It’s fitting that “Soul,” Pixar’s first film to feature a Black protagonist was worked on by Black animators. Cheyenne Chapel, a recent graduate of Texas A&M University, is one of the computer-generated imagery (CGI) artists behind “Soul.”
The film premiered on Disney+ on Christmas Day and is receiving rave reviews – including a 97 percent rating from critics and 90 percent rating from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.
It is Pixar’s 23rd feature film, but the first to center around a Black protagonist and predominately Black cast. It tells the story of jazz musician and teacher Joe Gardner, voiced by Jamie Foxx. Gardner dies the day he gets his “big break” and spends the movie trying to get back to the land of the living in time enough to play his gig.
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According to the Victoria Advocate, Chapel worked as a sets modeling artist on the milestone film.
“A Sets Modeling Artist is responsible for helping with the worlds/backgrounds of the film. Things like buildings, cars, trees, and furniture are what a modeling artist creates digitally in 3D modeling software,” Chapel told Victoria Advocate. “It is one of the first production departments on the film, and they help to create the worlds our characters live in!”
Chapel grew up in the rural community of Chappel Hill, Texas. She always loved art, but lacked the resources to have a computer in her home. Therefore, she began animating in college, where she majored in visualization animation.
“As a kid, I was always drawn to art. It was my life growing up and as I grew in age, my hunger to learn more current mediums drove me to animation,” Chapel said. “Growing up, I actually didn’t have a computer that was readily available, so I first got into computer animation in college. My first project was a fish!”
She said she enjoyed working on the film for over 10 months and the best part was being able to contribute to a film with characters that look like her.
“For me, the best part of working on “Soul” was having the chance to be a part of a film that I saw myself in. Representation in the industry is important, and for me, “Soul” gave me the chance to put my heart into a film that celebrated life and also people that look like me,” Chapel said.
“Being on Soul and being a black, country girl from Texas I think brings a unique perspective that many people may not have in this industry. Especially working on Soul, I had more opportunities to bring part of my culture that I am so thankful for,” she reiterated in a quote shared by Pixar on Twitter.
In the future, Cheyenne Chapel hopes to see more women and people of color work in animation and perhaps tell her own stories one day.
“I’d like to see myself progress further into the animation field and hopefully be involved with new stories with diverse backgrounds and artists. I want to see more people of color and women of color get to take roles in animation and really see it as a career,” Chapel said. “Hopefully, I will get the chance to facilitate that in a way, and who knows – I may be creating my own stories one day.”