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Teresa Falcone: From Character Performer to Pixar Animator

by | Mar 1, 2024

Teresa Falcone

We recently caught up with Animation Mentor alumna Teresa Falcone whose journey from character performer to Pixar Animator offers a unique perspective on the animation industry. In this article, Teresa shares insights into her career trajectory, including what led her to a career as an animator and her role in creating iconic moments and characters audiences love.

Animating Around the World

Animation Mentor: Tell us about your animation journey. How did you get to where you are today?

Teresa: I didn’t always know I wanted to be an animator, so my journey here was not a straight line. As it turns out, I was always on this path, I just didn’t realize it for a long time. Growing up, I always had to be doing something creative, whether it was drawing, painting, or even just dressing up as different things and getting into different characters. I also loved movies and was fascinated by how they were made. Though I never had “animator” in my mind, I knew I was never going to have a boring job. 

I had gone to college in 2004 for only one year because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. During that summer after freshman year, I got hired to be a character performer at Disney World, so I decided to pursue that instead of going back to school because I loved performing. I did that job for many many years, and also eventually started performing at Universal Studios. I would go and get other jobs and also went back to school eventually, but I always kept my character performing job as at least a side gig. Even though it could be terribly grueling, it was also really high reward. That’s where I got to see not only children, but grown adults’ faces light up when they met these characters. There’s something magical about animated characters that just resonates with people on a global scale and of all ages. I think this is what really got me thinking about animation and being part of creating that magic. At some point I did go back to school and chose psychology, thinking that I would be a therapist. But it was during that time that I had an epiphany that I should be an animator. It was everything I loved combined- art, movies, acting and performing.

I ended up getting my animation degree in 2014 at UCF in Orlando, Florida. My first job out of college was for Big Dreamer Design, where I was an animator and generalist. I knew I could still use more help with my animation skills so I enrolled at Animation Mentor, and that’s when things really started to click for me. In 2017, just a few months after my very last shift as a character performer, I got my first huge break at a movie studio by getting into the Pixar internship. I was lucky enough to help out on Coco that summer, getting my first movie credit as a crowds animator. After that summer, I got hired as a junior animator to work on Smallfoot at Sony Pictures Imageworks in Vancouver. By the following summer I was back as a 2nd year intern at Pixar, which is where I’ve been ever since. I was hired as a fix animator for Toy Story 4, then moved on to crowds animation, and was promoted to shot animator on Soul.

Teresa Falcone outside Pixar Animation Studios

Working as a Pixar Animator

Animation Mentor: Walk us through a day in the life of an animator at Pixar.

Teresa: This is always a tough question because every day can be so different, especially post-pandemic. But generally, the day will start out with dailies, which is when we gather with the director in a screening room and show our work. Anyone in the room can give a note or share an opinion and it allows for some great discussions that make the movie even better. A lot of people enjoy attending dailies in the morning to give them some inspiration going into the day of work ahead. Then, we’ll usually go back to our desks and work- which can mean a lot of different things like doing research, shooting video reference of ourselves trying to figure out the acting performance, drawing thumbnails, and of course actually getting in the computer and animating the character once you have an idea of what you want to do. Then there’s usually a late afternoon dailies session as well.

Pixar Animator Teresa Falcone

There are other things we might go to during the day such as polish review, where we get into the real nitty-gritty details of the final animation, or getting drawovers from the sketch artists to help our characters look as appealing as possible. Sometimes we have “shop talks” where someone will give a presentation on their workflow or how they approach a shot. We’re always sharing information and learning from each other so we can all elevate and inspire each other’s work.

Animation Career Highlights

Animation Mentor: You’ve worked on several Annie and Oscar-award winning films but last year were personally nominated at the Annie Awards for Best Character Animation in a Feature for your work on Turning Red. What did it feel like to get nominated and can you tell us about your work on the film?

Teresa Falcone Turning Red animation reel

Teresa: Getting nominated for the Annie was definitely a huge shock! I actually felt guilty that I got nominated when I have so many talented colleagues that I thought really deserved it. As a typical animator, I have some imposter syndrome and so it’s hard to see myself as being on that level. It was really special, though, because I felt such a close connection to the film and had so much fun working on it. I had a lot of shots of the four friends together, which was great because I could kind of go back in time and revisit memories of me and my friends at that age. My favorite shots that I got to animate were of Panda Mei when she finally explodes at her mom and admits that she lied about a lot. It was fun and sort of therapeutic to get into that mindset of the character and to film myself getting angrier and angrier until I had the performance I was happy with.

Panda Mei in Turning Red animated by Teresa Falcone

It was also really cool working with a female director that’s around my same age because I feel like I could really relate, and she wasn’t afraid to show what it’s really like being a 13 year old girl.

Animation Mentor: What other scenes or characters throughout your career have been your favorites to animate and why?

Teresa: So many, it’s hard to choose! Toy Story 4 stands out as a special project to me because there was a huge nostalgia aspect to it. I was animating Toy Story characters from my childhood! Although I was a fix animator on that movie, I still got to animate some shots of my own. Jessie was a character I had gotten close to during my days at Disney World, so it was really cool that I got to animate a little of her, and of course Woody is Woody so it was super exciting when I was given a shot of him. At our crew wrap party screening of the finished film, I got choked up as soon as You’ve Got a Friend In Me started playing because I couldn’t believe I got to be a part of it.

Teresa Falcone with Jessie from Toy Story

Similarly, I got to animate Dug, who was also a good Disney “friend” of mine, in Dug Days. I’m obsessed with dogs and Dug himself is so wholesome and funny, so I had a great time working on that.

More recently, I enjoyed animating Ember in Elemental. I was initially nervous to work on the movie because animating fire was a bit daunting, but it was cool trying to think outside the box in terms of how she moved from one pose to another and how we could morph her arms into different shapes and tear off bits of fire as she moved. It was also freeing, in a way, to not have to worry as much about realistic human physicality.

Teresa Falcone Elemental animation reel

Animation Mentor: What is one of the most challenging shots you’ve ever animated and what did you learn from it?

Teresa: Again, way too many to list, but one that always comes to mind is when I had to animate Dug the dog getting adorably attacked by five puppies. That’s a lot of legs to animate and intersections to look out for, and there were just so many moving parts to keep track of. They were the exact shots I was hoping not to get assigned, haha! But I’m really glad I did because, by the end of it, I had learned so much and was proud of what I was able to accomplish.

Dug Days shot animated by Teresa Falcone

I learned how helpful it was to first roughly animate just the body of the puppies and turn off the legs, so essentially it looks like you’re just taking a toy and bouncing it around to first just get a buy off on their energy. Once the director was happy with the speed and energy of the puppies as well as the pattern they moved around in, I was able to go in and start animating legs and adding more details. It was a great challenge in figuring out what I should animate first and how both Dug and the puppies had to react to one another.

Experience as an Animation Mentor Student

Animation Mentor: How did Animation Mentor help prepare you for the industry?

Teresa: Animation Mentor allowed us to connect with current working animators, which was super helpful because we learned from them how productions worked and what it was actually like to be a professional animator and how important collaboration was. Getting used to giving and receiving feedback from fellow students would later prepare us for discussions in dailies and is a hugely important aspect of our daily jobs. You have to learn how to be receptive to notes and how to sift through differing opinions. Also, just the community itself and the connections you make are really helpful for success in the industry.

Advice for Animation Students

Animation Mentor: Are there any things every successful animator has in common?

Teresa: I would say the two biggest things that every successful animator has are humility and an “always a student” mentality. One who believes they already know everything has nowhere to grow and progress. The best animators welcome feedback and always want to make their work better and better.

Toy Story 4 Director Josh Cooley and Animator Teresa Falcone with the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film

Animation Mentor: What other advice do you have for current or future Animation Mentor students?

Teresa: Please don’t let rejection discourage you, and don’t let the fear of rejection stop you from applying to your dream jobs. Remember that a lot of the hiring process has to do with timing. If you’re not where you’d like to be, keep learning and practicing and asking for feedback. Be someone that everyone likes to work with. A lot of the time people will get hired from recommendations by others at the studio, so it’s good to make connections and have a positive attitude.

Teresa Falcone in the credits

Inside Out 2Elemental
LightyearTurning Red
Dug DaysSoul
OnwardToy Story 4

See what other projects Teresa has worked on on IMDB or connect with her on Instagram.

Want to be mentored by professional animators?

Follow your animation dreams just like Teresa Falcone did by learning from animators at studios like Pixar, ILM, Riot Games, Disney, and Blizzard! Get more information about Animation Mentor’s Character Animation Program.

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