Henry Garcia embraces change and lands at Pixar

Why would Pixar hire a guy on track to become a physics professor to work on animated films? Let Sacramento State’s William DeGraffenreid explain.

“Henry and I decided to get together and watch a football game,” recalls DeGraffenreid, referring to his former student and current Pixar Animation Studios technical director Henry Garcia ’05 (Computer Science and Physics). “During commercials, he was telling me what he could about his work. I remember him asking me if I had seen Wall-E, and I said, ‘Yeah, it was a good movie,’ though it had come out before Henry had joined Pixar.”

Garcia mentioned a scene featuring a pile of garbage in which papers were fluttering randomly. In the real world, he pointed out, they would move in patterns. In Wall-E, they didn’t.

“He said, ‘But they do now,’ and he gave me a smile,” DeGraffenreid said. “He had already made a contribution to Pixar and contributed his knowledge.”

Garcia’s first project with Pixar, creating that realistic paper fluttering effect for Toy Story 3, was ultimately cut from the film. But since then, he has made his mark at the animation studio – and on some of the most beloved films of the past decade.

The rain in The Good Dinosaur? Garcia’s work. He helped a red hooded sweatshirt come to life in the short film Lou. He’s also worked on Up, Inside Out, Coco, and currently is the simulation supervisor for the highly anticipated Toy Story 4. And, in what he considers his favorite achievement, he helped create Merida’s iconic, curly red hair in Brave.

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Henry Garcia gives notes during a Toy Story 4 simulation review on March 13 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville. (Photo by Deborah Coleman/Pixar)

“That was 18 months of my life dedicated to building that simulator, with the rest of my team,” Garcia said. “When I look back at that film and I look at her hair and how much it brought that character to life, there’s a lot of pride.”

It’s hardly what the Citrus Heights native envisioned when he transferred to Sacramento State in 2001 after a couple of years at Indiana University. He had followed his girlfriend halfway across the country, run low on money, and was unenthusiastic about having to return home and enroll at the local university.

“In hindsight, it was a huge blessing,” said Garcia, a first-generation college student. “What Sac State did for me was amazing, and I can’t say I would be at Pixar if it wasn’t for that.”

Having been fascinated by computers and graphics since playing video games in middle and high school, he enrolled at Sacramento State as a computer science major. Then, while taking the calculus-based physics courses required for that degree, he fell in love with physics and decided to double major, with the ultimate goal of obtaining his doctorate.

Two internships helped him get into the physics doctoral program at UC Berkeley – located less than four miles from Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters. The studio recruited at Berkeley, and Garcia was fortunate enough to land an interview.

There was just one issue: Despite his computer science background, he hadn’t touched a computer in almost three years.

“After the interview, the room kind of split in half a little bit,” he said. “Half were thinking, ‘What are we doing? We can’t hire this guy. He doesn’t know anything about computer graphics.’ And the other half was saying, ‘Yeah, but he’s so passionate, he’ll figure it out. Let’s give him a shot.’ And luckily, one of the people on the positive side was the head of Toy Story 3 at the time.”

Garcia landed a one-year residency, left Berkeley, and hasn’t looked back. As a technical director, he uses computer software to animate effects like fire and smoke as well as “simulations,” such as hair or clothing, generally handling between two to 10 shots per week (a full film has around 1,600 shots total). Once the work is ready, he takes it to his supervisor for feedback, and then ultimately the director for final approval.

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Henry Garcia works on Toy Story 4 on March 13 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville. (Photo by Deborah Coleman/Pixar)

On Toy Story 4, Garcia has assumed a supervisory role, working with a team of about 13 to make sure the film comes in on time and on budget – and is up to Pixar’s high standards.

The work is relentlessly collaborative. For example, the Toy Story character Bo Peep wears a cloak. Technical directors like Garcia have to work with the animators to ensure that, when Bo Peep moves her arms, the cloak moves with them realistically.

That’s where Garcia draws upon his experience at Sacramento State, where he found small class sizes, engaged professors who put students first, and a highly supportive and collaborative environment he didn’t have at other schools he attended.

“That’s something I’ve taken with me,” he said. “I think part of my success at Pixar is because I have the skills to bring a team together and be a positive voice in the room, while also having good ideas. I attribute that to Sac State.”

DeGraffenreid, now a special assistant to Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen, remembers Garcia as incredibly talented academically while also bringing a sense of humor and caring to the Department of Physics. Garcia was heavily involved in the student physics club and spearheaded the group’s efforts to provide after-school science programming to local homeless K-12 students. And he has returned to campus several times to speak with Sacramento State students and share his knowledge and experience.

“Anytime I’ve asked, ‘Hey, we’ve got this opportunity, would you like to come to speak to our students and tell them your story,’ he’s ready to do it,” DeGraffenreid said. “As a Latino, he understands that he can serve as an example of what’s possible, and that by being present and showing himself as an example, he can inspire other Latinos as well, because unfortunately it remains a marginalized group in physics.”

Garcia – whose path has taken him from Sacramento to Indiana and back, from computer science to physics, from graduate school to a dream job at one of the world’s most famous movie studios – hopes current students will see him as an example of someone who wasn’t afraid to alter course when necessary.

“I’ve seen a lot of people get tripped up on being so focused on their plan that they’re not open to changes in that plan,” he said. “So as you’re progressing through your major, as you’re applying to internships, as you’re setting up and planning the rest of your life, recognize that there are a lot of twists and turns along the way, and be open and embrace them whenever they seem like a positive step.”

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As Maritza Davis moves on to Kings, Unseen Heroes looks to the future

You can’t tell the story of Sacramento’s growth without telling the story of Maritza ’07 (Communication Studies) and Roshaun Davis ’08 (Journalism).

The couple’s award-winning events agency, Unseen Heroes, is responsible for some of the region’s biggest public events, including GATHER: Oak Park and the Midtown Farmers Market.

But change has come as the agency moves into its second decade. After 10 years with the company she founded with her husband, Maritza recently took on a new role as the vice president of experience and social responsibility for the Sacramento Kings. Her responsibilities will include managing the Kings’ events team, which puts on more than 350 events annually, and the community impact team, which runs programs such as the Junior Kings and supports and participates in a wide variety of community activities and initiatives.

We spoke with Maritza and Roshaun about Maritza’s new job, Sacramento State’s role in the community, and the next big thing for Unseen Heroes.

Why did you feel now was the time to move on from Unseen Heroes and take the role with the Kings?

Maritza: I felt like it’s a pivotal time for our city. Sacramento is like a teenager. We’re trying to get into the running with our cool older sister Los Angeles and older brother San Francisco. Teenagers are a little bit awkward. We are learning how we fit into California. The time is now for us to grow into adulthood. The Kings are the only major league team that we have in the city. The NBA is progressive and evolves at the rate in which a sports team should. My expertise in community development and event production are two unique worlds. I want to share that with the Kings organization and support the vision of our ownership and leaders. Ultimately we are one big family as a city and it is our time to shine.

Roshaun: I think it’s amazing. Sometimes when you develop a concept and kind of push it into reality, you get bogged down by that concept or that role. For her to be able to grow into another position and still have Unseen Heroes run is just a testament to the well-oiled machine that we’ve become. This business has become bigger than both of us.

Looking back on the past 10 years of running Unseen Heroes with Maritza, what are you proudest of?

Roshaun: I think the thing that I’m proudest of is actually being able to see things come to fruition now with such ease that weren’t attainable 10 years ago. I sit at different events and I see different things happening in the city that we aren’t producing but I know that the work we put in over the last 10 years indirectly or directly has attributed to that thing happening. That’s a cool space to be in because it makes me proud of all the hard work and determination we pushed. We believed in the city in a way not a lot of people did 10 years ago, and to see the city actually living up to the belief that we put in, that energy that we put in, that love that we put in, that’s amazing.

Why is being involved in your community so important to you?

Maritza: We all need each other, whether you recognize it or not. The connection to other people, the connection to how we all live, is monumental. It’s great to have resources like parks, but what makes the park come to life and be relevant are the people. To me community means everything, it’s what makes the world go ’round.

How do you view Sac State’s role in and impact on the community?

Maritza: Sac State, especially in recent years, has done such an amazing job of getting involved. It is not a university that is just watching from the sidelines, instead they get involved with what’s happening in our city. For a university like Sac State to get involved with existing students and alumni is strong evidence of the dedication they have to the growth of their student body both past and present.

Roshaun: Sac State produces a lot of graduates who are doing some cool things right now. A lot of the people who we work with are actually graduates of Sac State. That’s just a testament to being open, to educating the community here, and then developing them in a way that allows them to contribute back to the community. It’s a vital role and I think Sac State plays that perfectly.

What’s in the pipeline for Unseen Heroes?

Roshuan: Right now we just landed a big contract with Electrify America. Over the next 10 months, there will be an initiative called Sac-To-Zero introducing electric car sharing and electric charge stations to the Sacramento market. We’re producing a series of launch parties and signature events for them. It really changes the face of this green movement in our city, and is being used as a test market to see how it can be run in different cities as well. For that to be on our plate, have that opportunity to really grow that program, and see it being implemented nationally is really cool for us to have our hands in.

Read our 2015 Made at Sac State story about Maritza and Roshaun at csus.edu/made/davis.

Star of Sac State’s rocket-themed holiday video ready for acting career to take off

In Sacramento State’s inspiring 2018 holiday video, she is reaching for the stars as an aspiring NASA scientist whose dreams are made possible by her attending Sacramento State. In real life, the talented actress who stars in the video is headed for a more immediate goal: graduating in 2019 and kicking off her professional acting career.

The acting bug bit Monique Crawford, a theater major and musical theater minor, at an early age, but it wasn’t until she enrolled at Sac State in 2015 that her dream started to become a reality. Crawford’s first theater history class led to her first role, followed by others that have become part of a burgeoning resume. She has performed in on-campus productions of “Stories to be Told” (ensemble), “Annie” (Mrs. Pugh) and “Peter and the Starcatcher” (Molly).

She also has performed off-campus with The Fourth Wall and community theater organizations – all while balancing her schoolwork and commuting up to 90-minutes each way to and from Fairfield, her hometown.

We spoke with Crawford about her love of acting, her experience at Sacramento State, participating in the holiday video, and her post-graduation plans.

Transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Was acting always something you were interested in?

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(Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

It actually was. I always wanted to act as a child. But in the child mentality, I thought you had to move to either New York or L.A., and I’m like, “Well my parents are never going to do that,” so I just kind of forgot about it. And then once I hit 18, I was in college and I was like, “Oh, I’m free now. I can do whatever I want.” It took a couple years. I was psychology major, and then I changed it after I had my first theater history class with Dr. (Roberto) Pomo. In the class you get into groups and then you perform certain scenes of whatever play you’re assigned. Afterwards (Pomo) came up to me and said, “I want you to audition for the play in the spring,” so I said OK, and I got my first role in his play, “Stories to be Told.” That got the ball rolling. He played a major part in that. I’m very grateful.

Why did you decide to come to Sac State?

I actually didn’t want to come to college at all after high school, but I got to come tuition-free to any university in California because my dad is retired military. My parents were really pushing. “It’s going to be really good for you,” they said. My mom graduated from Sac State, so I said, “All right, the only college I’m going to apply to, the only one I want is Sac State.” So that’s what I did. I got it, and I wasn’t going to take anything else.

Was being in the holiday video your first time acting on camera or film versus on stage?

No, I’ve had a little bit of experience with industrial filming, filming videos for schools. I also have done a lot of background work. A lot (of that) was in (the second season of the television series) “13 Reasons Why.” So if you watch it, you’ll see a whole lot of me. (There have been) other things, independent films, being a background extra, that sort of thing. But as far as major roles, yes, this was the first one that will be more widespread.

Did you get a lot of screen time in “13 Reasons Why”?

I did. During the second half of the second season you can see me all over the place.

When you first saw the completed Sac State video, what was your reaction?

I watched it again. I watched it once, and I didn’t know what to think, and then I watched it again, and I thought, wow, (videographer Rob Neep) really put it all together and everything blended just like he said it was going to. His work was very, very well done.

Did you get to meet the young girl who stars alongside you?

No, I didn’t. I didn’t get to meet any of the kids, but they were so adorable.

How has what you’ve learned in the theater program helped you with the acting you do on campus and elsewhere?

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Monique Crawford (center) sits with two of her co-stars as they film the 2018 Sacramento State holiday video. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

The class that helped with that the most would be Acting 3, taught by Professor Michelle Felten. We focused a lot on different methods of acting, and very minute details such as being in your environment, feeling your environment. For example, me feeling this chair (that I’m sitting in now). I feel the soft cushion underneath, and I can feel the sharp edges of the wood, this kind of warm chair; so allowing those kinds of things to ground you and to focus in on your scene partner. And so when it comes to film, a lot of it is really close up, and so that’s when you see a whole lot more of the minute details. It’s from doing all that hard work that a lot of people may not really see behind the scenes, but that’s what we did in that class.

What do you plan to do after graduation?

My original plan was to go to L.A., and I’ve seen a few performances at Cap(ital) Stage, and they were just brilliant. I loved it, I fell in love with it 100 percent. So I may be moving down to L.A. or I may be auditioning for Cap Stage to keep going with my career in Sacramento.

What advice do you have for a new student who wants to be a theater major and an actor?

To manage your time well. College is all about time management, but so much so in theater. You really have to know yourself. You get to know yourself so much more just being in the department through classes and workshops and everything. You learn how much physical activity you can take, how much mental activity you can take, how much emotional activity you can take. Manage your health as well as your time because your body and your voice are the only two instruments that you have to use. You have to keep them in tune, keep them healthy. Eat. Always eat healthy. Get as much rest as you can and really make time to keep yourself well as well as passing classes.

What do you do in your spare time?

(Laughing) We have no spare time! Besides acting, I have been dancing hula for the majority of my life. I’m a professional Polynesian dancer. I always love swimming, I love being outdoors, seeing movies and crocheting, playing chess. I’m one of the people who likes puzzles, like Sudoku. I like mentally stimulating things as well as adventures like dirt biking, jet skiing, parasailing, all kinds of stuff to get your adrenaline pumping