Michael Yates and Aphton Corbin

Michael Yates and Aphton Corbin, story artists from Pixar, dish on bringing diversity to the animation word.   

Pixar Animation Studios is a juggernaut in the animated film genre. It created classic films such as “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo,” both of which have shaped the childhoods of many.

The studio couldn't have reached its status without the talented artists and writers who spent years developing these films. The American Black Film Festival earlier this month highlighted two story artists, Michael Yates and Aphton Corbin, from Pixar Studios. They discussed their recent project, “Toy Story 4,” talked about their careers and how long it takes to really make those animated movies.

“It varies, but the shortest time I remember is about three-and-a-half years. “‘Toy Story 4” took about four to five years. You gotta remember it's a marathon. Things can get worse but you have time for things to get better,” said Yates.

Yates and Corbin participated in on a panel at the American Black Film Festival in on Saturday, June 15 in Miami Beach. Yates joined Pixar in 2015 as a story artist. He interned at Pixar while he was in school. Yates’ work can be seen in “Cars 3.” Outside of that, Yates has done work for Dreamwork Animation Studios and Cartoon Network. He also co-directed the award-winning short, “Legend of the Flying Tomato.”

Aphton joined Pixar in October 2016 after graduating from California Institute of the Arts. “Toy Story 4” is her first project with the studio. According to Aphton, she and Yates are the only Black story artists at Pixar. “Diversity in story artists varies from studio to studio but the population of minorities, specifically African-Americans is very low,” said Aphton. “We are looking forward to working with the company to change that.”

The duo explained how they collaborated with the writers and directors to make the scenes in “Toy Story 4.” After that, Corbin and Yates drew their ideas and sent them off to the animators for production.

“The central idea starts off with, ‘What is this movie about?’ From there, we work closely with the directors and the writers to figure out characters and visualize scenes,” said Yates. “We watch it again and again until it’s ready for production.”

Revisiting “Toy Story” involved finding new motivation for the characters. From what was shown in the trailers, Woody’s focus is on protecting Forkey – Bonnie’s new toy – from the dangers around him. Another character’s motivation is Bo Peep.

“With the reintroduction of Bo Peep, we spent a lot of time figuring out who she is and how can she be integral to the story. We already know Woody; now, we want to show what’s next for him,” said Aphton.

South Florida, there are talented Black story artists and cartoonists who are creating new projects every day. But for some, It's hard to be an artist here. One of the reasons they haven't been discovered is access.

”The major publishers are not at the local conventions down here,” said Carol-Anne McFarlane a local artist.

“I've been in Atlanta and Chicago getting reviews for my portfolio. Staying in the state to meet people face to face isn't going to make it work,” said McFarlane.

Other local artists decided to go the independent route and created their own comic book lines to find success.

“I am funding my own venture. People are seeing my art and I have been invited to other comic book conventions,” said Marvin McDonald, author of Swurve Comics.

“I don't have a GoFundMe [account]. I just sell some of my art when I go to conventions and I've been doing well enough I created my own comic book,” said McDonald.

There are pockets of support for Black artists and cartoonists in South Florida. Recently Florida Lit-Con, a new Black literary festival, took place on South Beach. Authors and artists conversed with each other and deals were made.

“Florida LitCon grew into an idea to foster cross-collaboration,” said Jeff Caroll, founder of Florida Lit-Con. “I wanted to put filmmakers like myself in the room with comic book creators, illustrators and writers,” said Carroll.

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