Writers Institute

Cassandra Smolcic '07

How did being in the creative writing major lead you to be a feature film graphic designer for Pixar?
I think my fascination with storytelling and my experience in creative writing at SU had a lot to do with why my ears perked up when I heard about the graphic design internship at Pixar Animation Studios in 2009, and it’s also part of what made me a good fit here. As a graphic artist at Pixar my designs support the stories being told by our directors. They inform the audience about major plot points, establish a clear and believable setting, shed light on a character’s personality or help to reinforce the tone and emotion of a particular scene. My experience as a writer made me an ideal fit for a somewhat unconventional graphic design job that is centered on story telling. The time I spent at the Writers Institute at Susquehanna was invaluable. I have been told in my performance reviews that my ideas and writing contributions make me an even more valuable part of the team.

When creating various logos for Monsters University, did anything from SU or even anything from your writing influence the way you designed certain things in the movie? How has the creative writing program at SU influenced or helped with film graphic design work?
Many of my design projects for Monsters University took me back to Susquehanna. During my time on the production—a little over a year—some of my most notable projects included the Monster’s University crest, the Greek logotype treatments for the featured fraternities and sororities in the film, as well as the look for the athletic identity of the school.

Being an artist who attended a liberal arts university and had made appearances at a fraternity party or two had its advantages and gave me more of an insider’s perspective. Because of my writing background I was asked to help the story department brainstorm ideas for the fictitious meanings of our unique monster-world letterforms. My manager and the story lead for the film recognized that I have a talent for writing and asked me to brainstorm names for a long list of the background characters. Some of my name ideas were chosen, like Clive Carver from the Monsters Inc. scare floor and JOX Fraternity brothers Boleslaw, Gortega and O’Growlahan—whose names all appear in embroidered type that I designed for each characters’ letterman jackets.

Watching the final film often reminds me of my days on the SU campus, which makes me feel like the production team on the film really accomplished that classic look of a prestigious university campus with a long history.

What does it mean to you to have been a part of Susquehanna’s creative writing program?
Even though I’m a professional graphic designer by trade, I still consider myself a writer and I always will. Being a writer has opened countless doors for me. It’s the skill that kept me afloat while I struggled to pay my own way at Susquehanna and landed me numerous scholarship awards and work-study jobs. It’s what solidified my spot in the MFA program at the Savannah College of Art & Design, helped me earn a competitive fellowship, and complete a thesis study that some publishers found print-worthy. It’s what made me an ideal fit for the story-centric design job I took on here at Pixar, and it’s why prestigious schools like U.C. Berkeley and the China Academy of Art have repeatedly invited me to lecture about graphic design for animation.

For the past few years I have been continually working on my memoir, a process I started years ago at the SU’s Writer’s Institute. Although I’m grateful for all my successes as a graphic designer, I still would love to be able to call myself a published author one day.

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