Thursday, October 02, 2008

Pixar Interview

Everyone knows Pixar would be a great place to work. At Siggraph it seemed aspiring animators and modelers were lining up with their reels and portfolios eager for a internship or residency at such a production house.

Yesterday I went up to Seattle to interview with the Pixar team in charge of the Renderman products. This office does not handle production. Instead it deals with the actual technology that the artists use for rendering, shading, and distributing the work among computers.

Having spent eight years in the northwest, it was a great feeling to be back. I had a couple of hours to walk around downtown Seattle before my interview. If you've never been to Seattle, it's a great city. The cityscape has a huge variety of architecture; each one has a unique and pleasing style. Pixar's office is currently located in Smith Tower, the oldest skyscraper in Seattle. For a moment I thought I had the wrong building until I asked the clerk. Upon entering, you walk down a narrow hall with an array of shiny golden elevators to your right. Stepping into these golden boxes, a liftman manually shuts the door and turns a lever for a given level. The Pixar office itself was fronted by a reddish office door with the old-style blurry glass and PIXAR in big black letters like you'd see in a detective's office. The door was cracked open slightly and I could feel the awesomeness vibes pulsating from the interior. How do people work in such extreme conditions?

The interview process was more involved than I expected. The actual interviews lasted about 3 hours. During that time, developers, engineers, prospective bosses, etc. were shuffled in and out. The interviews were quite casual and they seemed to focus more on my experience than on-the-fly technical quizzes you hear about at some firms. Most of the technical questions related to something on my resume to the regard of "Why did you do it that way?". The developers came in pairs of two and I had the chance to meet some really cool people.

One pair of developers that came in were Per H. Christensen and George Harker. I quoted something I heard from a ray tracing symposium a few years ago in reference to Renderman's code length. Per replied, "I said that". I felt a little silly. Maybe he was flattered. I also told them I've played around with Pixie, a Renderman-compliant renderer. I felt even sillier after George replied, "Yeah, I wrote that." Oops again. Need to do a better job keeping track of these things. After arriving back in Salt Lake and doing some homework, I realized I had actually heard Per's presentation at Siggraph on Practical Global Illumination with Irradiance Caching. Triple oops. I need to pay more attention to people who may one day interview me. They could be anywhere... The entire team seemed very talented.

After the interviews, I returned to the streets of Seattle. They recommended a good dinner location at a nearby pub. Brian Saunders told me I could get sweet potato fries if I asked for them. Out of curiosity I did. Sadly, a break down in communication happened and I was rendered sweet-potato fryless, so to speak. I sat at the bar and ordered, to which the bartender turned to a red head and said, "One burger and sweet potato fries". She asked how to cook the meat and went off. Thirty minutes later, I was getting anxious to get to the airport and still no food. I asked the red head the status of my burger. After coming back she said, "The guy you talked to didn't actually order it, so we'll give you a burger that was going to someone else". I was thinking, "Didn't he tell you to do it?". I didn't say anything. The burger and normal fries arrived and were delicious, so all turned out well. If I get the job or happen to return to Seattle, I'll have to go back and try the sweet potato fries. If so, expect a blog post.