How I Made It

Domee Shi, Director

Domee Shi is an animator and director. Her 2018 short, 'Bao,' played before 'Incredibles 2'—and made her the first female director of a Pixar short. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Domee Shi; @domeeshi

How do you describe your job to your family?

Filmmaking is like overseeing the design and construction of a house. You have to have the end result in your head and the rough blueprints to get there, but you need an army of super talented people to be able to execute it. There are unforeseen setbacks, just like constructing a house, and you can run out of budget or time, but the end result, if successful, stands strong on its own.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to school at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ont. I graduated from their Bachelor of Applied Arts Animation program in 2011.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

It was as a story artist at Pixar on the film Inside Out.

What’s the weirdest gig you’ve ever done solely for money?

Drawing commissions of comic book and anime characters doing sexy and/or strange poses at anime conventions. I shared a table with my friend and we were excited to be drawing for money!

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

My big break was definitely getting the summer story internship at Pixar right after graduating college, which eventually led to me being hired. I applied the year before and got rejected in the last round, but worked really, really hard on my portfolio the next year and tried again—and I got it. So, as cheesy as it sounds, learn from your failures and never give up!

What would you say has been your most significant setback, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

It definitely stung when I found out I didn’t make the cut the first time I applied for the Pixar story internship. I vividly remember all of my friends getting cool internships that summer, and I didn’t get any. It was a very humbling experience for me. It was devastating when I got the rejection email; it definitely motivated me to work harder the next year, but also to investigate why I got rejected, what my peers did better than me and to really learn from the whole experience—and not to count my chickens before they hatched!

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Build your skills AND your community! You need driven people around you to push you to be your best.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

I don’t have anything specific, but I always side-eye people who confidently dismiss whole film categories, like anime or romcoms. I just think it’s important to keep your curiosity alive when you’re making films.

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do/watch/read/listen to bring yourself back up again?

My mood is always lifted when I pop in a Ghibli film, like Kiki’s Delivery Service or Spirited Away. Those films are so beautiful and touching and just make me feel good!

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity?

From my experience at Pixar, it’s been changing over the last few years. Pixar has realized that if they want to stay on the forefront of animation, they have to start drawing from different creative wells for new ideas—and I think it’s working!

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

Definitely just getting the numbers up in the rooms where creative decisions are being made, and involving them as early and as organically into the film process as possible so they don’t feel like a token or a checked box parachuted in at the very end.

Have you ever disclosed your salary to a colleague in the name of transparency? Why or why not?

I admittedly still feel that talking about salaries is a weird taboo (which it shouldn’t be!!), but if I’m ever asked I’m very open about it and encourage coworkers who feel like they aren’t compensated enough to speak up and ask.

Looking to the future, what excites you the most about your career?

Directing a feature-length film!

And what worries you the most about your career?

Directing a feature-length film!

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