MENU

Author

The gem of Onward

Onward, Opinion Piece

Posted by Simoa • April 17, 2020

Nobody could have predicted that a deadly pandemic would sweep the globe this year, shuttering businesses, schools, restaurants, churches, and movie theaters. COVID-19 has halted life as we know it. So how could we have known that Onward‘s theatrical release would last just a week? What I could have predicted though, is the critical response. I was hoping that Dan Scanlon’s second film would avoid Monsters University‘s fate. How could it not? An “original” Pixar film, when most think the studio has lost what made it so exciting and innovative in the great before; a 1980s tinged fantasy adventure; and Pixar’s first with siblings.

Of course those elements aren’t enough to make a good movie. And Onward has a gem of its own to be one. I guess it’s going to join Pixar’s other offbeat treasures, the ones that are perfectly good but not apparently up to Pixar’s ultra high standards: A Bug’s Life, Cars, Brave, Monsters University, and The Good Dinosaur.

Some spoilers ahead!

(more…)

Read article

The newest Soul trailer is dazzling

Soul, Trailer

Posted by Simoa • March 12, 2020

“Is all this living really worth dying for?”

It definitely recalls Inside Out, but there’s still something totally unique about Soul. For instance, there’s a regular outside world juxtaposed against a stunning interior one. The animation and character designs are also ones we’ve never yet seen in a Pixar movie. Those, along with the premise, are what I find most exciting about Soul. This trailer is also gorgeous: the vibrant colors make me want to jump right into this world. Already seems like a harmonious blend, and in a film with jazz music to boot!

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before—a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks, and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions.

With the voice talents of Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Questlove, Soul will be in theaters on June 19th of this year.

 

Read article

A Q+A with Onward’s filmmakers

Dan Scanlon, Kori Rae, Onward, Onward press day, Pixar Employees

Posted by Simoa • March 6, 2020

At Pixar last fall, I was given the incredible opportunity of talking to story artists Kelsey Mann and Maddie Sharafian, and the director-producer team of Dan Scanlon and Kori Rae! That was my first time speaking to Pixar filmmakers face to face. I think it goes without saying that I was nervous – so much so that I was trembling. But they all made me feel so comfortable and at ease. And I got to gain even more insight into Onward through our conversations. So read on and learn about the film which is playing in theaters now.

UP: What are you most excited about in the film?

photo by Alex Kang

Kelsey Mann: I would say a lot and then very little. The part I’m most excited about is the very little. Initially, we didn’t have anything and then Dan started to think about his own experiences and what makes him unique. Part of it was growing up without a father. His dad passed away when he was just a baby, so he has no memory of him. So he started to think about how that shaped him and this is where we start with a lot of these movies. We look inward. “What have I felt in my own life? What are the things I’ve learned?” And he came to this realization about himself. He thought that would be a good thing to make a movie about and that’s really the reason we’re making this film and what he’s learned in his own life. At the first screening, we storyboarded that ending, and that ending has remained the same since day one. That is unique. I can’t think of a film I’ve worked on where we knew where we were headed from the beginning. Everything else changed a lot but not the ending.

KM: Maddie worked a lot with Ian and his introduction. Every screening, we had a different Ian. It wasn’t until halfway through – “There he is!” There’s a perception that we had the movie figured out because we always had that ending.

visual development art by Huy Nguyen

UP: What was it like balancing the silly with the heartfelt?

KM: That’s the type of film Dan wanted to make; that’s Monsters University and the films he made before he came here; that’s the way he usually makes films. He really wanted to make a fun comedy that hits you with emotion.”

UP: How did you come up with the concept of the unicorns?

KM: That was Dan’s idea early on.

photo by Alex Kang

Maddie Sharafian: It’s funny but it’s also sad. You can tell with the world, something’s a little bit off. You’re laughing at it but you also wish there was something better, which is sort of the way that Ian stands in his life. He wishes he had his dad but something’s not quite right.

UP: Was Onward more challenging to direct than Monsters University because it was a personal film or did that make it easier?

Dan Scanlon: They have their own challenges and benefits. Doing a sequel was nice because people love those characters and were excited to see them. Doing an original was nice because you could change the characters drastically to fit the story and even get rid of them if you needed to, and in a sequel you’re beholden to what you have. So it really became this push of benefits over losses for the two. And I don’t know that I can say that one was harder than the other. It’s nice to have a little experience under our belts for this one.

Kori Rae: Having done Monsters University really helped us have a little more confidence.

UP: Not that science and technology are bad, but the movie seems to be criticizing our world where people don’t care about finding whimsy or having an imagination.

DS: It’s more about finding balance. You’re right. It is more about making sure that we’re still challenging ourselves; still finding the potential in ourselves; still enjoying the nature around us and not getting too comfortable in every day things. It’s not meant to be a hard social criticism – certainly there’s some of that in there and it reflects Ian; the fact that he is too scared to get out of his comfort zone; afraid to take risks. He just wants to blend in and throughout this journey he comes out of his shell and I think the world mirrors that.

UP: You two have been a duo since MU; what’s it like working together?

KR: On the first film we were figuring each other out and as we figured the film out, we’ve always had great respect for one another and I think on this film we were able to teach one another what our areas of expertise were. I was super interested in story and being in the story room and Dan was interested in how the production works.

DS: General leadership and inspiring people and artists. We started to learn from each other.

KR: We got to know each other better working this closely together.

DS: We knew that we wanted to work together again, so from day one, Kori and I were talking and working on ideas and getting her support to make sure we could grow this story. It’s interesting because we’ve learned a lot from the other film and it’s nice to continue to grow and learn and I think the film benefits from it.

UP: Besides the lion for Corey the manticore and horses for the centaurs, what were the other animal references?

DS: That’s a good question.

KR: Goats for the satyrs.

DS: Antelopes too. With Blazey the dog, they looked at – she’s so cartoony but she has a lizard-y, snake quality to her. The fun of this movie is that fantasy characters are treated pretty realistically and this was fun to get a more cartoony take.

As an aside, Blazey the dragon is a girl! Everyone thinks she’s a boy.

UP: Did you find it difficult to strike a balance between the silly and more heartfelt moments?

DS: I think life is so funny and so emotional and – this is going to sound really pretentious – but they’re the same thing. The reason something is emotional is because it was funny first. The reason you love a character and you cry is because they made you laugh. I feel like it’s all interwoven. You cry because they said something funny. To me, emotion and comedy always stick together.

UP: What was the most difficult thing about directing this film?

DS: The story is always hard. We always had our ending, but trying to earn that ending. It meant a lot to us to get this point across. I think the burden of wanting to honestly and entertainingly get audiences to that point was really hard. You take it home when it’s a personal thing.

Read our review of Onward here, and be sure to spread the love for this very wonderful movie!

an early sketch by Dan

Read article

A New Kind of Magic

Behind The Scenes, Onward, Onward press day

Posted by Simoa • March 5, 2020

The world of Onward has roots in the ancient. The mythical creatures of yore still exist, but they’re watered down versions of themselves. There is no myth or mystery in the quaint little town of New Mushroomton. In this world without magic, Ian and Barley venture to reclaim it. But first, filmmakers had to create the magic that the two brothers set out to find and master.

One group at Pixar was formed for the sole purpose of bringing authentic fantasy to the film. They were called The Fellowship. A deep love and knowledge of the genre led them to meet frequently and share their favorite things about fantasy; things they wanted to see in Onward and others they were happier to leave out! One of the Fellowship members who led a presentation last fall at the studio was Louise Smythe. She’s a story artist with boundless enthusiasm for fantasy that hasn’t left her since childhood. As a story artist, she works with Dan Scanlon to develop the script.

There was one crucial question that guided the script wrting and drawing process:

What is the Onward and Pixar version of magic?

The answer lay in three components:

  1. Every spell must originate with heartsfire, a fancy magical term for self confidence. You can’t cast spells without it!
  2. The higher level spells have magic decrees which require a certain mental/emotional state in order to work.
  3. The most advanced spells require the above factors and an added assist element. An example is the phoenix gem that’s used to conjure Ian and Barley’s dad.

Spells in Onward all incorporate emotions, materials, movement, and verbal commands. As always, everything in the film serves the characters and stories. Ian’s character development was influenced by magic. The crew wanted to draw him out of his comfort zone, so the gangly, awkward teenage elf would have to do really awkward poses. He’d even grit his teeth and strain to complete spells. That was fine, but it didn’t provide much of an emotional response. The solution to that arrived in one of the film’s most pivotal scenes, where Ian has to take a leap of faith, quite literally. That’s when the audience is meant to become even more invested in his journey.

In addition to the Fellowship was the Spell Squad. They were tasked with naming the spells. Dan had a couple rules they needed to follow:

  1. Each spell had to be short and to the point.
  2. You can guess what it is by hearing it.
  3. No gibberish.

The magic of Onward doesn’t only concern the spells, it even functions as a character. It’s meant to support Ian, echoing what we learned about his character development. Effects supervisor Vincent Serritella approached the task of personifying magic by studying magicians whose tricks are invisible. Visualizing the magic onscreen was informed by its size – the larger the spell, the more screen space it inhabits. When the boys conjure their dad, you can see how powerful it is because it disrupts the environment. Certain spells were also strong enough to affect Ian and Barley’s performances by the animators.

Since Onward is also inspired by the aesthetics of roleplay fantasy games- most notably in Barley’s passion for them – it was a really fun exercise for art director Paul Conrad and the graphics department. The artists in this department will often sneak in a good chunk of Easter eggs. They’re also responsible for decorating the sets and creating the world’s logos and brands. Graphics contribute another layer of authenticity. Moviegoers may miss some of the details embedded within the film, but they will notice the little ‘magic touches’ in the designs. You’ll note one detail on the parchment below – see how aged it looks?

the visitation spell by Paul Conrad

What I found cool about this particular session was learning about Barley’s beloved Quests of Yore book. It doubles as a game and a historical document. It might even be actual merch! The book was designed for 3D and it has no blank pages.

Ultimately, what the filmmakers really wanted to create is a version of magic that would be as memorable as Tinkerbell’s pixie dust.

You’ll be able to see for yourself if it reaches that high standard when Onward hits theaters tomorrow!

Read article

Creating the Wonderful World & Characters of Onward

Behind The Scenes, Onward, Onward press day

Posted by Simoa • March 4, 2020

There are 240 characters in Onward – an eclectic mix of make believe creatures numbering 13 species. Rest assured that the vast majority are background characters. Still, these characters, be they trolls, centaurs, goblins or sprites, had the major responsibility of making this world feel authentic. They even had an impact on the design of the protagonists.

Jeremie Talbot is a supervisor in the character department. On this film, he and his team had the unique challenge of designing a pair of legs as an actual character. Dad is more than just his bottom half, but the crew really had to get creative in order to convey that without his top part. They made the choice of showing Dad’s ankles because that was the only way he could emote, which of course led to that remarkable scene where he taps his foot to communicate with each of his sons. The animation department had further work to do here which I’ll get to later.

So what about the characters who actually have heads, arms, torsos, and speaking lines? What did the character development process entail?

Jeremie and his team were responsible for creating the final render from Dan Scanlon’s ideas and the art designs. It’s a constant collaboration between the character and art departments that results in the final image. But long before that is the initial computer sculpt that undergoes revisions in art and which Jeremie’s character team continuously rebuilds.

 

brothers by Matt Nolte

As Jeremie pointed out, the Art Of books, as immensely beautiful and informative as they are, rarely show the continuity between the original and final images. This presentation avoided that. I’m a huge fan of concept art and often find that I like certain early designs that never make it to the finished film. We got to see why and how this happened in Onward

The initial designs of Ian and Barley were compelling to Dan Scanlon. At the most basic level. the brothers’ appearance reflected their personalities. Ian was skinny and awkward while Barley was burly and confident. One of the main concerns was if those first designs could convey emotion and range. So the designs were always evolving to reach that goal. The other family designs also helped to influence Ian and Barley’s.

by Maria Yi

by Grant Alexander

by Bert Berry

Ian looked a little too mischievous at one point. He no longer seemed like the gawky teen who’s unsure of himself. His design was then modified by enlarging his features. making his hair much messier, and putting him in oversized clothes. The story changes as the designs do, lending much more specificity to the characters and plot. Ian’s poofy cloud of hair makes him all the more endearing and further sets him apart from Barley. His bigger clothes also ensure that he neither “fits in” in his skin or in the world at large.

The characters are next brought to the shading department, but at this point, they look like gray plastic, as shading lead Ana Lacaze noted. Physical attributes of the characters are further defined, and shading is also tasked with determining the texture of skin and hair. A really cool detail that emerged was how they were inspired by the way light bounces off succulents: they stayed true to that principle with Ian’s curls.

by Zaruhi Galstyan

Shading works closely with art, lighting, modeling, rigging, and animation. Their work with the materials, such as surfaces and clothes, also helps with character transformations. The most prominent example is Corey the manticore. She loses her restricted clothing and hairstyle, and fully embraces her true identity that has been stifled for so long. The same is true of Ian, although his journey to confidence is a lot more subtle.

by Matt Nolte

Below are Matt Nolte’s character notes for the Lightfoot brothers:

Details like those above aren’t the only crucial ones. The crowds in Onward add a lot more depth and context. They provide richness to this world, making it much more expansive. Sequoia Blankenship played two film clips that showed just how necessary the crowds were. They make the film come alive, and they function as characters too. The tavern scene with Corey perfectly visualized this: once her fierce warrior side is unleashed, the patrons in the tavern become a single character connected by their collective shock.

character lineup by Matt Nolte

A balance had to be struck though, so that some of the characters, like the huge trolls, didn’t overwhelm any scenes or distract the audience. The trolls blend in so well that you might not even notice them!

Colt Bronco by Chris Sasaki

There was a lot of study that went into how the fantastical creatures moved. Directing animator Allison Rutland led a team of 85 to create performances and movements. Because these characters all have histories that informed how they evolved, the animators had to incorporate those into the ways they moved. Corey in her high heels, as opposed to walking on all fours, was a lot more awkward. Once she ditches the shoes, the animators borrowed from lion footage to base her newly powerful and fluid movement on.

For the centaurs, the animators relied on footage of horses indoors – and it was important that they remained true to horse physicality and the difficulty horses have sitting down. And their overall difficulty moving around in enclosed spaces. The history of centaur aggression also affected their physicality. They’re as wild as untamed horses, but they’ve evolved into tame versions of themselves. Colt Bronco drives a car instead of running majestically. Allison described him brilliantly: “swaggering confidence of a cop in a horse body.”

It makes perfect sense that there’s a character in this film that is still much more bizarre than the others. Thanks to the effort of everyone involved, these elves, mermaids, and unicorns aren’t out of place in a modern setting. A pair of legs detached from the rest of the body…not so much.

When it came to Dad, the goal was to make him funny and sincere. A tall order that the animators achieved with just as much care and detail as the other characters. Animation and simulation were the two main components. Animation was concerned with his lower and upper half along with posing, while simulation dealt with his physicality. There were other factors involved, like how the pants get up without an upper body and what happens when they get pulled. Animation tests of Dad’s upper body, after Ian disguises him in clothes and sunglasses, were also incredibly useful. More of his personality came through in the way his top half would flop over.

They used reference footage for Dad too: Dick Van Dyke! In his prime the actor possessed “tremendous physicality.”

Just the few seconds of Dad in Onward‘s trailer were emotionally potent. That emotion combined with humor elevates his role further.

Read article

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.

Read article

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!

 

Read article

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.

Read article

Looping through colors and sounds

SparkShorts

Posted by Simoa • January 21, 2020

When “Loop” premiered on Disney+ a few weeks ago, I watched it three times in a row. (As of this posting, my view count is now at five). It’s the first Pixar release of 2020, and I can’t think of a better one to hold that distinction. It represents another first as well: one of the protagonists is autistic and nonverbal. Her name is Renee. I remember really liking her design the first time I saw the poster last year. All that hair!

“Loop” is Pixar’s second SparkShort about autism, but this time, there are no metaphors or magic. Renee’s autism isn’t portrayed as a mysterious gift. This short is extraordinarily simple – we spend one bright and sunny afternoon with two teenagers in a canoe. Marcus is Renee’s partner. He is not autistic and seems nice enough, although he is reluctant to be paired off with Renee, referring to her as “that girl who doesn’t talk.” Their continuous loop around the lake is fairly uneventful at first, but that’s why I find it so compelling. It’s just two kids with vastly different experiences of the world learning to communicate with one another.

Also available on Disney+ is “The Making of Loop.” It details how the filmmakers, led by director Erica Milsom, worked with The Autistic Self Advocacy Network to bring this story faithfully to the screen. One way they achieved authenticity was with the casting of Madison Bandy, a nonverbal autistic actress, as Renee. Girls are largely under diagnosed with autism, and we might be tempted to associate it with boys only. But for a Pixar film to center a nonwhite autistic girl is really making strides in the realm of representation for both the studio and media in a broader sense. It’s also cool that both characters in “Loop” are nonwhite, with Marcus having dark brown skin.

It’s evident just how passionate Milsom and her team were to tell this story in such an honest way. Marcus is well intentioned, but his plans go awry, and he becomes frustrated. He doesn’t know how to communicate with Renee, but he does give her some space. He learns to be patient. We’re able to sympathize with him. Not once are we meant to pity Renee; rather we identify with her; see and hear the world through her eyes and ears. A great moment in “Loop” occurs when Marcus tells her, “I hear you.” Just because she can’t talk doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen.

One of my nieces is on the autism spectrum, and she struggled a lot with sensory overload when she was younger. That scene in the short where Renee claps her hands to her ears was so immediately recognizable to me, because my niece would always do the same when she was overwhelmed by noise. I am not autistic, but Renee hiding under the canoe was deeply relatable to me. I’ve never done that, but I understand the need to. The comfort she draws from listening to her ringtone, a continuous looping sound, is also something I could relate to: I’ve listened to the same song on repeat when I need comfort, or need to calm myself down.

“Loop” just radiates so much compassion, color, and warmth.

“Loop” is dedicated to Adam Burke, who also has a story credit on the film. Read this Forbes interview with Milsom and producers Michael Warch and Krissy Cababa for more insight on this beautiful little story.

Click the banner below for more of our SparkShorts reviews. 

 

Read article

The Non Magical Quest for Onward’s Story

Behind The Scenes, Dan Scanlon, Interview, Onward, Onward press day

Posted by Simoa • January 14, 2020

 “If something has happened to you, and you have real questions about it, chances are people in the world are gonna have similar questions even if they don’t have the same story.” 

-Dan Scanlon

That bit of insight perfectly encapsulates Pixar’s films and according to Dan, are also why they have stood the test of time. He added that the new SparkShorts program allows filmmakers to tell stories that are unlike anything the studio has done before. Onward, his second directorial feature, is yet another Pixar first. 

I was so fortunate to visit Pixar for the third time last October to learn about the making of the film and to cross paths with more passionate storytellers. One of my favorite things about this event was the filmmaker conference with Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae.

The Onward Long Lead press days, including a press conference with Kori Rae and Dan Scanlon, as seen on October 30, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

The two have a genuine camaraderie that makes them a winning director-producer duo, and it’s no surprise that they teamed up once again after Monsters University in 2013. One other MU alum on Onward is story supervisor Kelsey Mann. We got to see a photo of the trio on Day 1 of Onward, where there was just a single lonely post-it on a big stretch of whiteboard. As Dan recalled: “It’s just so tricky to come up with something from nothing. Kelsey and Kori and I went back on that first day and I don’t know what we did other than pin up that one thing and it’s terrifying.” His words echoed Kelsey’s about the terror of a blank page. 

The Onward Long Lead press days, including Madeline Sharafian and Kelsey Mann, as seen on October 29, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Marc Flores / Pixar)

But of course, that page is filled eventually, and Dan is helped by a team of dedicated story artists, led by Kelsey. In a presentation with him and one of the story leads Maddie Sharafian, we learned all about the storyboarding process for Onward. After clearing the initial hurdle of the blank page, the fear began to dissipate. As Kelsey noted, he and Kori Rae were there to help Dan through the process, which Dan was quite vulnerable about:

It’s a really scary thing and it’s a very private and lonely thing, even though you do have a lot of help, you do have to dig into yourself and your life and talk to people, talk to your friends…it’s like therapy.”

Kelsey Mann’s involvement at the start of the project is actually unusual. Most of the time, it’s just the director or the director and the producer in the early stages of the film. The three of them were joined by a handful of others to put the story up in cards and just talk through the scenes and story beats. Dan and his co-writer Jason Headley wrote a script which was then handed to the story artists. They all read it individually and then came together as a group to discuss what worked and offer critiques about what didn’t. When a scene is finished, the temporary voices are added, and it’s sent to editorial, which mixes in the sound effects and music. Now the artist’s initial pitch is strengthened by the music and atmosphere. 

Screenings are held for 35-40 scenes in the studio’s theater, and there are brain trust screenings for the crew, along with people who aren’t working on the film. And what’s really cool is that people will help out on the ideas for the film even if they’re working on other projects. The collaborative spirit really does animate the studio’s artists. 

But the real exciting part of this whole process are the storyboards. We actually got to see them for one scene in the film! And this was after the film screening we had viewed with all the finished animation. The boards were just as compelling. For the film crew, watching each artist’s storyboard pitch is similar to watching the actual movie. Kelsey described it as a play with multiple people presenting the scenes they worked on in succession. 

It’s definitely quite a challenge to find the right story, but what I really appreciated learning about this process was how certain decisions strengthened the story and the journey of Ian and Barley. We got to see how the story artists think through those decisions, with their writing and drawings. Kelsey and Maddie actually demonstrated for us how they do this by drawing on their iPads so we could see how the storyboarded scene was edited. A tiny glimpse into one of Pixar’s story rooms!

Onward story team members, including Madeline Sharafian, Louise Smythe and Rosana Sullivan, work in the “fishbowl,” a common work space for everyone to be together while working, as seen on November 8, 2016 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

 

Onward story team members work in the “fishbowl,” a common work space for everyone to be together while working, as seen on November 8, 2016 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Dan also praised Onward’s story artists for their ability to understand Ian, who was a tough character to figure out. Because he’s so much more comfortable in the background, it was difficult for the team to find something ‘playable’ that they could all work on. He mentioned how a story artist was able to turn Art from Monsters University into a character everyone was familiar with, all thanks to the iconic line, “I can’t go back to jail!” For Ian, “It wasn’t until we got to the more blundering awkward stuff that Tom Holland does so well, that we said ‘he’s all of our horrible 16 year old selves’; all of us artists who want to hide and not be seen; he’s every awkward moment you’ve ever had embodied in a character and then he’s also the opposite of Barley. Barley is super confident and wild, he’s everything we wish we were in some way.”

Speaking of Barley, we even got to draw him with some help from Maddie!

The Onward Long Lead press days, including Madeline Sharafian and Kelsey Mann, as seen on October 30, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

 

Now you may be wondering how certain story elements are kept or discarded. Although Dan and Kori joked that he ultimately had the final say, his answer reflected a lot of thoughtfulness and humility. 

“…what makes it really hard is that everyone here is very smart and are all great filmmakers and I respect their opinion and that makes it difficult to make a choice because it’s not like I go, ‘hmph, that person’s wrong!’ I usually think ‘Wow, why are they saying that? There’s gotta be a good reason for that.’”

“It’s amazing how open Dan is and everyone is during the process because we really just want to make the best choices for the film. There are times we will debate things and we’ll leave a review. Afterwards people will go up and … [say] I’m still not sure about this decision and we will keep talking about it. That’s all we do all day long is make choices and decisions and try to move everything forward. It’s fun, it’s great, but we really do try to listen for the best idea, the thing that’s really best for the film. Dan is incredibly open. If anybody is questioning any decision that we make, we encourage them to talk to us about it. We’ve changed our minds on stuff.” – Kori Rae

While the story underwent many revisions, the core of it remained unchanged. It was always going to be a deeply personal film for Dan, one that still allows audiences to connect with it, even if they don’t share his experiences. 

Stay tuned, because more posts on this film awaiteth!

Read article