With Pixar’s latest hit now on DVD, producer Katherine Sarafian talks about her time working at the famed animation studio, the best thing she learned from Steve Jobs, and how each Pixar movie could be a sermon.

Growing up, Katherine Sarafian didn’t fit in. She was artistically minded and loved singing, dancing and entertainment, but she also had a strong logical side that didn’t mesh. Katherine had no idea that, even from an early age, God was leading her through her diverse interests to eventually become a Pixar producer.

In 1994 it all began to make sense. “I landed at Pixar, and I said to myself, ‘Now I get it! Here are 1,100 misfits, all in one place, coming together to create something beautiful.’ Having that split for as long as I can remember, being artsy and sciency, and not knowing where I belonged, ended up being perfect for producing and production management where you have to be able to facilitate conversations with these two very diverse types.”

From Toy Story to The Incredibles, Katherine has spent time in multiple departments at Pixar, including working directly with Steve Jobs. “The No. 1 thing I learned from him, no question, is the requirement of very, very high quality,” she says. “Not taking shortcuts, not taking the easy way out. For example, it is easier and faster to tell a story by just shooting the first draft of your script. Or taking the first character design you have and just making that character.

“We don’t do it that way at Pixar. I had firsthand knowledge of Steve’s attention to quality and detail. Not settling for less and giving audiences smart entertainment, never dumbing anything down, and keeping it at a high level. That’s in every Pixar filmmaker. We’re not gonna do it halfway. We’re going all the way and making the best possible thing we can create.”

Brave is Pixar’s latest No. 1 hit, and Katherine’s first film at the producer’s helm. Not your typical fairy tale, the movie stars young Merida, a headstrong Scottish princess who, just like Katherine as a girl, doesn’t quite fit in. “A lot of contemporary fairy tales are more about making fun of the genre,” says Katherine. “We wanted to honor it in a sincere way that would also be relatable for current audiences even though it takes place in an ancient time period. We wanted to create something for the new generation that would be more like the tales we grew up loving where the stakes were high, the dangers were real, and you really had to learn your lesson or bad things would happen.

“Kids are growing up so fast these days,” Katherine adds. “It’s not like it was in my day. I don’t think there are enough depictions in cinema today where the end game is about growth, learning, development and family love rather than about ‘Is he going to take me to the prom?’ Young people have a lot more going on in their lives, and I want to remind them of that.”

This year Katherine celebrates 18 years with Pixar, and she’s excited about the future, including producing a new as-yet-unannounced feature film. But at the end of the day, it’s all about values for Katherine. “My Christian faith is hugely important,” she says. “And it does come into play with my work. Pixar’s a place of deeply rooted family values. It tends to attract people who want to make family entertainment. We want to make something that will withstand the test of time, that all ages will enjoy.

“My father, a clergyman, used to say he could write a sermon about every Pixar movie because of the message in it. He taught me to put something into the world that is meaningful, rather than just fluff. Something that will stay with people, where they can grow and learn and be inspired by it.”

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2013 issue of FamilyFiction Edge digital magazine. Subscribe for free today!

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