Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi is an Art Director at Pixar Animation Studios in the U.S. After graduating from high school in Japan, he attended community college in the U.S. and then went on to study art in New York. When giving advice to young people who are debating whether or not to study abroad in the United States, he tells them to go ahead and take the leap without worrying about preparing for it.

“Young people need to go through a period of soul searching”

Dice decided to go to the U.S. on a whim when the study-abroad industry was booming in Japan. But when he got there, he was faced with a difficult dilemma. He had no idea what he was supposed to be doing there. “I hadn’t studied for Japanese university entrance exams and I didn’t know what courses to take. I was so confused. I was already 18 or 19 years old and I had no idea what I wanted to do.” Looking back, he realizes that going through a period of soul searching is essential for young people and it’s perfectly natural for them to be uncertain about what they want to do in the future. Soul searching is a necessary part of growing up. But Japanese society at that time dictated that young people should have some idea about where they want to go to school and what they want to do in the future by the time they graduate from high school. Dice was anxious because he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life.

That was when he discovered art, entirely by coincidence. When he was studying English at a community college, art was one of the few subjects that international students could earn credits for even if they didn’t speak English. Many of the students in his classes were older people studying art for continuing education. “Over half of the students were old men and old ladies, and they kept telling me how great my work was. ‘You’ve got talent,’ they said. At the time, people didn’t praise each other very much in Japanese society. So when they said told me I was talented, I actually believed them. That gave me a lot of confidence in my ability and led me to the conclusion that I should go to art school. As a result, I went on to pursue a career in art.”

“Japanese people need to work on their communication skills”

From that point on Dice was drawn into the art world and ended up transferring to the School of Visual Arts in New York. After graduating, he worked at LucasArts Entertainment and then Blue Sky Studio, finally landing a job at Pixar and becoming the art director for “Toy Story 3.” Throughout his career, he’s worked in a very international environment. When asked what Japan needs to work on to become more globalized, he replies, “Communication skills.”

“I don’t think language is the problem,” he says. “I think Japanese people need to work on really communicating rather than just speaking English. Even if you can’t speak English, if you show an interest and listen to what people are saying, they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure you understand them. That sort of conversational ‘game of catch’ is the same in Japanese too. I think you’ll be able to excel in global communications if you’ve achieved this basic skill.”

He also quotes Pixar Ed Catmull as saying that failure is important because you can learn a tremendous amount from it. “If we don’t create a society in which it’s OK to fail, people will just do what they already know they’re capable of and set their own limits,” says Dice. “The same can be said for communication. Communication allows you to say what you think and then go back and change your mind if you realize you were wrong. But when people are afraid of failure or saying the wrong thing, they don’t speak up. What’s essential in building communication skills is to understand how important it is to fail and to learn from failure.”

“All you need to do is come to the U.S.”

Dice has received messages from all sorts of people in Japan asking for advice, from elementary school students to people his own age, saying, “I want to work at an animation company in the U.S.” or “I want to work at Pixar.” He tells them all the same thing: “To begin with, all you need to do is come to the U.S. You can think about what you want to do after you get here.” He also says that although the end result might not be exactly what you imagined, the efforts you make in the process will never be wasted. “When you prepare for things, it’s usually just an attempt to avoid failure,” he points out. “But when it comes to studying English, you could probably learn the same amount in a week in the U.S. as you could in a year in Japan. So you don’t need to worry about preparing. The most important thing is to take action.”

Interview with Daisuke Tsutsumi (in Japanese):