Oren Jacob turns
into reality at Pixar
By Bonnie Azab Powell
Jacob, B.S. ME '92, M.S. ME '95. Photo: Bart Nagel
Spike and Mike’s Sick & Twisted Animation Festival
changed Berkeley alum Oren Jacob’s life. In 1987, the Irvine,
California, 16-year-old was so impressed by the festival’s
computer-generated film Luxo, Jr. that he walked out
with two goals: to work for Pixar Animation Studios (Luxo
Jr.’s creators) and enroll at UC Berkeley.
He succeeded on both counts. As a College of Engineering freshman
at Berkeley two years later, he saw Tin Toy, another
Pixar short film. Afterward he noticed a computer graphics internship
advertised on campus using the Tin Toy character. He
applied and got one of the four spots.
At the end of the $6-per-hour internship, he hung around Pixar
for free, picking up skills in the burgeoning field of computer
animation. Cramming his classes into two or three days per week
so he could work full time, he studied while renderings were finishing
and wore a beeper at school in case Pixar clients showed up.
"I wanted a job at Pixar more than anything, but I also didn’t
want to bail out of school," he says. "There were sacrifices,"
and consolations, including ample spending money and awards: animated
commercials that his team made for Listerine, Levi’s, and
Hallmark were recognized worldwide. His first four years of double
duty apparently didn’t faze him; after graduating, Jacob
promptly got a master’s degree in mechanical engineering
from Berkeley. Once out of school, Jacob contributed significant
lighting and special effects work for Toy Story’s
climactic chase sequence and helped put together the opening shot
of A Bug’s Life.
His engineering background proved useful on Finding Nemo,
the Pixar release slated for next summer. He’s Nemo’s
technical director, charged with realizing the director’s
artistic vision within production constraints. "We’re
working on fully 3-D water simulation. You can’t just look
at a textbook and find equations that completely define how splashing
water moves and looks, because they don’t exist," he
says. "I’m glad to have the vocabulary to discuss fluid
dynamics with the specialists we’ve hired to write simulators
After 12 years at Pixar, Jacob’s enthusiasm has never cooled.
"This place is regularly humbling, with the number of people
who are just off-the-scale brilliant in every possible discipline,"