A former Texas A&M University visualization student, Cheyenne Chapel ’19, was one of Pixar Animation Studios’ artists who helped bring its most recent 3-D animated feature, “Soul,” to life.

Chapel, who is from Chappell Hill, Texas, helped design and create trees, buildings and terrain and other “digital assets” in the world where the movie’s characters live.

“Soul” is a landmark film for the animation behemoth as its first film to feature a Black lead character. It’s the first film released as part of the animation studio’s mission to represent diversity in film.

“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,” said Chapel in a Pixar Twitter post. “Especially working on Soul, I had more opportunities to bring part of my culture that I am so thankful for. My team valued my opinion in the film and I think it’s made my time working on Soul so fun to feel like my voice mattered.”

Premiering on Christmas Day 2020, “Soul” is Pixar’s 23rd feature film, which follows the story of Joe Gardner, a jazz musician and teacher, voiced by Jamie Foxx. Gardner has a close call with death the day he gets his “big break” and spends the movie trying to stay in the land of the living to play his gig.

The movie is Chapel’s first film credit, but she first began working with Pixar in a 2018 internship during her junior year at Texas A&M. After completing her internship and senior year, she was offered a position in set modeling and dressing for “Soul.”

Two of the scenes Cheyenne Chapel contributed design to in "Soul."

Pride of the department

“Cheyenne is a great example of how personal talent and initiative can combine with the opportunities provided by the Viz Lab,” said Tim McLaughlin, associate professor of visualization and one of Chapel’s former professors. “She is an incredibly talented artist and worked hard both outside of class and in her coursework to demonstrate her talents, and more importantly, to illustrate how she thinks about design problems from a 3D computer graphics perspective.”

McLaughlin saw her work tirelessly toward her goal of helping shape the stories beloved by children and adults all over the world.

“As a student she stayed engaged in Viz extracurricular activities. In particular, she attended every industry event and visit she could. Through those, she learned how studios think about their work, their language, their processes, and their values. She also introduced herself to people – faculty, fellow students, and industry visitors – and struck up conversations for guidance to get where she wanted to be. We’re very proud of her and happy to have provided a learning environment that helped her achieve her goals.”

Texas A&M’s visualization department is often a funnel for students hoping to work with top animation studios. The department works regularly with these studios in its annual Summer Animation Workshop, which challenges Vizzers to create animated short films in just 10 weeks, preparing them for the competitive, fast-paced industry environment.

"I wouldn't trade my education at A&M for anything, it gave me the platform to find what I wanted to do in life," Chapel said in an interview with KXXV-TV.

She was a standout student for many of her professors, including Barbara Klein, instructional assistant professor of visualization.

“Cheyenne is an exceptional person; smart, ambitious, passionate, and driven. Her success is no surprise to anyone who has had the opportunity to know and work with her. Her exuberant, charismatic personality brings life and energy to those around her,” said Klein.

“During her time here, her passion for the visual arts and her perseverance was always evident,” said Klein. “She is a continuous source of pride for the Department of Visualization.”

Next Projects

Since working on “Soul,” Chapel has used her talents on the upcoming Pixar film “Luca,” which explores the journey of a young Italian boy who befriends a sea monster.  “Luca” is set to be released this June.

Chapel’s next project, according to her Instagram account, is Pixar’s “Lightyear,” a June 2022-scheduled spinoff of the “Toy Story” franchise based on the human inspiration for Buzz Lightyear.

*Main post image credit: Cheyenne Chapel is photographed on January 21, 2020 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)