Animator Matt Majers stands in front of a backdrop of animation stills. He smiles at the camera.

Animator Matt Majers’ Emotional Journey Through Inside Out 2

Film Interviews

The process of making an animated film requires a lot of unseen people working hard to get every element right. In that sense, it’s not unlike Inside Out 2—while the end result is a living work of art that you can see and appreciate, there’s far more going on behind the scenes. Matt Majers, a character animator for Pixar Animation Studios, is one of those unseen figures working the control board to create life. 

I loved Saturday Morning cartoons,” Majers says. An affinity for animation began at a young age, and Majers’ childhood in Salt Lake City came with a strong emphasis on moviegoing and creativity. “My mom loves movies, and I didn’t realize it when I was a kid, but she’s definitely a nerd,” Majers says. Despite growing up in an artistically inclined family, Majers never really viewed animation as a serious career option. After graduating from Cottonwood High School, Majers planned to attend college with an emphasis on math and chemistry. After a serious health scare, Majers took stock of his life and realized that animation was his passion, and pursuing it was how he wanted to spend his life. Majers attended the California Institute of the Arts, followed by internships at Rhythm and Hues Studios, where he did character animation for Men in Black II, and then at Wētā Digital, working on Gollum and the Ents for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. While in New Zealand with Wētā, Majers got a call offering him a job at Pixar, and he’s never looked back.  

The animated character, Joy, stands with her arms outstretched welcoming another animated character, Anxiety.
“I’ve been doing it for 20 plus years here now, and I still find challenges regularly.” Photos Courtesy Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.

“I’ve been doing it for 20 plus years here now, and I still find challenges regularly.” Majers says. “Especially in character animation—it’s a deep well. Finding the right performance that speaks to the emotion of the moment… it’s an endless challenge.” Majers’ latest project was Inside Out 2, which tells the story of a new group of emotions coming to work in the control room, inside the mind of a 13-year old girl named Riley. In addition to the original team of emotions from the first film, Inside Out 2 introduces some all new ones that come into the picture as Riley enters puberty. “The character I spent the most time animating, by far, was Anxiety,” Majers says. “It was a bit of a method experience.“ Anxiety was complicated to animate, due to her large mouth full of teeth, though Majers counts this unique character among his favorites he’s ever worked on. Anxiety was voiced by Maya Hawke, best known for her performance as Robin Buckley in Stranger Things. Majers was able to use the voice work that Hawke recorded and animate to match it. “One of the best things about Pixar, at least for me, is dailies,” Majers says. The ability sit with director Kelsey Mann and watch footage of Hawke’s performance was extremely useful. “There’s just so much nuance,” Majers says. “Somebody will bring a performance in, and it’s’s just like, ‘Oh my God, I never thought about that.’”

The combined work of the voice actor and the animator in creating a believable performance for the character is a symbiotic symphony, though Majers believes that the credit for making it all work extends beyond the two. “It’s a team thing,” Majers says. “It’s the director. It’s the storyWin  people before us that to help figure her out. It’s the character team who builds the model and does the rigging. It’s all of the animators, it’s Maya Hawke in this case, the voice actor. It’s just such a huge project.”

The animated character, Anxiety stands in a room with other personified emotions. The stand in a control panel room.
“There’s joy in finishing. I will say that being a character animator is really involved—it preoccupies your mind at all times.” Photos Courtesy Disney and Pixar Animation Studios.

Though his career with Pixar has been a dream-come-true for Majers, the animator does admit that it’s easy to identify with the Inside Out films, as a variety of emotions take control of the helm while he’s working. “It’s all of them,” Majers says. “I think it just depends on the moment in the way, in the process of the shots: there’s anxiety, there’s anger, there’s definitely fear. Because every chunk of shots you get, every time you get new casting, it’s like, I just hope I can bring to what I need to bring to it make it sing.”  As is the case in the movies, if there’s one overriding emotion, however, it would have to be joy. “There’s joy in the process,” Majers says. “There’s joy in finishing. I will say that being a character animator is really involved—it preoccupies your mind at all times.” 

As Inside Out 2 opens, Majers is already hard at work on new projects. A personal favorite is the series Win Or Lose, which is set to premiere on Disney+ later in 2024, and follows the story of a co-ed middle school softball team. As the art form and industry of animation has modes forward with astonishing strides over the past two decades, Majers has not only had a front row seat, he’s been an active part of the game. It’s been a journey of great emotion and imagination, and Majers is excited to keep pushing through new boundaries in the years to come.

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