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Cheyenne Chapel of 'Soul': Small Town Girl Makes it Big Behind Scenes in Hollywood

by Todd A. Smith


Pixar’s animated film “Soul,” which debuts on Disney+ on Dec. 25, prominently features New York City as a backdrop (Photo Credit: 2020 Disney/Pixar).



Cheyenne Chapel: From Brenham, Texas to Big Screen Animation

According to, the distance between Brenham, Texas and Los Angeles is approximately 1,464 miles.

A drive from Brenham, Texas to Hollywood would take 21 hours and 37 minutes traveling on Interstate 10.

While that trip might take long as heck in a car, when one has the immense talent of sets modeling artist Cheyenne Chapel, the journey from small town Texas, with a pit stop at Texas A&M University, to Hollywood seems to occur at warp speed.

But what does a set modeling artist actually do because often casual moviegoers pay more attention to those in front of the camera as opposed to all of the geniuses behind the scenes that make their performances possible?

Chapel said, “So, a set modeler…is…a person that helps to create the background or the world of our film. So specifically, we would be in charge of creating the props, the buildings, the architecture, the cars, anything that our character would interact with potentially…We’re basically creating the world that we are seeing.”

And when one views that world and surroundings that the set modelers created for the new animated movie “Soul,” which debuts on Disney+ on Dec. 25, viewers will marvel at how real the New York City depicted in the Pixar movie actually feels.

If one has ever visited New York City, they might get a sense that the city is completely unique to any other city in the country.

The brownstones that people live in have their own vibe.

The skyscrapers make the buildings in other major cities look small at times.

New York City is known for the fast pace of the residents, from people walking swiftly down Broadway or impatient drivers yelling at pedestrians or honking their horns at other drivers.

“The Big Apple” is the type of city that will swallow you whole if you let it, and that’s actually what happens to the main character Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) in “Soul.”

Joe is a struggling musician who gets the opportunity of a lifetime playing for an established jazz singer by the name of Dorothea Gipson (voiced by Angela Bassett).

When Joe falls into a manhole, while celebrating his good fortune and trying to avoid New York City traffic, he is transported to the Great Before where souls wait in a holding pattern until their full personalities develop and they are ready to arrive on Earth as human beings.

“Soul” executive producer Dan Scanlon told Animation World Network, “You can tell from (director Pete Doctor’s) previous films like ‘Up’ and ‘Inside Out’ that he loves animation and he loves pushing the boundaries of what it can do.

“But with ‘Soul,’ he and his team strived to go further than ever before. They wanted to show audiences a world they’d never seen before in the form of the You Seminar. 

“For Pete and his team, showing something new was more about restraint than about adding all the bells and whistles. The world [of the Great Before] is deceptively simple, big bold beautiful shapes, abstract buildings that look like none you’ve ever seen on Earth.

“It takes guts to try to communicate an idea with less, but if done right it can end up saying a lot more.”

But while the scenes from the Great Before play a major part in the film “Soul,” the scenes from New York give the animated film its authenticity.

Chapel said that although she has never visited New York, many members of the “Soul” crew visited the city to get a feel for its vibe.

However, Chapel said that visiting New York City is one of the items on her bucket list.

The Brenham, Texas native said that typically, the director(s) and members of the art department will visit a location so that they can interpret that place in a realistic way when it comes to animation.

However for her role as sets modeling artist, Chapel relied on her love of photography to learn more about the setting of “Soul.”

But how does a small town woman from Brenham, Texas make it to Hollywood and land a job at Pixar creating an animated version of the nation’s biggest city?

Well, while a student at Texas A&M University a former Aggie returned to the campus to discuss her job at Pixar.

From that point, a seed was planted in Chapel that she could follow in her footsteps.

Chapel then began meeting up with recruiters at different conferences, building a rapport and relationships with some of the Pixar employees.

An internship at Pixar followed.

Following the internship, an employment opportunity presented itself.

Chapel hit the ground running and the peak for her career is as high in the sky as the famed Hollywood letters.

And just like a Pixar employee inspired Chapel to pursue a career animation, maybe the Texas A&M graduate can do the same for the next generation.

Chapel told that if younger people wanted to get into animation they could start by studying art, sculpting and photography.

She emphasized studying photography because of the importance of developing one’s eye.

Although it is not Chapel’s background, she told that many people enter the animation field with a technology background.

And just like technology has brought the world closer even if people are thousands of miles apart, Chapel’s ascendancy should prove to others dreaming of a career in Hollywood that success in the movie industry is often closer than one can ever imagine.

This article was published on Wednesday 23 December, 2020.
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