In high school, Danielle Feinberg took a Pascal programming class. “It ended up being one of those classes where the teacher took roll, and then left,” Danielle remembers. She was already dabbling in computer programming—she had taken her first coding class in fourth grade, and “was trying to find ways to learn more about programming” (including unsuccessfully attempting to convince a classmate—“the least socially adept person, probably ever”—to teach her). Danielle was eager to learn how to program—so eager that, when her Pascal programming class threatened to prove useless, she and a friend broke into the classroom cabinets, so they could get to the course textbooks and teach themselves.
As an undergraduate at Harvard, Danielle thought that she would study mechanical engineering. Much of the coursework for the major didn’t spark her interest. But she took a few computer science courses that fulfilled major requirements (“I’ll just start with those because I like computer science,” Danielle thought) and then had “this ridiculous epiphany”—why not computer science?
Despite her false start as a mechanical engineer, Danielle’s enthusiasm for computer science had not waned since that first programming class in fourth grade. “There was one class that I was super excited for,” she recalls. “A computer graphics class.” Danielle’s schedule did not permit her to take the class until her junior year; nevertheless, in her sophomore year, she emailed the professor of that course: “I’m so excited to take your class! Is there anything I can do ahead of time?”
“I got this very confused email back,” Danielle laughs. “‘I guess you could buy the textbook…’”
Danielle’s enthusiasm was well-placed. It was when she eventually took that computer graphics course that Danielle was first exposed to computer-animated short films—Pixar films. “I had that moment,” Danielle says. “‘This is what I want to do with my life. I want to do whatever I have to do to do that.’” Less than a year after she graduated from Harvard, Danielle joined Pixar. She’s been there ever since.
For Danielle, coding has always been an artistic medium. “Looking back, I was always making pictures with [code],” she says. Pixar’s emergence roughly around the time that Danielle was entering the labor force was, thus, a fortuitous—almost fatalistic—conjunction—“Magical timing,” says Danielle.
Outside work, Danielle spends much of her free time producing art—drawing, sculpting, taking photographs (“I just want to make art all kinds of ways”). Producing art at Pixar is a very exacting process: “We can break the laws of physics. We can—and we do—lovingly craft every single shot in a movie.” For this reason, Danielle revels in ceding control in the art she produces outside work. As a photographer, she says, “You can’t stand there and lovingly craft things. You can’t control where the sun is”—controlling the sun is exactly what Danielle does as a Director of Lighting at Pixar—“It’s about capturing a moment. It’s over and done.”
Danielle also finds inspiration in volunteer work with organizations that strive to bring more girls and women into computer science. “Watching what younger generations do when they get the power to create websites and apps—the things that they do are almost 100% for social good,” she says. “Anti-bullying stuff, or helping stray dogs get matched up with an owner…”
“I have such high hopes for the world, seeing what the younger generations do, but also what girls do, when they have that power,” Danielle adds. “They’re doing great stuff. And I think we need that.”
--Thea De Armond