Bill Zahn was a kid obsessed with movies.

At the age of nineteen, he packed his bags, and with sixty bucks to his name, moved to Los Angeles to chase his dream.

Even though he was completely self-taught and only had a modest portfolio, he quickly made his way into the world of live action creature and make-up effects, working as a lead artist on projects like Bill & Ted’s Bogus JourneyMen in BlackGodzilla and the creation of the Budweiser Frogs.

Then two films came along that changed everything: Jurassic Park and Toy Story.

Bill quickly realized the digital revolution was beginning, and the film industry was changing. After successfully working 10 years in LA on the practical end of the industry, he bought a modest computer, got his hands on some rudimentary 3D software, and taught himself computer animation.

Within a few years, he was recruited by George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic. There he worked on the Star Wars prequels and Pirates of the Caribbean.

While Jurassic Park was pure visual magic, Toy Story was pure emotional magic, and Bill knew the animation studio that created Woody and Buzz was his ultimate goal.

Only a couple of years later, he got the call he had been waiting for – from Pixar Animation Studios, and that’s where he’s been working as a character artist and designer for the past 15 years. Bill has contributed as a character artist and designer on Ratatouille, Car, Cars 2, Wall-E, Toy Story 3, The Good Dinosaur and Coco. He is currently working on Toy Story 4.

Bill’s lively, fun and fascinating talks share the process of creating some of the big screen’s most memorable characters, as well as the painstaking details and hard work required by dozens of artists to bring them to life; a process that can bring heartbreak as well as sheer joy, over an often grueling, several-year-long production.

Bill is a passionate crusader and educator in the belief that we should do for a living whatever makes us smile. Bill says, “stepping out into the unknown and tackling the biggest challenges are what life is all about, and while our inner voice may tremble in terror at what lies ahead, we move forward, because even the smallest chance to bring a smile to someone else’s face, is worth the all the risk.”


 “Having Bill Zahn come speak at NYU was more than a pleasure. Introducing the work that he started out with to the current animations he does at Pixar, Bill was able to capture our hearts by explaining what goes into the movies we all love. His presentation really gave us a look into his journey as an artist. Overall, I am so happy we could bring him here to speak.” – Kavi Wijayaratne, Lectures Chair – New York University Program Board

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