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Sanjay’s Super Team – The Pixar Short of The Week

Pixar Short of the Week, Sanjay Patel, Sanjay's Super Team, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Simoa • January 12, 2019

“Sanjay’s Super Team” emerged the victor in this week’s poll, which I’m very happy about! I’ve been waiting to delve back into this short ever since we launched our short film series. Premiering before The Good Dinosaur in 2015, it was met with unanimous praise and approval.

Inspired by director Sanjay Patel’s childhood, this mostly true story wasn’t, at first. Patel was actually very reluctant to make it a personal film, but some encouragement from both his father and John Lasseter prompted him to shine the spotlight on his younger self. “Sanjay’s Super Team” is not only Pixar’s first film with a nonwhite protagonist, but the first to feature a non Western culture as well.

There are two rituals being practiced in this short. One is sacred while the other is a distinctly American pastime. Sanjay and his father sit on opposite sides of the room which further illustrates the contrast between their two activities. Note how the television and prayer box are the same shape, the antennae mirroring the incense sticks. Also note how Sanjay is on the left (West) side, while his father is on the right (East) side.

The boy runs to the television set and gleefully begins watching his favorite superhero cartoon. His father is quiet as he kneels before his prayer box. He rings a bell which signals to Sanjay that it’s time to pray. The boy ignores him and instead raises the volume on the TV. But his father has the remote, and he turns the TV off and takes away his son’s action figure too. A thoroughly uninterested Sanjay joins his father, sighing about the whole ordeal. He sneaks the toy back from under his father’s nose and its cape accidentally catches fire from the flame in the oil lamp. Sanjay ends up blowing out the flame and is transported to a cavernous temple. Sanjay is all alone in this dark, cold place, until a monster unfurls from the giant oil lamp in the center of the temple, a creature made of darkness. The monster proceeds to destroy the temple. Sanjay lights the oil lamp, and three Hindu gods come to life: Vishnu, Durga, and Hanuman.

Now the temple is filled with both light and warmth. The deities evoke tranquility in the midst of chaos. They attempt to quell the monster’s attacks, but only succeed momentarily. It’s up to Sanjay to restore peace, and he does so by smashing his action figure against the oil lamp. The reverberating echoes, not unlike the ringing of his father’s bell, calm the monster and he departs peacefully. As the older Patel remarked, the monster is a metaphor for little Sanjay’s own chaotic energy. His father also wanted him to be calm. And when little Sanjay is finally still, he reaches enlightenment, much like the monster who ceases his destruction of the temple.

Sanjay receives a blessing from Vishnu, along with his repaired toy, and returns home. His father allows him to watch TV again once he sees that the boy has no interest in his customs. But Sanjay now has a much better understanding – and appreciation – of his father’s religion and beliefs.

Although “Sanjay’s Super Team” lacks dialogue, it’s a symphony of sounds, as well as light and color. Mychael Danna’s score achieves an epic and adventurous sound, that blends in seamlessly with the chimes of both bells and light. The short’s bold designs and lighting also sets it apart from other Pixar features. The light behaves much differently than it would normally. There’s a glossy sheen to the light and textures within the temple, making the deities almost appear translucent.

There’s also a gracefulness to the short, evident in the movements of the deities. That was a result of studying Indian dances, such as Bharatanatyam, Odissi, and Kathakali.

But there’s gracefulness in the narrative too. The story grew from Patel’s own experiences of ignoring his family’s culture and instead gravitating to an American one. He didn’t want to be different at all. “I wanted my name to be Travis, not Sanjay.” So the short’s conclusion, in which he envisions the deities as his own superheroes and proudly shows his artwork to his father, is especially touching. Sanjay realizes that he can unite his passions and his father’s traditions, that he can embrace his Indian heritage and his American one.

“If I could, I would go back to the 1980s and give my younger self this short. I want to normalise and bring a young brown boy’s story to the pop culture zeitgeist. To have a broad audience like Pixar’s see this … it is a big deal.”

“Sanjay’s Super Team” is not only a gift for Sanjay Patel’s younger self, but for the audience as well.

Fun facts:

  • Sanjay doesn’t have an age – at least his older counterpart doesn’t know how old he actually is!
  • The kid art in the end credits was drawn by the children of Pixar employees.
  • Vishnu, the blue deity, represents Sanjay’s father. He’s known as the preserver, and that’s what Sanjay’s father did with his traditions.
  • Vishnu’s blue color is also central to the short, as the flame is blue and so are Sanjay’s pajamas.
  • The motel that Patel’s parents managed is also the same one in the short.

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SparkShorts – What Is It And Why Should We Be Excited About It?

Short Film, Shorts, Smash and Grab, SparkShorts

Posted by Joanna • January 12, 2019

One of the best things about Pixar is their commitment to innovation. We’ve been highlighting the studio’s short films recently, which have been part of its DNA since it was founded over 30 years ago. That legacy continues with their latest project.

Yesterday Pixar revealed their new SparkShorts program – an official title for the experimental shorts department that we found out about in 2017. It was already an exciting concept – for years, Pixar shorts have been a way of trying out new things and giving employees a chance to try their hand at directing. Having a whole internal program dedicated to giving people at Pixar – from all sorts of different backgrounds and departments – the opportunity to create with little to no restriction or pressure is ingenius. It’s what Pixar is all about: encouraging and inspiring creativity.

Now that the program has been officially revealed and titled, SparkShorts is filling us all with that feeling of awe and pride that Pixar fans are familiar with. Watch their video about it below for some sneak peaks of the upcoming SparkShorts (some of which we’ll be lucky enough to see in just over a month!):

“Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of SparkShorts. The program was created to provide opportunities to a wide array of artists – each with something unique to say.” – Lindsey Collins, vice president of development for Pixar.

The first three shorts in the SparkShorts program will be shown at the El Capitan Theater following The Little Mermaid this January 18th-24th. After this, the shorts will even be available on YouTube for us all to see. Pixar have published the titles and descriptions of these three shorts which you can read below.

  • “Purl,” directed by Kristen Lester and produced by Gillian Libbert-Duncan, features an earnest ball of yarn named Purl who gets a job in a fast-paced, high energy, bro-tastic start-up. Yarny hijinks ensue as she tries to fit in, but how far is she willing to go to get the acceptance she yearns for, and in the end, is it worth it? [Available on YouTube on February 4th]
  • “Smash and Grab, directed by Brian Larsen and produced by David Lally, is about two antiquated robots who risk everything for freedom and for each other after years of toiling away inside the engine room of a towering locomotive. [Available on YouTube on February 11th]

  • Kitbull,” directed by Rosana Sullivan and produced by Kathryn Hendrickson, reveals an unlikely connection that sparks between two creatures: a fiercely independent stray kitten and a pit bull. Together, they experience friendship for the first time. [Available on YouTube on February 18th]

Just months after Domee Shi became the first female director at Pixar for her memorable short “Bao”, it’s so encouraging to see more female directors and new talent from all sorts of different backgrounds making their debut. It’s exciting. We’re looking forward to the new shorts, and to the future! There are countless stories waiting to be told by the talented employees at Pixar, and with projects like this going on, we’ll actually be able to hear them!

UPDATE 16/01/19

You can now find out more about each of the SparkShorts on Pixar’s site here. They’ve also released each short’s corresponding poster. “Loop” and “Wind” are my personal favourites, but they’re all very cleverly designed.

It’s already clear that having crews of diverse storytellers and animators has led to these SparkShorts connecting with a wider range of underrepresented communities and cultures: praise has been given to “Float” for being the first Pixar short to feature Filipino characters, and “Loop” will feature Pixar’s first non-verbal autistic character ‘Renee’, who can be seen in the poster.

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Geri’s Game – The Pixar Short Of The Week

Geri's Game, Pixar Short of the Week, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Joanna • January 5, 2019

“Geri’s Game” is one of Pixar’s most memorable shorts, despite it being over 20 years old now. It came out in 1997, and was then played before A Bug’s Life in November of 1998. Even though its age means that current technology has totally surpassed the level of detail they were able to include in “Geri’s Game”, the short has aged incredibly well and is still fondly recognised as many people’s favourite animated short.

“Geri’s Game”, directed by Jan Pinkava (who went on to co-direct Ratatouille), tells a simple but effective story of an old man (Geri) playing a game of chess against himself. There is only one character in the short, but the clever use of editing, camera angles, and animation give the illusion of there actually being two ‘Geri’s competing against each other. It’s the animation especially that makes this illusion so endearing – one Geri is frail and withdrawn, peering uncertainly through his glasses and moving each of his white chess pieces with shaky hands, while the other Geri sits confidently with a smug look on his face. He doesn’t seem to need his glasses to plan out his next move – as soon as takes his place at the chess table he moves each black pawn, knight or rook quickly and decisively.

“Geri’s Game” shows how important facial expressions and gestures are in determining a character’s personality. Here, the Geri playing with the black chess pieces oozes confidence.

The Geri playing with the white pieces is withdrawn and unsure.

The confident Geri is somehow the much better chess player, but the other Geri manages to win the game in a more unconventional way – he fakes a heart attack and spins the chessboard around while his foe is distracted. And the prize for winning? Geri’s very own pair of dentures.

The story is silly, but it also shows a heartwarming insight into an old man facing the loneliness head-on – loneliness is a huge issue with the elderly, but it’s lovely to see Geri having fun in his own company, even if it’s a little crazy. At the time it was released, it must have really shown the potential 3D animation had for creating characters full of personality and illustrating stories that people feel invested in.  It won the 1997 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, and you can see why – while modern day 3D animation generally looks much more detailed and impressive, “Geri’s Game” made good use of its limited technology. Geri’s character model may not be staggeringly beautiful by today’s admittedly high standards, but the animation is wonderful – next time you watch the short, pay attention to how his elderly hands shake, how he walks carefully and deliberately, and how different his two personas move and behave. Pixar shorts are often used as a form of practice in a way, and you can tell “Geri’s Game” was used to focus on improving their animation and modelling of humans.

Concept art by director Jan Pinkava

Some fun facts:

  • There is one shot where both ‘Geri’s can be seen at once. Pinkava assures us this was an intentional joke.
  • Geri appeared again in Toy Story 2 as the toy repairman who made Woody look as good as new. The toy repairman was a last-minute character addition, so using an old model as a starting point saved them a lot of time.
  • Geri is voiced by Bob Peterson, who has also lent his voice to Dug (Up), Roz (Monsters Inc.) and Mr. Ray (Finding Nemo).
  • Brad Bird (director of The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Incredibles 2) told Pinkava that one of the reasons he came to Pixar was because of “Geri’s Game” – it showed him that human animation was possible using 3D techniques.

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Woody’s Round Up 12/31/18

Pixar In Concert, RenderMan, Round-Ups, Toy Story 4, Video Game

Posted by Simoa • December 31, 2018

Gather round for the final installment of Woody’s Round Up for 2018!

Glimpses and Peeps

Surprisingly, the Parrs weren’t on Pixar’s holiday card this year. (Can’t help but imagine a version with Jack-Jack taking on that raccoon in a picturesque Christmas scene…) The card however is quite lovely, and features characters from the 2019 feature, Woody and…Bo Peep!

Some fans started to speculate that the original romantic storyline between Bo and Woody was scrapped altogether. But her inclusion in the holiday card should lay those doubts to rest. Pixar may be taking their time to reveal Bo Peep in any of Toy Story 4′s promo, but that doesn’t mean she’s gone forever. In fact, quite the opposite. Over the summer, Bo’s voice actress Annie Potts enthused about her big role in the film. And that’s not all – she may even be getting a new look! I think we’re all in for a great surprise come next June.

Pixar in Concert

This series will be heading to four cities in the UK in April 2019. This UK tour will feature iconic music by a live orchestra from Coco, Finding Dory, Cars, Cars 2, the first two Toy Story films, Monsters, Inc., and more. For more information, please visit Broadway World.

Final Battle

The wait for Kingdom Hearts: Final Battle is almost over. The game will be released in just a few more weeks, and a new trailer was unveiled this month. Some familiar Pixar faces make appearances, like Remy, Woody, Buzz, Mike and Sulley. This latest trailer is pretty dramatic and has plenty of exciting moments, as well as some perilous ones. Watch it below:

Renderman’s 30th

The software program that revolutionized the VFX industry and continues to garner awards for groundbreaking effects turned 30 this year. Renderman first got its start at Pixar and is still an integral part of the studio. There’s a video over at Wired that breaks down the software’s sprawling history in honor of its 30th anniversary.

Monsters, Inc. Manga

Another January release: Tokyopop’s Monsters, Inc. manga. Tokyopop has other Disney titles in its catalog but this is just the second Pixar film to get the manga treatment, joining Finding Nemo. The story hasn’t changed, although the characters have a much more cutesy look, except Roz. Cover art is designed by Philly Delphie and Hiromi Yamafuji gets author credit. The manga hits bookstores on January 8th.

We hope you’ve all had a fantastic year! Join us in 2019 for more Pixar news and in the countdown to Toy Story 4. And if you’re currently experiencing cold temps, let Pixar’s fireplace warm you up!

Happy New Year!

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