Originally published on ComicsDC by Mike Rhode with Alexandra Bowman
Kelsey Mann loves his job. He emphatically made that point several times when speaking to an audience at George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. The head of story for Pixar’s new animated movie 'Onward' was in Washington last week to promote the movie and talk to students (and a few local cartoonists) about it. After his presentation, I got to speak with him for several additional minutes and ask some questions which follow at the end of this story.
His voice rasping from previous interviews and class presentations, Mann spoke to students for an hour about his career and his work in shepherding the development of Onward’s story. Two young elves, Ian and his older brother Barley Lightfoot, lost their father before they formed any memories of him, but a magic spell promised to bring him back to them for twenty-four hours. Unfortunately, the immature magic of Ian only brings back part of their father – from the waist down. The movie becomes a quest to reunite him with his whole body and his family before the day runs out.
As the head of story, Mann was involved from the beginning of the project, one of the few people who were with the movie from beginning to end. However, his journey to working at Pixar took quite a few detours. He grew up in Minnesota, majored in illustration in college and started working in animation. He began in Minneapolis in a small studio and got to wear many hats. He applied to Pixar and moved to Los Angeles around 2000, but they turned him down. “I knew that was where I wanted to be, so I worked in small studios doing Flash animation for the internet. While I was doing that during the day, I would take night classes in illustration. I finally got my big break and became a story artist.” After working in various places, he was with Cartoon Network for five years, but moved to the San Francisco area to work at Lucasfilm including on Clone Wars in the Star Wars universe. Nine years after first applying, he finally got a job with Pixar.