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Calm and Chaos in Fantasy Suburbia

Onward, Onward press day

Posted by Simoa • February 12, 2020

The creation of Onward’s suburban fantasy world was a lot more deliberate than you might expect. Of course Pixar films are always the result of years’ worth of research and minute attention to detail, but it all looks so effortless. How hard could it be to populate ordinary neighborhoods with centaurs and trolls? Actually it was quite challenging, building a world both old and new at the same time. Here’s a rundown of how the crew in art, layout, editing, and lighting rose to the challenge.

Art – Noah Klocek, production designer 

visual development art by Chris Sasaki

One of the challenges with Onward was making fantasy creatures in a modern setting acceptable to an audience. This was achieved by making the world’s familiar elements much greater than the fantastical ones. Percentage wise, it was 70% familiar, 30% fantasy. The juxtaposition of those two elements were also represented by two more key concepts: chaos and order. And those concepts were further embodied by our main characters, Ian and Barley. 

The suburb itself was inspired by the Midwest, specifically where Dan Scanlon grew up. The array of fantasy creatures and elements were made to resemble what Dan called a “sticker book/trapper keeper fantasy.” The film’s brightly colored posters definitely pay homage to that aesthetic. And the film overall is meant to appeal to fantasy lovers and non lovers alike. 

Layout – Adam Habib 

Technical aspects were also employed to reinforce the film’s blend of chaos and order. Two types of camera styles were assigned to the Lightfoot brothers: a normal one for Ian that was closer to a human perspective with a restrained movement; and a mix of wide and long lenses for Barley that felt more unpredictable. Because magic is also unpredictable, it’s difficult for the camera to keep up with it. This is similar to how Ian reacts to magic, and by extension, the audience. 

PROGRESSION IMAGE 3 of 6: CAMERA AND STAGING – The Camera and Staging team (sometimes known by its traditional name, Layout) uses the principles of cinematography and film language to translate each moment from the hand-drawn storyboards into the three-dimensional cinematic shots that make up the finished film. This team determines the composition of each frame, as well as the choreography of camera and character movement (known as Staging) within the virtual sets. They work closely with the Director and the Editorial teams to determine the right timing and sequence of shots to best communicate the story. © 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Not all of the magic in Onward is chaotic however. Wizard magic belongs in this category, with its dynamic and graceful camera movements. That’s what Barley idolizes and what Ian tries to master.

Editing – Catherine Apple

The editing department spends the most time on the film, anywhere from three to five years. With Onward, it was four years. The first step in the process involves the storyboards. They are broken down into sequences with temporary dialogue. In the early stages before the principal cast was announced or involved, Dan Scanlon voiced Ian.

ONWARD – Storyboards by Kristen Lester and Le Tang. © 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

After the storyboard sequences, sound effects are added. The effects are so integral to the editing process and they all have to be created. Examples include ambient sounds, dogs barking, and a car engine. A vast sound effects library at Pixar certainly helps! Since Guinevere the van is Barley’s mighty “steed,” the car engine roars to life with a horse’s whinny. Then a temporary score is added along with the sound effects to scenes with dialogue. Sound effects also reflect chaos and order: controlled sounds and dialogue for Ian, while Barley’s dialogue is often very fast and overlapping with other sounds. He also got the louder sound effects. 

Lighting – Jonathan Pytko, lighting supervisor 

As expected of Pixar films, the lighting is one of the most compelling visual elements. The goal here was to tell the story through light and color. The familiar part of Onward is made up of funny and heartfelt moments that are meant to evoke comfort and warmth. These scenes also help the audience grow accustomed to the world. The fantasy is much more mysterious, saturated with deeper colors, as in the scene where Ian and Barley use the conjuring spell. 

PROGRESSION IMAGE 5 of 6: LIGHTING – The Lighting department helps to integrate all of the elements – characters, sets, effects, etc. – into a final, fully visually realized image. The Lighting process involves placing virtual light sources into the scene to illuminate the characters and the set. Technical artists place the lights to draw the audience’s eye to story points and to create a specific mood. The lit images are then rendered at high resolution. © 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Onward‘s visual language is very rich, and deeply informed by specificity. It’ll be a treat to watch the entire film next month and pay attention to all these details.

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Toy Story 4’s Oscar win

Jonas Rivera, Josh Cooley, Mark Nielsen, Oscars, Randy Newman, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • February 11, 2020

Toy Story 4 won Best Animated at the Oscars on Sunday! I know I’m a bit late, but I didn’t actually catch the ceremony until after this award was handed out. It was surprising, which I know is a little weird considering that Pixar is usually the favorite, but I genuinely did not expect it to win. Missing Link and Klaus seemed like the major contenders, especially since the former won the Golden Globe. The film is Pixar’s 10th win, but a first for Josh Cooley and producer Mark Nielsen, and Jonas Rivera’s second (Inside Out being his first).

Mindy Kaling presented the award, which was more than fitting considering she starred in Inside Out, and you can even see how warmly she greeted Jonas.

“We take great pride in the fact that we get to make family films. Toy Story 4 is really a love letter to our families, for our parents, our wives, and for our kids.” – Jonas Rivera

“We want to thank the moviegoing audience […] especially those who grew up with Toy Story. We hope that your adventures with Woody and Buzz made growing up a little bit easier. -Josh Cooley

You can also watch Randy Newman’s performance of the Best Original Song nominee, “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away.” It was just wonderful, him seated at the piano surrounded by those iconic white clouds! Newman is 76 years old for what it’s worth, and he’s still amazing. I also loved when the camera cut to Jonas Rivera giving Newman a hearty standing ovation at the song’s conclusion.

Check out some more great photos from Oscars night:

US-ENTERTAINMENT-FILM-OSCARS-SHOW

Congratulations to Josh, Mark, Jonas, and the entire cast and crew!

 

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New Featurette Marks Onward’s One-Month-To-Go Milestone

Dan Scanlon, Onward

Posted by Joanna • February 8, 2020

With Onward’s release date being March 6th, we’re now very much in the countdown stage. (Although honestly, we’ve kind of been counting down since the release date was first solidified). To celebrate the one-month-to-go milestone, Pixar have released a little ‘featurette’, which includes some input from Ian and Barley’s voice actors Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, their mom Laurel’s voice actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and manticore Corey’s voice actor Octavia Spencer. And director Dan Scanlon of course.

Things that we’re loving from this featurette (aside from the lovely comments from the director and voice actors):

1. That this foot-tap sign of affection is going to be a whole thing in Onward. 

2. The scenery! We can’t wait to see how fantasy shows itself in these big cities.

3. This digital clock that also has old-timey fantastical font for the numbers. All these contrasting modern fantasy features are genius.

4. This beautiful hug between two brothers.

Onward explores a relationship between two brothers that have been processing the death of their dad from a very early point in their lives. This is such a meaningful story because it’s inspired by director Dan Scanlon’s own experience growing up having lost his dad at just one year old. Let’s hope it helps bring families together all over the world when it’s released next month! It’s so touching that this was Dan’s brother’s reaction to seeing it:

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New film still and new insight into Soul

Pete Docter, Soul

Posted by Simoa • January 22, 2020

Pete Docter’s Soul bears some resemblance to Inside Out with its abstract concept, but the two films have another connection. Speaking with Empire, the director gave further insight into what his newest film is all about. As it turns out, Joe Gardner’s journey after his death is to The Great Before, defined as a place where people get their personalities. I can’t help but be reminded of the beginning of Inside Out, where Riley greets the world and her parents as a newborn baby. As Docter noted,

“The instant my kids were born, they seemed to have a very specific, unique personality; this is a deep dive into why that’s the case.”

I love that Docter is drawing inspiration from his children once again for this latest exploration into the human experience. I also wonder exactly how he thinks their personalities were fixed from the moment they were born. Maybe that’s something only parents can understand. Regardless, Soul, in theaters on June 19th, will be a film for everyone. Check out the exclusive new film still.

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