Jan Pinkava won the Oscar in 1998 for best animated film.

He talks to Focus IT about his life-long passion and fantastic achievement.

"I have always loved animation, especially short films that tell a story or express an idea in an intelligent way. When I was in my early teens there was a BBC TV series called 'Bob Godfrey's Do-It-Yourself Film Animation Show'. My dad bought the book but got bored with it. I picked it up and was hooked. After months of pining and whining I got a Super 8mm film camera one Christmas and started making all kinds of home movies, but mostly animation. Animation with cut-outs, plasticine, paper-and-pencil, people etc. After one of my films won the BBC 'Screen Test' Young Filmmakers competition, Movie Maker magazine predicted a shining career for me as an animator. By that time I had realised that animation is difficult and demands the tenacity of Sisyphus and the patience of a saint. I, however, am lazy and easily distracted. It was the time of the so-called 'microchip revolution' and when the time came to leave school I was already obsessed with computers and their promise of limitless power over the universe. I then spent the best part of a decade getting a BSc in Computer Science and a PhD in Theoretical Robotics at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. I did, however, manage to pervert most of my undergraduate programming projects in the direction of drawing pictures and I kept a close eye on the exciting new world of Computer Graphics. When I emerged from Academia as Dr Pinkava I had undergone the character-building experience of 'writing-up' and the demands of animation didn't seem as bad as all that. But the academic life was not for me and after a short time doing freelance work at the edges of simple computer graphics I saw a newspaper advertisement which read 'Are you the next John Lasseter?' (which, by the way, I'm not). I was lucky enough to get the job at Digital Pictures Ltd, a real computer animation company, in the fleshpots of London's Soho TV and film community. We made computer-animated TV commercials on strict deadlines and tight budgets with a small team of bright people who needed a strong drink after work every day. It was a great experience. I freelanced again for a bit and then sent my CV and 'showreel' to Pixar. The timing was just right and soon I was in sunny California directing commercials while the company turned into a fully fledged Animation Studio in the process of making 'Toy Story'. My first commercial won a Gold Clio award (the Oscar of advertising) and I spent the next three years collecting only minor awards and dust before getting the opportunity to direct my first short film 'Geri's Game'. The film has won an Oscar and numerous international animation awards, as well as being released in the cinemas (in the USA) with 'A Bug's Life', Pixar's last feature film. All of which is many times better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick and it has completely gone to my head. If you were to ask what I am doing now, I would have to smugly reply that I can't tell you because I am 'in development' on a feature film project and, as always in the movie business, it's all terribly secret. If you didn't ask me what I am doing now, it might bring me down to earth a bit. So much for the biography. A brief summary of how we make a computer animated film might run as follows... A computer animated film is a collaborative effort involving teams of artists, animators, editors, engineers and other technologists all working to realise the vision of a director who is ultimately responsible for the film as a coherent work. Good directors, it is said, are those who surround themselves with good people who have plenty of vision of their own. At Pixar it is often said that the computer is just a sophisticated pencil. That's simply another way of saying that for us the computer is just another medium for creating animation - like pencil and paper, painted cels, or stop-motion puppets, It serves to remind us that the most important part of any film is the story, the content. Accordingly we spend a great deal of time writing and rewriting the story of any film, short or feature-length, because no matter how beautiful or clever the pictures, if the story is not engaging then the audience won't care about the film. Writing, in animation, means writing and drawing. 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 is 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."