Adam Habib, a USC graduate and current member of the camera and staging team at Pixar, made a return to Columbia this past weekend to discuss his career and his guidance for burgeoning animators and artists.
He spoke at a workshop at McMaster College on Friday as part of the Visual and Performing Arts Living Learning Community. On Saturday morning, the Nickelodeon, where Habib actually used to work as an usher, held a special screening of “Cars 3” and the Pixar short film “Lou,” with Habib appearing and answering questions from the crowd.
Afterwards, in a bustling restaurant over biscuits and gravy, Habib shared his career experience, what he would say to students now and USC's role in his path to success.
Habib didn’t start in film, but actually studied English at USC. But the similarities between film and English were too close to ignore for him.
“It was still stories to me. It’s still about narrative. That’s what I first fell in love with and was interested in in English,” Habib said of his first passion. “Because the English department and the film department are pretty close and they had a lot of the same faculty, that’s how I started taking the film classes, and slowly started drifting more basically into film production.”
Habib graduated from USC in 2004 and taught filmmaking in Singapore for a few years until he attended the University of Southern California Film School as a cinematographer. Whereas most people go to film school to be directors, Habib’s career divergence actually helped him thrive.
“I shot all those director’s projects,” Habib said. “So I just shot and shot and shot and shot, maybe 12 pieces films by the time I graduated. So instead of having one final project, I basically had 12.”
Even though Habib works mainly in animation now, he is still interested in live-action filmmaking.
“What I like most about live action is actors,” Habib said. “The creativity that they bring to it, because the choices that you're making with the camera are sometimes a reaction to what they're doing ... they’ll give you a suggestion, a staging or something that really cracks open the scene.”
But there are advantages to his altered medium.
“I can constantly adjust shots in relation to each other, so I love that aspect," he said. "It feels like a very forgiving medium, especially if while you're still learning."
Pixar hired Habib in 2010, and he has worked on films such as “Inside Out” and “Finding Dory." Working on animation wasn’t his original focus, but he has adapted it as a big part of his growth as a cinematographer.
“The biggest difference to me is that camera and lighting are two separate parts," "he said. In animation those are actually two different departments ... We kinda have to work together to create the images you're seeing on screen."
Besides working on Pixar films, Habib also teaches interns for the studio. This where he sees the true fruits of his labor come out.
“I love seeing my work and my colleagues' [work] through their eyes,” Habib said. “Sometimes you don’t appreciate just quite how amazing these people are at what they do or just how fun they are to work with.”
Habib thinks that teamwork aspect is one of the consistent keys to success in animation, especially in a field that constantly evolves.
“Helping lift up the people around you will actually pay off in your own work because now you have a crew base you can draw from, you have people who might recommend you for jobs,” Habib said.
Even after the success Habib has had since graduating, he still comes back to his roots to seek out those willing to listen.
Kobe Little, a second-year studio art and media art student who came out to the Nickelodeon screenings, loved the opportunity to seek out those who can help him in the field.
“I think it’s huge being able to talk from just about anyone from Pixar is a really good opportunity ... You really get to understand what kind of person that they’re looking for and you get to ask personal questions,” Little said.
After all these years, Habib knows what has been the source of his entire successful career: the University of South Carolina faculty.
“They really ignited my passion for film, and being in those classes was what made me fall in love with film,” Habib said.