‘TURNING RED’ interview: North Texas effects artist made pandas go *poof* in warm, fuzzy animated tale

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

In addition to making us a sobbing mess with their captivating storylines, Pixar Animation Studios has this laser-focused attention to detail with their brilliant animations. The amount of effort that goes into each frame is plastered with Easter eggs and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pieces that further immerse audiences into their striking worlds. 

When the trailer for Disney and Pixar’s latest film, Turning Red, dropped last year, viewers were already marveling at what they saw. In the trailer, we learn that the film follows the story of Chinese Canadian teen Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang). Amid a particularly awkward puberty stage, she discovers her ability to transform into a giant red panda when emotionally provoked. 

Disney and Pixar’s all-new original feature film ‘Turning Red’ introduces 13-year-old Mei Lee and her mother, Ming. They’ve always been close, so when Mei begins showing interest in typical teenager things—like boys, for example—Ming is a little (or a lot) tempted to overreact. Featuring Rosalie Chiang as the voice of Mei Lee, and Sandra Oh as the voice of Ming, ‘Turning Red’ is now exclusively on Disney+. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Some trailer watchers spotted child characters wearing glucose monitoring devices and plenty of visual references to other Disney and Pixar movies. Look closely, and you’ll recognize Toy Story‘s Pizza Planet truck in the background and the always referenced “A113” on a concert ticket (an inside joke that refers to the classroom original Pixar animators used as animation students). That’s the beauty of Pixar; you can pause the film, frame by frame, to find all kinds of gorgeous fine points. 

One of the effects artists responsible for such details is Jasmine Derry, an Effects Technical Director at Pixar from Mesquite, Texas. Anytime you see Turning Red’s Mei change from human form to panda, and vice versa – with all the pink, fluffy stimulation – Derry had a hand in those creations. She was also responsible for the scenes featuring bubbles, sparklers, and tears from the characters.

In Disney and Pixar’s all-new original feature film ‘Turning Red,’ everything is going great for 13-year-old Mei—until she begins to “poof” into a giant panda when she gets too excited. Fortunately, her tight-knit group of friends have her fantastically fluffy red panda back. Featuring the voices of Rosalie Chiang, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Hyein Park as Mei, Miriam, Priya and Abby. © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

To discuss some of these incredible details, film critic Preston Barta of the Fresh Fiction sat down with Derry via Zoom Video. In the below behind-the-scenes discussion, we chat about the Dallas-Fort Worth art scene, Derry’s journey from Texas A&M to working at Pixar, and what the teen version of herself would think of Turning Red.

Enjoy the talk, and catch Turning Red on Disney+ today!

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.