The producers of 'Monsters University' and 'Toy Story 3' met on the job at Pixar
If Pixar’s “Monsters University” scores an Oscar nomination for animated feature, producer Kori Rae will be celebrating with a spouse who knows firsthand what that feels like. Rae’s wife, Pixar producer Darla K. Anderson, was there herself in 2011, when “Toy Story 3” earned a best picture nom and won the animated feature prize.
“Monsters University” brings things full circle for this power couple, who began dating during production of 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” (which Anderson produced). But unlike many production-born romances, theirs rested on years of collaboration: shortly after Anderson arrived at Pixar in 1993, she hired Rae to work with her in the company’s commercial division. So both women remember the company before “Toy Story,” when John Lasseter, Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs kept Pixar afloat with animated TV spots starring Listerine bottles and Life Savers.
“We were heads-down workaholics,” Anderson says. “We didn’t really leave the building, which is a reason there are lots of couples at Pixar. There’s a benefit to having someone who’s been on that ride with you. You don’t have to explain what it was like to work with Steve.”
So by the time Anderson began dating Rae in 2001, she says, “We already had work habits that were professional and clear. We didn’t have to say: ‘Here are the new rules.’ We just carried on with the old rules.”
Nonetheless, since becoming a couple they’ve focused on different films, and kept their home life separate. Rae handled production posts on “Up” and “The Incredibles,” while Anderson produced “Cars” and “Toy Story 3.”
“If I have a work question for Darla, I try to schedule time during the day,” Rae says. “People are amazed at how little we talk about our specific projects with each other. I think that’s a good thing. It has helped create autonomy for each of us, and it’s created a safe place for people to come to us individually. We’ve made that a priority.”
The pair may operate with deliberate care at Pixar, but when they decided to marry in February 2004, they did it spontaneously. San Francisco officials were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples arriving from around the world. “People were flying in from Australia, and we lived 10 blocks from city hall,” Anderson recalls. “We were not activists, and it was raining and cold. So we thought, ‘If the line’s too long we’ll just go to brunch.’ The line was wrapped around the building, but there was this great energy. People were bringing food and flowers. We stood in the rain for seven hours to get married, and I remember thinking that Britney Spears had gotten married and divorced in one weekend. That’s when you feel the unfairness of it all.”
The experience prompted the couple to become more politically active, Rae says. “We really comprehended
what equality meant, so we got involved immediately.”
Among their causes are Frameline (which produces the San Francisco LGBT Film Festival), the National Council of La Raza and the Human Rights Campaign. They were also part of the effort to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). “Darla had a huge impact in getting Disney, Apple and Pixar to sign on,” Rae says. “She was really influential.”
But perhaps the pair’s most visible effort was their participation in the PSA campaign “It Gets Better,” aimed at victims of bullying. “It was a grassroots effort by employees at Pixar,” Rae says. “Darla helped them build momentum.”
“That was relatively easy, as it turned out,” Anderson says. “With one email, everybody at Disney and Pixar said, ‘Of course.’ There were no qualms about it. Then our PSA got a million hits really quickly. I realized it wasn’t just about gay people — bullying is bullying no matter who you are.”
Pixar’s staff — a mix of toon types and tech heads — epitomizes diversity, and that may be one reason why Anderson and Rae have stayed for 20 years. “At Pixar, we are all the freaks and the geeks,” Anderson says.