She’s the reason you can live out your Ratatouille dreams!
In Elite Daily’s I Have The Job You Want series, we tell the stories of people working in the most ridiculous, unbelievable, and totally envy-inducing fields you never thought possible. In this piece, we talk to the woman who gets to turn your fave nostalgic Pixar movies into the rides and attractions you’ll be talking about.
Krista Sheffler has your dream job — and it all started with a cold call. During her post-college job search in 1997, Sheffler picked up the phone and unknowingly embarked on the journey that would lead her to where she is today: putting together Pixar-inspired rides for Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide. “I actually just called Pixar and asked, ‘Do you use a temp agency?’ and they said, ‘Yes, we use this one,’” she recalls. She joined that temp agency, landed in the Pixar mailroom, and 20-odd years later, she now gets to spend her days taking inspiration from classics like Toy Story and Ratatouille to help visitors really feel the magic of the films on their trip.
Sheffler’s job as a production manager in the Pixar Theme Parks group, she says, is all about “bringing a little bit of Pixar into every [Disney] park.” Once Disney decides one of its many beloved Pixar films deserves a place in the parks, Sheffler is responsible for overseeing the process of translating your fave nostalgic movies to real-life rides and attractions. “My job is a little out of the ordinary,” Sheffler says. “Every project is unique. There is no textbook.” She works with designers, artists, filmmakers, Disney Imagineers, and any other departments needed to “bring the stories to life in an authentic way.” Her main role is to ensure everything runs smoothly, acting as the hand that brings together all the moving parts — and solving any problems along the way. “You're there to support everybody else to do their best work,” she says.
The movie moments she brings to the parks can range from small details, like bringing The Incredibles’ Jack-Jack Cookie Num Nums to Disneyland as an IRL treat you can buy, to grand attractions like her latest project, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. She counts the addition to Epcot’s France Pavilion in Disney World, which opened on Oct. 1 (and at Disneyland Paris in June 2014), as one of the highlights of her career, even if it took 14 years following Ratatouille’s 2007 release to get there. “It doesn't matter [how long it’s been] — it's a timeless movie,” Sheffler says. “People still love it. People still watch it. So, let's bring it to them in a different way [for them to] experience it.”
Sheffler coordinated with the original Ratatouille filmmakers to ensure the finished version of the ride “brings the experience to life, so it looks like it just popped off the screen.” Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure uses 3D animation to make you feel like you’re Remy-sized, immersing riders in the film as Linguini ushers you to safety, or as Chef Skinner attempts to trap you in the kitchen.
When I visited the ride on Sept. 29, I found myself immersed in Pixar’s version of Paris as I walked the new Alleé des Marchands, which leads to the main attraction. From being greeted by the ‘Gram-worthy fountain (with rat and wine bottle details) to finding hidden Eiffel Tower designs in the queue’s wallpaper, the transformation into Remy began long before I got in the rat-shaped vehicle. On the ride, I passed by massive fruits and vegetables in the oversized refrigerator, flinched when it seemed like Skinner could get past my 3D glasses, and felt like I was a part of the celebration when the ride finally made it to safety at Remy’s restaurant. After riding, you can see exactly why each component had to come into play — and why it wouldn’t have been possible without someone like Sheffler ushering it all to the finish line.
“My job [on the ride] was to manage all of the custom animation from start to finish,” she explains. “There was a lot of custom animation for the Ratatouille attraction, so [my team] worked directly with the Pixar filmmakers — starting with our story teams, working our way through layout and animation, and finishing with lighting and rendering.” To bring Ratatouille to life for park-goers during the five-minute ride required years of work from people in many different fields: “The media production can take a couple of years from start to finish” due to the scope of the task, she admits.
I always said yes to the next opportunity.
In some ways it’s not surprising at all that Sheffler, a Bay Area native, found herself in a job at Disney. “I always knew I loved Disney, and I knew I loved theme parks,” she says. While studying at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), she interned as a part of the Disney College Program in 1994 and 1995. The semester-long program at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, gives college students “on-the-job experience” working in Disney parks and resorts, as well as networking opportunities. As of 2021, the program offered a starting rate of $13 an hour. Sheffler says she most enjoyed working on the Fantasmic! light show/parade and the Lion King parade: She was responsible for ensuring the performers’ costumes were always ready for show time and assisting the performers with changes during the fast-paced shows. “I have a background in theater, so I was excited to work in entertainment costuming at the park,” she says.
Of course, the way Sheffler got her foot in the door at Pixar is anything but ordinary. When she graduated from UCSB in 1996, Sheffler didn’t have a specific career in mind, but she knew which company she wanted to work for. “I really didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be involved with Disney and entertainment somehow,” she says. Sheffler’s mom ultimately helped her decide on Pixar, convincing her that the company was “kind of like Disney.” From there, Sheffler placed that infamous cold call and was ready to “work really hard.”
Joining Pixar as a temp in 1997, nine years before Disney bought Pixar in 2006, Sheffler shuffled around the mailroom, facilities, investor relations, and recruiting before landing a gig as an administrative assistant to the director of marketing in 2000. “I was very lucky to start at Pixar when it was a young company,” she says. “As the company grew, so did the job opportunities — and I was up for anything. I always said yes to the next opportunity, and I’m fortunate that my love of the Disney Parks found its way back to me through Pixar.”
In 2006, Sheffler was fully immersed in the parks when she got to help with the tail-end (no pun intended) of production for Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, which opened in 2007. The Nemo ride, which is temporarily unavailable as of Oct. 22, takes riders into a partially submerged submarine to search for the star of the 2003 film. That experience led to her first big project in her new role as production coordinator for Toy Story Mania!, which takes you on a ride through 3D games with all your favorites from the 1995 movie. The ride opened at Disney World in May 2008 and at Disneyland in June of that same year. Her focus on characters and lighting in the attraction made for some pretty enjoyable days on the job: “The most fun was collaborating with [Imagineers] and play-testing the games!” she laughs.
Since then, she’s worked her way up to her current position as production manager and helmed the creation of fan-favorite attractions like Cars Land, Pixar Pier, and Nemo & Friends Searider. Seeing the final projects come to life is thrilling, but nothing brings Sheffler more joy than seeing people enjoy the fruits of her labor. “My favorite part is when I go somewhere I had worked on something, and I see the people getting off the ride with a big smile on their face,” she says. “And I’m like, I helped make it. That's crazy.”
Sheffler’s advice to others looking for their dream job: Take a chance. “I look back [at] what I did, and [I’m] like, ‘Wow, I was pretty brave,’’' she says. “I was excited about what I was doing and passionate about what I was doing — even when I was just in the mail room — and it paid off.”