”

Nicole and her younger sister Allyson laughed.

Days later, as we recounted our adventures at Pixar, my cousin asked me again, “Do you remember what the director told you? You were gasping and bouncing like a kid.”

“I honestly still don’t remember anything!” I replied. “All I remember is that I had never been so excited in my life.”

Photos by Nicole Mercado of Yak Films. Additional photos by KateWasHere.com.



3 Comments

  1. […] and a pair of white sandals, I was definitely not ready for rock climbing. After a day of exploring Pixar Studios, my cousins took me to Indian Rock Park in […]

  2. Uh did I mention already how lucky you are? If yes I’ll just say it again, you’re so lucky Ms. Kate!!! Pixar Animation Studios is just simply amazing! It actually didn’t occur to me before that Pixar has a place like this until I read this article. Oh how I love the theme for the month of April. *but I bet I’ll love the theme every month* I so want those life-size Mike Wazowski and James Sullivan! They are one of my favorite characters since we’ve seen their movie more than a dozen times during elementary for our film showing. Ha-ha. And oh my, how lucky are those people working there? That place shouts freedom to everyone. *ok not for everyone for the employees only hehe* If I were given a chance I will surely work there. This article definitely serves as a silver ticket to Pixar for us readers, thanks for giving us a chance to have a glimpse of what’s inside that awesome campus. Now I just can’t help but to hope to meet someone who is working there and is willing to give me a chance to see the whole place myself. Ha-ha-ha Btw, I super like the part when you meet Mark Andrew and you squeal when you see him and took off running when you get the go signal to approach him and left you speechless. That’s so cute and all the people there seems to be very friendly! XD

    • Kate wrote:

      Haha, thanks Sarah! To this day I’m thanking my lucky stars for the Pixar and Brave moment! If you google Silicone Valley, you’ll see how most of their work locations are full of fun and perks–from pools to gyms and toy rooms!

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