An Alumna’s Path to Pixar

Three years into a biology degree, Rosana Sullivan ’07 was on track to become a veterinarian. In fact, she was already looking into graduate programs. So how did she end up at Pixar, sketching scenes for the animation studio’s latest hit The Good Dinosaur?

An art course changed her life.

“I was volunteering at various veterinary clinics trying to gain experience,” she said. “I was studying my butt off for chemistry, physics, and biology exams, and I was mentally preparing myself to go to vet school.”

But she also needed a required art credit. So she decided to take portrait painting, taught by Adjunct Professor Elahe Shahideh. That’s when things took a turn.

“I couldn’t stop painting and drawing. I was spending more time behind the canvas in the XARTS studio than studying for my science classes,” she said.

Rosana Sullivan ’07 turned a passion for painting into a career.Sullivan realized her true passion was art. “Professor Shahideh helped me find the courage to say, ‘All right. I’m going to be an artist,’” she said.

It was a tough decision — partly because Sullivan’s father, a parasitology professor at USF, had high hopes for her in veterinary medicine.

“My dad was so proud of how well I was doing in science,” she said. “He loves biology so much. But I think he understood that I wanted to pursue a passion as well, just like him. It just happened to be a different passion.”

Sullivan took an extra year to complete a fine arts major. In her fifth year, sculpture professor Pamela Blotner, who also worked at Pixar, set her up with an internship at the company’s studio, which is responsible for blockbusters like Inside Out, Cars, and Toy Story.

Sullivan polished her draftsmanship and animation skills in art school after graduating, then worked as an artist for gaming and animation startups. In 2011, she returned to Pixar for a full-time job as a storyboard artist.

“It’s been a wild adventure — and it all goes back to my scary, last-minute decision to change majors,” she said. “If I hadn’t been fully honest with myself then and didn’t have all that support from my parents and teachers, I wouldn’t be here today.”