An engineer for Pixar talks computer animation, education for girls and her upcoming appearance at GeekGirlCon.
How best to explain what Trina Roy does? Watch “Shrek.”
Look for the way Princess Fiona’s ponytail swings like a loose chain down her back. Roy did that.
Or when Donkey’s ears twitch or fold down against his head, saying as much as a line of dialogue. That’s Roy’s work.
Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 8-9; The Conference Center at the Washington State Convention Center, 800 Pike St., Seattle; tickets: $40-$55, kids 6-12 $10 (geekgirlcon.com).
It’s also a lot of math and physics — disciplines Roy was drawn to early on and stayed with, long after many young women her age lost interest, or were directed elsewhere.
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Now a senior engineer at Pixar’s RenderMan software team, Roy will be part of a five-member panel called “The Women of Pixar” at GeekGirlCon, to be held Oct. 8 and 9 at The Conference Center (across from the Washington State Convention Center).
It’s billed as a “safe and welcoming place” for females who love the nerdier pursuits of gaming and game design, engineering, animation and cosplay. There’s even a session on wigmaking.
“I’m definitely flattered,” Roy said recently from her office in Seattle’s Smith Tower, where Pixar has set up a small shop. “I am at a point where I can turn around and say, ‘Hey, this is what you can do.’
“I love passing that on.”
Roy, 49, started her visual-effects work with “Shrek,” and has gone on to work on 11 different movies, including program coding for “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
(She used the programming language C++ to develop the scenes where Harry and his friends were inside the all-digital “Wall of Prophecies.” The kids were real.)
She is now working “further behind the scenes” on rendering software, which creates a final image based on all the digital pieces of a film: models, lighting, texture, dust, water.
“It’s putting them all together,” she said. “You’re iterating over and over to get to the final frame.”
Her colleagues on the GeekGirlCon panel have worked on the computer animation for films like “Inside Out,” “The Good Dinosaur” and “Finding Dory.”
“Kids know Pixar,” Roy said. “We’re telling them that you can take computer courses and work at a cool place like Pixar. I love passing that on and demonstrating that there are so many possibilities.”
It’s easier now than it was when she was growing up, she said.
Roy grew up in central Kitsap County, and was intrigued by music videos on MTV — the graphics and animation.
She got a computer science degree at Willamette University, and then went to the University of Chicago to study Electronic Visualization, a study that drew both engineers and artists — and drew out Roy’s creative side.
That intersection of art and science “Had a huge impact on how I learned about computer graphics,” Roy said, “but also in the network of people I’ve collected over the years.”
Her senior project was converting data from a Mars mission into pictures.
“If you looked at them now, you’d be like, ‘What?’ ” she said with a laugh. “It was a coarse, rough illustration, but you could make out rocks and craters.”
Being a “geek” is a point of pride, now, she said.
“It’s not being a ‘geek’ in the old-fashioned, male sense of the word,” she said. “You think of the boy with the pocket protector, in the corner on his computer.”
And they were always boys, Roy said. People didn’t associate girls with the words “geek” or “nerd.”
It’s not that women aren’t adept at math or physics or computers, Roy said. It’s that many of them get intimidated, or sent in another direction.
“They start out doing math or science,” Roy said, “and somewhere along the way they don’t get the encouragement that boys do.”
That attitude isn’t limited to the classroom, either. It’s also in the toy aisle. “Boys get the erector sets and girls get the Barbies,” Roy said.
Things are changing, though, she said.
“Awareness has gotten huge over the last couple of years, but it needs to be more commonplace.”
Kids may be more technical now, but that’s not translating to girls wanting to work in the computer industry or write software or be an engineer.
“And that’s what I want to get out there and change,” Roy said. “Look at me. I’m a geek, a relatively well-functioning girl.
“So there shouldn’t be a stereotype at all, because geeks are all over the place.”
Roy has made a point of reaching out to them, just as she is doing with her appearance at GeekGirlCon.
Last year, Roy spoke on another Pixar panel connected with the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, the world’s largest technical conference for women, and will man (sorry) a booth at this year’s event next month in Houston. She also video-conferenced with classrooms of middle-school technology students in Illinois, Wales and the United Kingdom as part of the first-ever worldwide Skype-A-Thon last December.
She has some advice for Geek Girls — and girls of all kinds, really.
“Stay strong if you want to do it,” she said. “Don’t listen if someone says, ‘No, that’s not something you should do.’ ”
Talk to people, she said. Make friends. Find a mentor.
“And when you do make it, be a mentor,” Roy said.
Since we were talking Pixar, it seemed necessary to ask: Buzz or Woody?
Roy paused, let out a thoughtful sigh.
“Woody,” she said, then quickly changed her mind.
“Jessie!”she said. “Jessie.”