Jan Pinkava

Jan Pinkava


Jan Jaroslav Pinkava was born on June 21st 1963 in the city of Prague. Jan Pinkava wrote and directed the Pixar short film ‘Geri’s Game’ which won an Oscar. He also was the originator and director of Pixar’s 2007 film ‘Ratatouille’ until Pixar management forced him to give up his position as director and credited him as co-director.



This is a video of the animation short called Geri’s Game made by Jan Pinkava. The animation is about an old man playing chess with himself but then makes you feel as if he is playing with someone else. The story starts by showing you what he is doing by alternating seats and moving each piece on his own accord and then it ends with him almost losing but switching the board around and taking the win. Geri’s Game sets a new advance in the ability to animate skin and cloth.

The animation is widely known and is very good, it is a good example of the talent Jan Pinkava has.

This is a video of the Pixar team giving a talk on how they made the wonderful animated film Ratatouille. Unfortunately Jan Pinkava does not appear in this video but you can at least see the techniques he would have used to create these animations.

His family came to Britain in 1969 and he then obtained British citizenship and when old enough he attended Colchester Royal Grammar School and showed an interest in arts, music, drama and sculpture, he was also quite good at these subjects.

After receiving an 8mm camera as a Christmas present in 1975 he started to experiment with pixilation, stop-motion plasticine, paper-drawn and cell animation. This could probably be seen as the beginning of his career. 5 years on and he won the Young Film-Maker’s Competition of the Year Award on a children’s quiz series called ‘Screen Test’ for a short animation called ‘The Rainbow’. He was 17 at this point in his life.

The childrens quiz show presenters said that when Jan Pinkava won the competition it was the only occasion in the history of the competition from 1969 to 1984 where they saw a piece of film that was spectacularly professional.

He went on to Aberystwyth University to study Computer Science and he then graduated with first class honours and a PhD.

After University he went onto get a career and ended up working with a company called Digital Pictures who specialised in TV Advertisements. Digital Pictures was a small company so Jan Pinkava got to do everything from working with the clients to directing and animating TV commercials. He worked with digital pictures from 1990 – 1993

After Digital Pictures he worked freelance while sending out CV’S and reels to several different companies. He sent Pixar his package as Pixar’s top directors were being moved from work on TV commercials to work on Toy Story, so he got it in at the right time. Jan Pinkava was hired to direct TV Adverts His first one for Pixar was the last of their Listerine ads. Later on in 1994 his TV Commercial for Listerine won the Gold Clio Award.

We draw hundreds or thousands of ‘storyboards‘ which are like a strip cartoon version of the film. These storyboards are then put under a camera and edited together to make a ‘storyreel‘ – a video version of the final film with still drawings representing animated shots, cut to length, with rough soundtrack and dialogue. This storyreel is edited and re-edited (on a non-linear digital editing system) until it stands on its own as an entertaining story which is then used as the blueprint for the animated film. In this way, an animated film is edited before it is made, everyone in the production knows what film they are making and we avoid leaving expensive animated footage on the cutting room floor. In parallel with this effort, work is done on the production design and the design of the characters in the film, using traditional media. Many paintings and drawings help define the look and feel of the final film. Physical sculptures are created, while designing the characters, props and sets, which are then used directly or indirectly to create the geometry of the computer models that define the virtual world of the film within the machine. At Pixar, ‘the machine’ in this context means a vast network of servers and workstations with a combined computing power that’s enough to boggle most minds. Skilled ‘technical directors’ (TDs) then spend time ‘instrumenting’ the digital puppets that have been modelled. This means adding the controls – or virtual puppet strings, if you like – that make the geometry movable by the animators. Our animators usually come from art backgrounds and have no idea how all this is done; they are there to animate; they are the actors that breathe life into the characters using our proprietary animation system. Other TDs specialise in writing ‘shaders’ that define the surface appearance of every object when finally rendered, often working closely with artists who paint backgrounds and surface details of objects, as if painting the elements of a theatre set or applying make-up – all digitally, virtually, behind the glass of the screen. The lighting TDs complete the picture by adding definitions of virtual lights in a way analogous to the lighting of a theatre stage or film set. Images are then rendered, using Pixar’s Renderman software, with all the added effects of motion-blur, depth-of-field and other simulated aspects of photography. Finally, the digital images are transferred to good old-fashioned film and then all the processes of traditional ‘post-production’, like sound design and editing, begin. In this way a computer animated film is written, designed, animated, and ‘filmed’, using a ‘sophisticated pencil’ in the hands of a lot of talented people working very, very hard indeed.” -Jan Pinkava.

Jan Pinkava helped out with a few things within Pixar.
In chronological order:
Made an animation short ‘Geri’s Game’ (1997)
Additional Animator on A Bug’s Life (1998)
Story Artist on Toy Story 2 (1999)
Additional Storyboarding for Monsters, Inc (2001)
Co-Director and Story Writer for Ratatouille (2007)

Jan Pinkava is considered to be a follower (http://design.osu.edu/carlson/history/syllabusWi07.html) in the development of CGI history.  This could be because he is in the era which is described as being the era of followers. This would mean he did not specifically introduce anything new to the CGI scene like the pioneers did.  Jan Pinkava would later evolve the techniques that were used in earlier times. 


3 Responses

  1. Dear Mr. Pinkava
    My name is Pavol Ferenc. I am from Slovakia. My work is drawing for children. I publish children’s magazine with drawn pictures. I like drawing and I have many ideas. I would like to work for Pixar studio. I know you were born in Czech and I like more your work and so I write you. I would like to send you my work but I do not know where. If you have interest, please contact me.
    Thank you (Dakujem)
    Pavol Ferenc

  2. Please follow this link and read through very carefully.
    It tells you all you need to know about applying for a job. You will need to send Pixar a demo reel of your work.


  3. Dear Mr. Pinkava, i´m from Argentina and i´m glad to know that someone represents with excellence our last name.
    I like so much your job, very funny… i´ts good to know that there is an famous artist with my same second name.
    If you want to contact me, i will response at soon…

    thank you for the magic!

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