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Image: Photos of SF State alumna Bonnie Rose Hough, professor Frank Bayliss and other images from Fall/Winter 2009 issue of SF State Magazine

Alumni & Friends

Up and Away

Jonas Rivera, Producer, Pixar's "UP."
Photo courtesy of Pixar.Jonas Rivera, Producer, Pixar's "UP." Photo courtesy of Pixar."

Like a lot of great ideas, the story for Pixar's animated movie "Up" started out as a sketch on a napkin. And like a lot of great careers, Jonas Rivera's started out with a nerve-wracking cold call.

Fourteen years ago, when he was still an undergraduate studying film at SF State, Rivera (B.A., '96) mustered his courage and called the then-brand-new Pixar Studios in Emeryville looking for a job.

"I had just seen John Lasseter's 'Luxo Jr.' in Gregg Rickman's History of Animation class," says Rivera, "and in the lamp I saw the potential of animation. It was like a beacon from the future."

The response he got from Pixar couldn't have been better: Can you come in tomorrow?

"They were at the height of making 'Toy Story' and I was hired as a production intern sweeping floors and getting Cokes," he says. It doesn't sound like much, but it was his dream job.

"I had a front row seat at the birth of the company and the birth of the medium. On my second day they screened a scene from 'Toy Story.' I had never seen anything like it in the world. I called my friends and said, 'You are not going to believe what they are doing here.'"

Nearly a decade and a half later, Rivera no longer sweeps, but he's still at Pixar and it's still his dream job. A steady rise through the ranks -- he's worked on every Pixar film ever made -- took him from the guy who fetched coffee to the guy who produced "Up."

"Up," which was called the "first great film of 2009" after its release at the end of May, took nearly 300 people and four and half years to make. (It also featured the voice of Delroy Lindo (B.A.,'04), as Beta). Rivera was responsible for keeping it all afloat.

"I am basically joined at the hip with the director," says Rivera of the filmmaking process. "I help make sure our priorities are in order. Sometimes I have to be the bad guy, but we are really partners in crime trying to get the film done."

Rivera admits to having moments of burnout during the time it took to get the film done. "After about three years we stop even completing sentences," he says. "It's a long, slow crawl and it does test your patience. But we are always getting inspired by the work."

Plus, the shared passion and long hours foster a camaraderie that reminds him of his college days. "The thing that was so great about State was that it was the first place I felt a real brotherhood of filmmakers. You could go get a burrito and talk about Capra films. I felt this shared passion and language. It was really fun."

As for the next great back-of-the-napkin idea, Rivera is mum. Whatever it is, Pixar's next movie is sure to be a technical revelation. But, says Rivera, "what we're really proud of are the stories."


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