Bill Cone’s Road Trip

Shamrock Texas Cafe (photograph)

Each movie is different, and what Pixar production designer Bill Cone does for each may vary. In Cars, one of his jobs was to design a town in the Southwest and the world in which that town exists. The area was loosely based on the area around Monument Valley. “We made lots of trips out to Nevada and the desert, drove out partly on Route 66, so a lot of the sense of the light and atmosphere was based on that trip,” Cone says. “When we were on old Route 66 there were a lot of people, so it wasn’t easy to stop and paint, but I did some sketches of the landscape. Turns out when you’re with a large group of people and most have cameras, they click and then want to move on. But I did manage maybe seven or eight sketches during that trip.”

Other trips into the desert were shorter and again with other people, so he took lots of photos and painted very few pastels. “Then when we got back to the office, I put a lot of ideas together as I began drawing. I might use an idea I had in mind but light it with the light of the Southwest, or my idea of what that light was like. At this point, the concept of the movie has been determined, maybe not a script, but what this story is about. It’s enough to start, to know what kind of characters will inhabit the film—toys or bugs or cars—and then imagine the world based on those characters. In Cars, of course, it was a car-based universe.”


Bill Cone cites disparate influences—Mad magazine and the fine art of painters John Singer Sargent, Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud—as inspiration for his more than 14 years of highly respected design work at Pixar Animation Studios. He lives in Moraga, California, with his wife, two children, two dogs and three cats. See his more of his work on his blog at


Look for Maggie Price’s book, Painting With Pastels: Easy Techniques to Master the Medium (North Light Books, 2007) at See her artwork at
To read “The Nuts and Bolts of Hi-Tech Animation,” an article about Bill Cone and the role of the fine artist at Pixar, see the March 2008 issue of The Artist’s Magazine.



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