Pixar Engineer Has a Brave Story of Her Own
Get to Know the 2017 NCCWSL Women of Distinction
In Pixar’s animated film Brave, the protagonist Merida says, “Our fate lives in us. You only have to be brave enough to see it.” Danielle Feinberg, a director of photography for Pixar, lives by these words. She doesn’t wait for her destiny; she creates it.
Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, Feinberg discovered her interest in technology at a young age. She first encountered computer graphics at the age of eight, when she used the educational programming language Logo to design images. When it came time to attend college at Harvard University, she studied computer science. It was at Harvard that she watched several Pixar short films and was captivated by computer animation. Today she’s proud to work for the company that captivated and inspired her to pursue her passion of mixing art and technology, and she’s been at Pixar for the last 20 years. But the path hasn’t always been smooth.
Feinberg knows firsthand that being a woman in a male-dominated field isn’t easy. Only about 10 percent of students in her computer science classes at Harvard were women, less than the already low percentage of women working in the computing field (an industry in which the number of women has fallen, not risen, nearly 10 percent since 1990). Her arrival at Pixar mirrored her experience in the classroom: In her first job at the studio, she supervised a team of nine, all of them men and most of them older than she was.
Not dissuaded, she has steadily climbed the ranks at Pixar and currently is their director of photography for lighting. In this role, she adds light to the 3-D worlds of Pixar’s movies, breathing life, beauty, and believability into treasured films like Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E, Brave, as well as the forthcoming Coco.
Feinberg was fortunate to have several female teachers and mentors in the computing field, and today she has turned from mentee to role model by mentoring girls in the STEM fields. When she’s not working, she speaks about her career at science camps for girls, including the AAUW Tech Trek camp at Stanford University, where she has been a speaker for 15 years. As technology continues to grow in our daily lives and careers, Feinberg wants to see more women and girls play central roles in that growth.
“Technology can inspire creativity, just as creativity can inspire technology,” she says, quoting Disney and Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter. As a woman excelling in a male-dominated field, Feinberg is committed to helping the next generation of women find “the beauty of what math, science, code, and art can create in the world.”