September 22, 2018

Pixar Animator Dreams Big in Tinseltown

Eagle Rock filmmaker Colin Levy grew up in a family that didn’t watch television, and rarely went to the movies. Even with the lack of exposure to entertainment, Levy fell in love with the medium.

Now, the 30-year-old Baltimore native recently completed a five-year stint at Pixar Animation studios as a layout artist. In addition, his four-minute film, “My Grandfather’s Memory Book,” was featured in The New York Times in March.

The animated and live-action movie showcases Levy’s late grandfather, Byron Levy, and the artwork he made throughout his life. It includes journal pages covering topics ranging from World War II memories to inventing a bicycle Byron hoped would fly.

“[The film] touched people because it is universal,” Levy said. “We’re all trying to figure out how to appreciate what our elders left behind and the stories that they have to tell.”

Levy got his start at 13, when he made a 20-minute homage to “Indiana Jones.” He reshot the famous boulder scene with his younger brother, Alex, running away from a close-up shot of a soccer ball. The following summer, Levy made three original short films that he wrote with his father and Alex.

“We went up to my grandfather’s house in New Hampshire those summers,” he said. “It was an awesome place but it’s in the woods. There were literally no friends there and nothing to do. Making movies helped us pass the time.”

Levy attended George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, an arts magnet high school, where he studied filmmaking. While there, he made movies like “A Lesson in Sand,” a moral tale starring his two brothers in which the older one teaches the younger one the importance of sharing.

“We went up to my grandfather’s house in the woods. There was nothing to do. Making movies helped us pass the time.” — Colin Levy

He went to college at Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design, where he was tapped by Blender Animation Studio to go to Amsterdam and direct a short film called “Sintel.” The movie has received more than 4 million YouTube hits, and was made with a budget of 400,000 euros (approximately $536,000 in 2009) and funded in part by the Dutch government.

“At age 21, I was pitching to this room of government employees charged with allocating funds,” he said. “Everyone was speaking Dutch.”

When he graduated in 2011, Levy moved to the Bay Area to work at Pixar. He did the camera work on “Lava,” and as a layout artist, he would “make a puppet show version of a movie in three dimensions,” he said. “Pixar was an inspiring place to work, and it was really cool to watch the process from the inside.”

Now, he’s seeking commercial and film directing work in Los Angeles. He’s also completing a 9 1/2-minute concept film called “Skywatch,” which he bills as a “sci-fi proof-of-concept short that takes place in a future defined by immediacy and convenience.” He’s already raised more than $52,000 on Kickstarter for the project.

Tinseltown is the place Levy hopes to fulfill his dreams. “My Plan A life goal is to direct a feature version of ‘Skywatch,’ ” he said. “I also want to work on lower-budget projects that are being produced on an indie level. I’d love to dip my toes into that.”