AVIXA Women’s Breakfast Creates a World Like No One Has Seen Before

Danielle Feinberg smiles during her keynote at the AVIXA Women's Breakfast.
(Image credit: InfoComm Show Daily)

On Thursday morning, before the show floor opened, the AVIXA Women’s Council held its 10th annual AVIXA Women’s Breakfast. Sponsored by AVI-SPL and Q-SYS, a sell-out audience was on hand to connect and celebrate collected achievements, while welcoming keynote speaker Danielle Feinberg, visual effects supervisor at Pixar Animation Studios and “geek of many things.”

Before Feinberg took the stage, AVIXA Women’s Council co-chairs Christina Cruzeiro and Tammy Fuqua—Fuqua via a short video as she was unable to attend the breakfast—welcomed everyone to the packed North Hall conference room and reminded everyone of the reason they were there: To empower, support, and elevate women in Pro AV to create a more inclusive and dynamic industry. Cruzeiro proposed some ways to do just that, including to build your brand, build your network, teach people how to treat you, and constantly challenge yourself.

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An advocate for diversity, Feinberg’s accomplishments at Pixar tell only half her story, a story she would tell in great detail over the next hour. Outside of the work she does for some of Pixar’s biggest hits—starting with her first role on Bug’s Life—Feinberg is a mentor to teenage girls, where she hopes to further engage future Pro AV-ers in coding, science, and math. She is also known for her 2016 TED Talk, The Magic Ingredient that Brings Pixar Movies to Life, which was one of the most viewed talks of that year.

While Feinberg talked a little bit about challenges, being underestimated, the “imposter effect,” and AI (“humans need art made by humans,” she offered), it was her journey that brought imagined worlds to life. It begins with early memories as “the lawnmower girl” in her high school, male-dominated engineering class (where she was the only one to bring the lawnmower to life) to her Harvard computer science class, which took her to a 1995 film called Toy Story. She was one of a few female engineers at Harvard, estimating that those classes were 10% women, setting her up with a feeling that she didn’t belong.

After graduating from Harvard in June 1996, Feinberg found her way to Pixar by February 1997, and the rest is history… albeit the trail she blazed was not an easy one. She started in the modeling department, worked her way to lighting, and eventually became a team leader—a team of which consisted of nine men and herself.

That’s what made her accomplishment on Turning Red all the more impressive. The movie was a daunting task, filmed during the pandemic and mostly remote. But that’s minimal compared to the impact the film made in the studio’s history. Turning Red was the first all-female leadership team in the history of Pixar. “Feeling the victory of what we had all done together…we delivered the movie several days early and under budget,” Feinberg recollected. “We had a crew that repeatedly said how bummed they were that the movie was over because they had such a great experience during such trying times.”

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And impact is what Feinberg has always made and continues to do. When asked what her favorite movie was, she quickly pointed to Coco. Not because it was an amazing movie (because it is), and not because The Land of the Dead was one of the more challenging universes to build, a world in which she said her team was tasked to “create a world like no one has seen before.”

Feinberg and her team were terrified about being Americans making a movie about Mexican culture and its holiday. On top of that, it was set to debut after horrific earthquakes hit Mexico City. After some debate about holding off the premiere, the show, as they say, must go on. “At some point I got this message on Facebook,” she said as she began to read the exact message she received that day from a teacher in Mexico City. “’You have no idea the positive impact that Coco has had on my country…. Watching Coco reminds us of how our culture, history, and traditions have the power to keep fighting for what’s good, keep positive in hard times, and to live the present to the fullest.”

One never knows the impact they can have on others. “When we walk our own paths, the one filled with the things we love and not what others think we should do, we find great inner strength,” she concluded. “To help us through days when the doubts can creep in and on the days when I find myself as the other in the room, I hope you will join me in being the brilliant pot of green among the sea of beige—ready to defy convention; ready to transform into the powerful beast that lies inside; ready to fight for yourself and fight for others, so perhaps we can create a world like no one has seen before.”

Wayne Cavadi
Senior Content Manager

Wayne Cavadi is the senior content manager of Systems Contractor News. Prior to taking a leap into the Pro AV industry, Wayne was a journalist and content lead for Turner Sports, covering the NCAA, PGA, and Major and Minor League Baseball. His work has been featured in a variety of national publications including Bleacher Report, Lindy's Magazine, MLB.com and The Advocate. When not writing, he hosts the DII Nation Podcast, committed to furthering the stories and careers of NCAA Division II student-athletes. Follow his work on Twitter at @WayneCavadi_2 or the SCN mag Twitter page.