Dan Holland is an art director for Pixar and with Disney’s new movie “Inside Out” being released June 19, he’s been quite busy. Holland is in charge of designing sets for the movie, much of which takes place in the highly emotional mind of an 11-year-old girl. With the challenge of visualizing the inner workings of the brain, creativity is the name of the game.
Holland’s creative process stems from three core concepts: research, experimentation and decision-making. After researching what aspects might be included in a design, Holland will hit the drawing board and start fabricating multiple concepts. Pixar grants its animators a large degree of freedom, so after many designs are created, Holland has to begin the decision-making process in order to create the final product.
In the past when designing sets, Holland has researched by immersing himself in real life environments that are similar to the vibe he wants to create. But how can someone possibly immerse himself or herself in a brain, let alone a grown man in the brain of a young girl? Because he has a nine-year-old daughter to draw inspiration from, Holland had some idea of the qualities he wanted the set to personify. However, it wasn’t until he looked at slices of the brain under a microscope that he was able to articulate an environment that could foster not only emotions but also the relationships between them. It is this ability to think out of the box that makes Holland such a good animator.
Holland also had the unique opportunity of working tangentially with Steve Jobs who built the Apple brand and was CEO of Pixar. Jobs was able to scale Pixar into a $7.4 billion dollar company from when he first got involved in 1986 to when they were bought out by Disney. Although many people have complained about some of Jobs’ leadership tactics, Holland found his blunt honesty to be not just productive but actually refreshing.
Even as a child, Holland was always a motivated artist. Many children doodle in notebooks, but his passion was much stronger. Like many middle school students, Holland was quite the comic book enthusiast. Holland knew he wanted to be an animator when he first read some interviews of animators that were featured in a comic book. Something about synthesizing characters and worlds on paper encouraged Holland to devote his career to exactly that.
Holland was able to turn a childhood dream into a career where he captures the dreams of millions of children that enjoy the stories he helps put into pictures. Having worked on “Cars 2,” “Toy Story 3,” “The Incredibles” and “Wall-E,” nearly everyone has seen Holland’s work in one film or another. Check out his latest works, in Pixar’s “Inside Out” early this summer.