Growing up in the rural community of Chappel Hill, Texas, Cheyenne Chapel was drawn to art but lacked the resources, including a computer that was readily available to pursue it. She later learned about animation. Still, her first time getting into computer animation was in college. At Texas A&M, where she studied Visualization (animation), she got more interested in Computer-generated imagery (CGI).
While there, a former student came back to the campus to discuss her job at the American computer animation studio, Pixar. Chapel, at that very moment, wanted to achieve that same success as the former student. So, she began meeting up and building relationships with employees and recruiters at Pixar, attending their conferences and other programs, RegalMag.com reported. Soon, she landed an internship at Pixar. A job followed, launching her career in Hollywood.
Today, the Black, country girl from Brenham, Texas is making headlines as one of the computer-generated imagery (CGI) artists behind Pixar’s new animated film “Soul”, which premiered this Christmas on Disney+.
“Soul,” which is receiving rave reviews, is Pixar’s 23rd feature film but the first to feature a Black protagonist and predominately Black cast. “Soul” tells the story of jazz pianist/ schoolteacher Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) who struggled in his music career before getting a lifetime opportunity to play for a well-known jazz singer called Dorothea Gipson. Joe dies on the day he received this huge opportunity and in the film, he tries to get back on Earth in time to perform for the jazz singer.
Chapel worked as a sets modeling artist on the film. “A Sets Modeling Artist is responsible for helping with the worlds/backgrounds of the film,” she told Victoria Advocate. “Things like buildings, cars, trees, and furniture are what a modeling artist creates digitally in 3D modeling software.”
“It is one of the first production departments on the film, and they help to create the worlds our characters live in!”
For over 10 months, Chapel worked as a set modeler for the film. She said she loved that she got the opportunity to play a part in a film with characters who look like her. “Representation in the industry is important, and for me, “Soul” gave me the chance to put my heart into a film that celebrated life and also people that look like me,” she said.
Curiously, Chapel has never been to New York City, so her love of photography helped her to learn more about the setting of “Soul”, she told RegalMag.com. The young graduate is now an inspiration to others in her community who would want to pursue a career in animation. Her greatest wish, however, is to see a transformation in the media landscape where more women and people of color would be included in animation.
“…I want to see more people of color and women of color get to take roles in animation and really see it as a career,” Chapel said. “Hopefully, I will get the chance to facilitate that in a way, and who knows – I may be creating my own stories one day.”