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Smash and Grab: An Elegant Ode to Robots

Shorts, Smash and Grab, SparkShorts

Posted by Simoa • February 11, 2019

Pixar’s second entry in their new SparkSports program continues the studio’s tradition of being dialogue free. You might be tempted to compare it to their 2008 feature, Wall-E, but “Smash and Grab” is an entirely different film.

The short’s title refers to the names of the two robots, who work diligently in the engine room of a sleek and futuristic locomotive. Smash, the taller of the two, has hammer arms, which he uses to smash rocks, while the short and stocky Grab, just has hands to toss the rocks into the furnace. The two are confined to this room, until Smash sees the wider world outside. The robots out there move freely, unlike these two companions, who are bound to their station by a long, fluorescent green rope. Smash is startled to see these robots, but he can see himself and Grab out there, too. And so begins their great escape.

“Smash and Grab” was actually first unveiled in May of 2017 at SIGGRAPH. Back then we didn’t have any more details on the short. Now that the whole thing has been released, it’s much better than what we might have imagined! For one thing, this is a story about defying the status quo. Smash and Grab want more out of life than to toil away at an unfulfilling job, a struggle a lot of human beings and millennials especially can relate too. It’s often a wistful aspiration, because a lot of the time, people just can’t afford to leave their jobs, even if they do hate them. So it’s quite easy to root for Smash and Grab to live the lives they want, rather than be stuck in that cavernous engine room forever.

Pixar have long personified inanimate objects and animals, just like many other animation studios. But making robots more personable is a tricky task. They can be nefarious, like the HAL 3000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey; or friendly and humorous like Star Wars‘ C-3PO and R2D2. But rarely, if ever, are robots soulful. Smash and Grab are, just like Wall-E. I can believe they have hearts beating underneath their cold, metal exteriors. Their longing is palpable as well. The stakes are also high. There’s even a heart wrenching moment in the short that’ll make you gasp, if you’re like me.

And that’s to say nothing of the short’s stunning visual poetry. In the engine room, the rocks glow blue, as if embedded with crystals. Much of the short takes place at dusk, in the red-orange afterglow of the sunset. The lighting has a burnished gleam which reflects nicely on the robots and other surfaces. Take a look at the sea of pillowy soft clouds in the image above; the texture alone is amazing. The designs are impressive too, both of the robots and the train. (Maybe if more of them looked like that in our world, I’d be enthusiastic about public transit).

“Smash and Grab” was directed by Brain Larsen, a longtime story supervisor at Pixar. To see more of the short, check out the filmmakers and behind the scenes videos.

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Black History Month at Pixar and Beyond

Incredibles 2, Opinion Piece

Posted by Simoa • February 7, 2019

“The Coolest Guy in Show Business” on the Incredibles 2 Blu-Ray and DVD shines a spotlight on one of the film’s stars, Samuel L. Jackson.

The actor discusses his childhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where segregation was strictly enforced. Jackson grew up with a love of comic books which predicted the future to him. Ordinary people today resemble those superheroes with their brightly colored hair and wild outfits. To Jackson, the world was limited, but the world of comics represented unlimited possibility.

He also discusses how his grandfather molded him into a storyteller. With a vivid imagination, Jackson was able to make up plenty of stories while playing a multitude of roles. His gifts as a storyteller make him right at home at Pixar!

Although the world has changed a lot since Jackson came of age, so much remains the same. Racism particularly is a blight that is largely ignored or barely addressed by leaders in public office. And so often, regular people dismiss it as a relic of the past, or something that must be blatant and vicious in order for anyone to pay attention to it. Segregation may no longer be acceptable in some parts of the country, but America in 2019 is still limited. And this is why stories exist; to remind us that multifaceted experiences from people of all races matter. That Samuel L. Jackson defied the limits and expectations of a racist society to become a celebrated actor – and superhero! – is what every black child deserves.

This Black History Month and throughout the year, we encourage you to celebrate the achievements of black people in history and in our own communities. Be sure to uplift the black children in your life too. Listen to these stories.

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To Infinity and…

Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • February 4, 2019

Last night’s Super Bowl gifted us with a Toy Story 4 commercial.

Some viewers (myself included) were probably surprised to see this clip rather than an actual trailer. Bo Peep and the new twitter stars Ducky and Bunny make an appearance. I’m also left wondering if this is a scene in the actual movie, or just a fun little promo clip. Nevertheless, it is very funny and no doubt is increasing the anticipation for Toy Story 4.

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Updates from Toy Story 4 cast

Jonas Rivera, Josh Cooley, Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • January 31, 2019

It seems like we’ve been spoiled with lots of Toy Story 4 content lately! With the film less than five months away, things are wrapping up. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, along with new cast addition Tony Hale (Forky) have posted photos to their respective twitter accounts with the rest of the crew about their final days recording lines. It’s a little bittersweet!

What a momentous occasion this is. After three pitch perfect films, Toy Story 4 will be the last adventure we have with Woody and the gang. Still anticipating the film, but also don’t want this series to end!

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Bo Peep is back!

Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • January 28, 2019

Our first official look at Bo Peep in Toy Story 4 is here!

Her iconic pink and white polka dot dress with the matching bonnet has indeed been swapped out for the blue pantalettes we first saw from a blog post speculating about her appearance. This little 11 second teaser shows us so much. For one thing, Bo isn’t so fragile and stationary anymore. She actually moves. One of the reasons she had such a small role in Toy Story 2 was because her porcelain figurine couldn’t have gallavanted around the Tri-County area with the rest of Andy’s gang. But filmmakers have solved that problem this time around. Can’t tell if she’s still made of porcelain, but she is wearing a pair of strappy high heels! Maybe this means that little Bo Peep has lost her sheep permanently? Now she wields her long staff in an entirely different way, and swings from it and into the screen.

Now that we have confirmation of Bo’s role in the film, we can only guess about what other surprises are in store! Bo Peep may have a new look, but I hope she’s still the sweet and lovely character she always was, even if she’s a lot tougher and active.

In this character poster, she’s wearing flat shoes along with a cape! I didn’t think I’d love her redesign so much! Do you guys love it too? How excited are you for June 19th?!

Update: EW has an exclusive description of Bo Peep from director Josh Cooley.

“Bo’s taken control of her own destiny. While Woody was watching Andy grow up, Bo gathered dust until she took it upon herself to head out into the world. And when Woody shows up, they can’t believe that they’ve found each other again.”

Apparently, Bo and Woody have different ideas about what it means to be a toy. That seems to mirror the brief conflict between Woody and Jessie in the second movie. Can’t be sure just yet what Bo thinks it means to be a toy, but we are eagerly waiting to find out.

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Toy Story Drop!

Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • January 27, 2019

A new Toy Story game from Big Fish will be released this spring, just in time for the latest film.

Described as a match-3 puzzle game, the most exciting thing about it is the inclusion of Bo Peep. She’s still wearing her iconic pink and white polka dot dress with matching pink bonnet, but her design has been updated. It’s safe to assume that this is her final look in Toy Story 4. (Her clothes may be different however, as we found out a few weeks ago).

I feel a little nostalgic seeing the three of them like this. The film is still four months away, but we’re already getting lots of glimpses at our favorite characters together again.

Toy Story Drop! is just the latest game for the franchise – fans even have the chance to be an insider with exclusive games and giveaways.

Will you be playing Toy Story Drop!? Let us know here or on Twitter.

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Oscar Nominations for Bao and Incredibles 2

Academy Awards, Awards, Bao, Brad Bird, Domee Shi, Incredibles 2

Posted by Simoa • January 22, 2019

Oscar nominations were announced this morning and Pixar has received two for both Animated Short and Animated Feature.

This is Brad Bird’s fourth Oscar nomination for a Pixar film. He was previously nominated for The Incredibles and Ratatouille in the Animated Feature and Original Screenplay categories. Those films won Best Animated in 2005 and 2008, respectively. Producer John Walker was also nominated for the first Incredibles. This is Nicole Paradis Grindle’s third Oscar nomination as producer after The Incredibles, “Sanjay’s Super Team” (Best Animated Short) and Inside Out, the latter of which also won Best Animated in 2016.

“Bao” was unfortunately overlooked in this category for the Annie Awards, so it’s especially wonderful to see it receive this recognition. And it’s all the more exciting because this is Domee Shi’s first ever nomination! That’s quite a feat for a rookie filmmaker’s debut!

Although not a Pixar production, the surreal “Weekends” up for Best Short was directed by Pixar story artist Trevor Jimenez.

It’s still disappointing that the directors and writers on animated films can’t be recognized with nominations (or awards) in other categories besides Best Animated. Inside Out, along with The Incredibles, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, but there should be more animated films to join them. Same goes for Best Director. Nevertheless, we want to congratulate all of the nominees in both categories for some stellar films this year!

Tune in to the 91st Academy Awards on February 24th, 2019.

 

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Lee Unkrich says goodbye after 25 years

Lee Unkrich, Pixar

Posted by Simoa • January 18, 2019

Pixar is undergoing a lot of changes – many of them positive, others a bit more bittersweet. Lee Unkrich’s departure from the studio after 25 years of brilliant and inspiring storytelling falls into the second category.

Deborah Coleman, Pixar

He first announced the news on twitter, linking to an article in The Hollywood Reporter, and following up with another tweet where he said “the time has come for new adventures.”

Of course, this news comes as a shock. Unkrich did not specify if he’s retiring from filmmaking, but he did inform the Reporter that he’s going to pursue some neglected interests and spend more time with his family.

“I’m not leaving to make films at another studio; instead, I look forward to spending much-needed time with my family and pursuing interests that have long been back-burnered.”

Unkrich’s last directorial effort was the monumentally successful Coco. It was just his second after helming 2010’s equally impressive Toy Story 3. He’s been at the studio since the very beginning, with Pete Docter praising him for his undeniable prowess.

“Lee arrived at Pixar as we were crafting Toy Story, and he’s had a profound effect on all Pixar films since. He literally taught us rookie filmmakers about staging, composition, and cutting. His artistry and expert craftsmanship as an editor and co-director became a major reason for the high quality of our filmmaking, and as Lee went on to direct, his ability to find the deep humor and emotion enabled him to create some of the strongest films we’ve made.”

Before codirecting Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo, he was an editor on the films. Pixar president Jim Morris also credited Unkrich’s ability to make the films even better. “If you look at the sweep of contemporary cinema, it would be difficult to find someone more brilliant in the filmmaking arts than Lee Unkrich. He has been a key player in elevating virtually every one of Pixar’s films.”

Alan Horn, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, echoed Morris and Docter:

“Lee has left an indelible mark on the world of film, and we are so grateful for the passion and talent he has brought to each movie he has worked on. He’ll always be part of the Disney-Pixar family, and we will miss him.”

While we are a bit sad over this news, we’re also happy that Lee is prioritizing his family. We truly believe he’s leaving the studio in more than capable hands, and that this new generation of storytellers will still be impacted by his years of dedication and keen storytelling gifts.

Update 1/19: Read Lee Unkrich’s parting letter below.

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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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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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