Engaged Learning

“The Good Dinosaur” Artist’s Path From USF to Pixar


Three years into a biology degree at USF, 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 The Good Dinosaur

An art course changed her life.

“I was volunteering at various veterinary clinics trying to gain experience,” she says. “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 XARTS studio than studying for my science classes,” she says. 

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 says.

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 says. “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 at USF to complete a fine arts major. In her fifth year, sculpture professor Pamela Blotner, who also taught at Pixar, set her up with an unpaid internship at the 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 from USF, 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 says. “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.” 

USF also taught her a deeper lesson about art — something more fundamental than technique and history. 

“We learned about human connection — that art is not just for yourself,” Sullivan says. “It can change peoples’ perspectives and bring joy and healing.”

At Pixar, that kind of human connection is the magic that drives the storytelling. “I try to put truth in my work and hope that will make someone feel good or bring some goodness to the world,” Sullivan says.

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