It was a real-world Golden Ticket. A rare invitation to a magical place of pure imagination.
Only this wasn’t a chocolate factory. It was Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California, to interview multiple award-winning production designer Harley Jessup ’76.
Like Pixar’s movies, the studio where they’re created is a carefully crafted world where no detail is left to chance. Harley greets us like family in the vast lobby of the Steve Jobs Building. Artwork and sculptures, including a larger-than-life version of the familiar desk lamp, create a museum-like atmosphere — a perfect backdrop for our video shoot.
In the shadow of a life-sized model of Sully from Monsters, Inc. — his first production at Pixar — Harley sketches while our cameras roll. Even this seemingly mundane task hints at the colorful worlds and expressive characters he’s helped to create.
Later, Harley takes us to his home. A quiet sanctuary from the constant momentum of the studio, it’s a place to relax, host family gatherings and pursue personal projects. Harley’s studio on the garden level is adorned with memorabilia gathered over his career, along with works that have shaped his style and inspire him.
Our interview is an evolving discussion about art, animation and career. Harley draws as we talk. The process appears effortless, his talent obvious. But he rarely, if ever, speaks about himself. Instead, Harley is quick to bring up other artists he considers much more talented. “If I could just draw like them…” he mentions in casual conversation — all while continuing to create in front of our eyes.
Creating is one of the ways Harley recharges after completing production on a film. He’s illustrated several children’s books and even wrote and illustrated two of his own, Grandma Summer and What’s Alice Up To?
It’s been 40 years since Harley was a student at Oregon State, yet he still uses the dedication and skills he honed here. He still credits the influential professors who helped him become the artist he hoped to be. At the top of his profession, part of an enormously talented creative team behind movies enjoyed across the globe, Harley Jessup always remembers where he came from: Beaver Nation.