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A Virtual Pixar Directors Discussion – SparkShorts

SparkShorts

Posted by Joanna • February 23, 2021

VIEW Conference is an annual computer graphics conference held in Italy. These conferences are held in the Fall, with speakers from animation, video effects, and games. They’ve understandably moved to virtual events at the moment, with monthly preVIEW discussions leading up to the event – and this Friday, you can sign up to watch discussions from SparkShorts directors!

The directors of five Pixar SparkShorts will discuss their films in a free virtual PreVIEW discussion, presented by the VIEW Conference

This is a free virtual event, and you can sign up here. You can even choose to leave a donation if you’re in the position to!

It’s on Friday February 26th, 7pm CET, 10am PST.

Discussions will come from the directors of ‘Burrow‘ (Madeline Sharafian), ‘Out‘ (Stephen Clay Hunter), ‘Wind‘ (Edwin Chang), ‘Float‘ (Bobby Alcid Rubio), and ‘Loop‘ (Erica Milsom).

Burrow and Out have both been shortlisted for Best Animated Short Film at the 2020 Oscars.

Burrow’s art and animation style is still putting a smile on my face, after first watching it on Christmas Day.

The SparkShorts programme at Pixar is an ingenious way to give staff at the studio the opportunity to tell their stories. Already, it’s given us such a boost in inclusion and diversity amongst Pixar’s repertoire. They’ve tried new things in so many different ways: not only have we seen an interesting diversion in Pixar’s traditional animation style, but we’ve also been given our first LGBTQ+ characters (in Out), and our first characters on the autism spectrum (both in Loop and Float).

We’ll certainly be signing up – we’re looking forward to many of you joining us in the virtual audience!

 

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Pixar Popcorn! Coming January 22nd

Pixar Popcorn, Shorts

Posted by Joanna • January 19, 2021

Pixar have just revealed a load of new shorts as part of their Pixar Popcorn shorts series, available on Disney+ from January 22nd.

Shorts have always been an invaluable tool at Pixar for giving new staff experience and experimenting with storytelling and animation. It’s such a treat to suddenly be just a few days away from a whole host of new shorts to enjoy.

Have a look at the 10 revealed shorts’ logos below (there are two Ducky & Bunny shorts). Only time will tell if more shorts will get added to this series.

There are two Incredibles shorts (Cookie Num Num and Chore Day The Incredibles Way), three Toy Story shorts (Fluffy Stuff with Ducky & Bunny: Love, Fluffy Stuff with Ducky & Bunny: Three Heads and To Fitness and Beyond), two Cars shorts (Unparalleled Parking, and Dancing with the Cars), and then a Soul short (Soul of the City), a Coco short (A Day in the Life of the Dead), and a Finding Dory short (…Dory Finding).

Which are you most excited for? Our vote might go to Soul of the City – more screen time for Dez please! But the return of Jack Jack’s laser eyes looks great too.

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Luca – New Still, New Info

Enrico Casarosa, Luca

Posted by Joanna • January 18, 2021

Pixar’s next feature length movie, Luca, currently has a release date of June 18th – just 5 months away from today. Soul experienced a lot of delays due to COVID-19, so let’s keep that in mind when considering the release dates for 2021 movies. But fingers crossed we’ll be able to enjoy Luca this summer. It has such a lovely, relaxing look to it – just what we’ll all be in the mood for!

A new still was released by Empire Magazine today, showing protagonists Luca and Alberto standing in a picturesque Italian high street. You can really tell the character designs have branched out a bit recently. Soul had such an impressive diversity of looks, and Luca has gone down its own route as well. Look how charming they are!

A little more info has been revealed on the plot of Luca as well. Empire Magazine spoke to director Enrico Casarosa, who said the film should have noticeable influences from Italian classic filmmakers like Fellini, and even from Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki.

Luca and Alberto are secretly sea monsters, but look totally human when on land. Look at that fountain in the second image – do sea monsters play a role in the human community’s folklore? It looks like we might see them getting up to all sorts of antics in this idyllic little Italian seaside town, which is based on five little Italian villages in real life in Cinque Terre. (Google it and be amazed!) The two boys befriend a human girl on one of their visits. We can’t wait to find out more about her!

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Soul – Something To Look Forward To

Pete Docter, Soul

Posted by Joanna • December 21, 2020

We can all agree that this year has been an exceptionally weird one. Usually, the run-up to the year end’s festivities is cause for excitement, and while I – like countless others – will be happy to see the back of 2020, I can’t say that I’m exactly ‘looking forward’ to what 2021 might bring. Christmas, New Year and beyond are all clouded in uncertainty.

One thing about Christmas that is certain is we’ll be able to watch Soul, and Burrow (the short that was supposed to precede it in theatres).

Pixar have done a really profound thing by releasing Soul on Disney+ on Christmas Day. Not only are its themes – chasing dreams and celebrating life – a wonderful reminder of what lies ahead for all of us, but it’s given us something to look forward to. December 25th may be full of doubt and worry for a lot of people this year, but the release of Soul is something we can count on to bring people together.

We were lucky enough to attend a digital press conference for Soul earlier this year, and it was inspiring to be in the (virtual) company of such talented filmmakers, producers, and actors. Pete Docter revealing a lovely sketch of the interviewer right before the conference ended may have been the highlight. He’d been secretly working on it throughout the conference.

Soul is something to look forward to this festive season. We’ll leave you with some facts we learnt during the press conference that will hopefully help make the thought of Christmas a little easier for some of you.

 

1. The counsellors in The Great Before are based on simple, twisted wires

The Great Before is where all souls are formed and shaped before they’re ready to move on to Earth. Pete Docter remarked “We figured if the souls just ran amok, no one would ever get born. It would just be bedlam up there. So they need a little bit of steering.”

That’s where the counsellors come in! They almost take on the role of kindergarten teachers. They’re totally unique looking – very different from the design of the individual souls, and very different from humans too. The Great Before could be described as quite ‘minimalistic’ and abstract, and the counsellors fit right in with that aesthetic. They’re based off of wire models shaped slightly to resemble a human face, but just wait until you see how they’re animated! It’s mesmerising. They’re apparently one of the most tricky character designs that Pixar has faced yet. Also – they’re pretty much all called Jerry.

©2020 Disney/Pixar. All rights reserved.

 

2. The settings in The Great Before had some unusual inspirations

Because the world of souls is suitably very abstract and philosophical, it was difficult to settle on a ‘look’ for The Great Before. The filmmakers tried taking inspiration from Ancient Greece, but that ended up being too “culturally specific” – The Great Before needed to be more universal. So they turned to – World’s Fair photos from the 1940s! Of course. It does kind of make sense though: it’s abstract, timeless, and borrows from all sorts of different cultures.

1939 New York World’s Fair – Image by © CORBIS

 

3. How Pixar made sure their first movie featuring a black protagonist was authentic

Soul wasn’t always going to be about a jazz musician. They wanted a passionate lead who was figuring out what to do with his life and how to pursue his dreams. Joe was a scientist, an artist, and an actor before they settled on jazz. And once they knew he was going to play jazz – music that originated from black communities in New Orleans – they realised he had to be black.

Kemp Powers and a whole team of other consultants were brought on board to make sure the film was as authentic as possible. And this was absolutely the right move – Soul oozes authenticity. Black employees at Pixar were also brought together to create a trust and were involved in the making of the film at every step.

Kemp Powers recalled that when Pixar first asked him for his involvement, he pointed out:

“You know that I’m gonna be pushing for, like, a lot of black stuff. Because I can’t help myself … our culture is amazing. And, a lot of people, particularly in Hollywood, will tell you that, in order to appeal to a wide audience, you want to get away from that. And I feel the opposite. I feel, like, there is universality by going for the hyper-specificity.”

© 2020 Disney/Pixar. All rights reserved.

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Soul Could Be The Best Thing To Come Out Of 2020

Review, Soul

Posted by Joanna • December 8, 2020

Pixar movies have this magical quality to them. They somehow manage to present themselves in our lives at just the right time – it’s amazing how current and relevant they reliably are despite being in production for years beforehand. Soul is no exception. In fact, it might be the most ‘timely’ Pixar movie yet. (Ironic, given the fact that it’s been delayed multiple times due to COVID-19).

This is an important point to make, though: the one way that Soul is not ‘timely’ is that it’s the first Pixar movie to feature a Black protagonist at the centre of its story. This didn’t come at the ‘perfect time’. This was long overdue.

In every other regard, though, Soul has arrived exactly on time. It’s a top tier Pixar movie for a multitude of reasons, but most powerfully because of how hard it hits in the year 2020.

 

First off – the look and sound of Soul is…full of soul, unsurprisingly.

At this point, you’d think we would have stopped being surprised by how beautiful Pixar movies continue to be. But you will absolutely gasp at so many scenes in Soul, at how much of a marvel they are. And not in a “wow I can’t believe how real this looks” way – there are parts of Soul that have unreal beauty. This movie shows you places that you would never see outside of your wildest imagination – ‘The Great Before’, and astral planes – but it also shows you places that are immediately familiar and recognisable. The streets of New York City feel so authentic – they’re realised with such a sense of joy and vibrancy. And the diversity of character designs is such a delight.

©2020 Disney/Pixar

©2020 Disney/Pixar

©2020 Disney/Pixar

This mastery of recreating the real world and creating new worlds from scratch was vital in bringing Soul’s story to life. Joe Gardner, an aspiring jazz pianist, is suddenly plunged into the afterlife on the very day his dream career seemed to finally be coming together. Feeling that his life was only just starting, he needs to fight his way back to Earth and avoid having to move on into ‘The Great Beyond’.

As with Pixar’s 2017 film Coco, music plays a huge role in the plot and themes of Soul, so it’s appropriate that it’s been treated and represented so passionately. Coco’s guitar playing sequences are breath-taking – the way the animation captured the intricate fingering is incredible. Soul achieved this impressive feat again and more. Joe’s piano-playing sequences feel so raw and wonderfully observed. Dorothea Williams playing the saxophone is mesmerising.

The soundtrack is also fittingly soulful – a magical mix of Jon Batiste’s jazz and Reznor and Ross’ otherworldly modern tracks.

©2020 Disney/Pixar

 

Soul – the best thing to come out of the year 2020?

Soul gives us an imaginative insight into what happens when we die, but it is a film about life. It’s strangely ironic that a film that so confidently celebrates life has had to face so many delays due to the year 2020. The pandemic has forced people to ‘put their lives on hold’ until we can get back to actually living and ‘fulfilling our purposes’ again. But this is why I feel Soul couldn’t have come about at a better time. When I say that Soul is a movie about life, I mean life in its simplest essence. It’s not about life’s complexity, or its milestones or hurdles. Soul celebrates just…living. Watching the sky. Going for walks. Feeling the wind on your face. In a year where so much has been stripped away from us, it’s so wonderful that Soul has reminded us to find joy in the little things.

©2020 Disney/Pixar

Soul comes to Disney+ on December 25th. Whether you’re with family or friends, physically or virtually, or even on your own – I hope Soul brings a smile to your face this Christmas. It’s a bold reminder of how much we have to look forward to, and how much we can appreciate in the present.

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Toy Story’s Most Iconic Stills After 25 Years

Stills, Toy Story

Posted by Joanna • November 22, 2020

The Twitter account @OnePerfectShot is a truly inspiring page to scroll through. There’s something immensely satisfying about seeing a screenshot that not only perfectly represents the movie, but just looks good too. Pixar movies take inspiration from a huge range of movies, both classic and modern, and you can see these influences sprinkled throughout the studio’s work. Cinematography does exist in the world of animation, and a whole lot of thought goes into it.

We’re going to go through each Pixar movie in order, each of us hand selecting the stills that we find to be the most iconic. That’s right – we’re choosing our own ‘one perfect shots’, and we’re starting off with Toy Story, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary today!

Maya

Maya’s Pick:

With time, seams inevitably begin to show. The technology Pixar uses has come a long way since their first feature length film, where control over elements like texture, shadows, and light was limited. The Woody and Buzz we see in the first Toy Story don’t look drastically different from their later installment counterparts, but they are still noticeably less polished, less delicately rendered.

None of this however comes to mind when watching a sequence like this one, where Woody at last acts upon his selfish resentment towards Buzz. Instead of limitations, just from this still alone, I’m reminded of how well-crafted and beautiful the film is. Animation after all is not simply the look or style of the film, but the composite of atmosphere, environment, character movement and interaction, and of course, story. Even when I was too young to understand why the visuals were so appealing, I was always drawn to the golds, pinks, and purples of the sunset outside Andy’s room. Now that I’m older I can see how those colors underline the building tension to create a dramatic mood. I also appreciate the framing as well, how the ever recognizable cloud wallpaper shares center stage with Woody’s narrow-eyed profile, and how to the left we see the pinboard that sets off the chain of events that launch Buzz out of the window hinted at on the right. It’s the perfect image to mark the turn of the plot.

But all that technical consideration aside, more than anything else this moment is just plain amusing. I can’t remember my first reaction to seeing Woody’s guile in play but with every repeat viewing the absurdity of his pettiness gets even funnier. A lot of serious work went into creating this moment of Woody coming up with a seriously unheroic idea, and it’s a delight to look at.

Joanna

Joanna’s Pick:

Toy Story is a simple movie, but somehow manages to carry a series of pretty intense plots: betrayal, loss, an identity crisis… Buzz coming to terms with his identity is a huge part of the movie, but would probably be considered a ‘sub-plot’ by some. The more I watch Toy Story, the more I realise that Buzz’s struggle with who he is ends up being the most hard-hitting storyline.

This still brings back those feelings brought about by Randy Newman’s “I Will Go Sailing No More”, with a pang of irony and humour, all while being perfectly and very satisfyingly framed.

Simoa

Simoa’s Pick:

The still I chose for Toy Story isn’t meaningful in any way, just funny. But it was hard narrowing my choice down to just one. Although the film was released in 1995, before computer animation was as sophisticated as it is today, the visuals are still impressive. I think this is the best in the series. I was just four years old when Toy Story was released. I didn’t know that it was making history. But now as then, it’s a movie I don’t get tired of watching.

Toy Story is that rare Pixar movie that doesn’t make me bawl my eyes out. It’s not emotional at all, and yet, it was the first full length feature made by the studio. So I just had to choose a shot that makes me laugh. Woody has just challenged Buzz to fly around Andy’s room, and Buzz readily accepts. His face is determined while Woody is left a bit dumbfounded watching him go. This of course, after Buzz hits him with those terillium carbonic alloy wings. And we know that Woody’s feelings will be more or less the same with this Mr. Lightbeer around. So to me, it perfectly encapsulates the central relationship between these two and is one of the reasons Toy Story is unsurpassed. A story about friends is good, but enemies to friends is even better.

Karla

Karla’s Pick:

Choosing a singular screencap from Toy Story was difficult but in the end, I chose one that felt the most significant to me. In this still, Woody and Buzz had just landed from their most iconic scene. They felt victorious because after their troubles and tribulations throughout the movie, they had finally made their way back to the person they loved the most — Andy. This screencap was the exact moment that they both decided “Hey, he’s alright”. To me, this was the beginning of their beautiful friendship. A friendship that would be referenced for years to come. Sometimes I wonder… Did the Toy Story crew know that they would be creating a legacy that would span decades? 

The history behind Toy Story is so interesting. As the first Pixar/Disney collaboration and as the first feature-length animated film that was entirely computer generated, there was a lot of pressure behind this project. So much so, if it failed, Pixar would not exist today. I believe this is what drove the larger effort into creating an effective storyline. Even if the technology was lacking, audiences around the world would be too wrapped up in Buzz and Woody’s dynamic. And from there on out, Pixar would become known for their story and their technology. An amazing feat that started with two toys and their rivalry.

25 years since its release, and Toy Story is still being referenced in 2020. If you haven’t revisited the movie in a while, today is the perfect day. Happy anniversary, Toy Story!

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Pixar’s First Emmy

Round-Ups

Posted by Joanna • September 23, 2020

Autumn is officially here, which means Soul‘s release date suddenly isn’t far away. In the meantime, here’s a quick Woody’s Round-up of the latest Pixar news.

Pixar’s First Emmy

Forky Asks a Question, created, written, and directed by Bob Peterson, is a short-form series exclusive to Disney+. It explores Forky’s adventures into the understanding of our universe, and it’s won Pixar its very first Emmy! It won in the category Outstanding Short Form Animated Program. The episodes are short enough that it’s easy to sit down and watch all 10 in one go, which we would thoroughly recommend. Congratulations to the Forky Asks a Question team!

Onward Coming to UK Disney+

At this point, it really does feel like Onward was released in another age. I went to see it in a cinema with lots of people and no masks. UK Pixar fans will be pleased to know that they can transport themselves back to this worry-free time by watching Onward on Disney+ from October 2nd.

Pixar and Adidas Team Up

Adidas are releasing a Toy Story-inspired collection on October 1st. Which is your favourite? The Buzz shoes might take the win for us.

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We Chose Toy Story’s Best Quotes

Toy Story

Posted by Joanna • July 24, 2020

Pixar has provided us with countless quotes that have embedded themselves into our culture – and for good reason. Just as their movies often have that ‘instant classic’ feel, lines always seem to pop up in Pixar movies that are immediately unforgettable. It’s easy to think back to the movies that we grew up with and quote the famous gags and inspirational lines, but it’s a testament to Pixar’s writing that even in brand new releases, there are lines that resonate with millions of people after just the first watch.

We’re going to go through every Pixar movie in order of release and choose the best quotes – whether they’re the lines that have stuck with us, or the lines that have been overlooked (until now).

First up – Toy Story!

 

Joanna

Joanna’s pick:

“This isn’t flying – this is falling, with style!”

“To infinity and beyond!” is no doubt Toy Story’s most iconic quote, but this one has always felt more meaningful to me. It’s a throwback to Woody and Buzz’s first encounter – Woody dares Buzz to show off his ‘flying’ skills, and when he impresses the rest of the gang with what can only be described as an amazing feat of daring and luck, Woody exclaims defensively “That wasn’t flying! That was…falling with style!”

At the end of the movie when Buzz and Woody are soaring through the sky towards Andy’s car, the roles are reversed. This time it’s Buzz that disagrees with Woody and says “This isn’t flying – this is falling, with style!”

Let’s delve deep into this line. This quote says so many things.

  1. It’s demonstrates Buzz’s character growth. He now accepts that he can’t fly. He accepts that he’s ‘just a toy’. But he realises that these aren’t bad things – in fact, they’re great! He’s now at peace with who he is.
  2. It’s a defining moment in Woody and Buzz’s friendship. For most of the movie, they are exact opposites. They never see eye to eye. Buzz literally quotes what Woody said earlier, but with a different inflection. It shows that they’ve finally found a middle ground.
  3. It’s also kind of a beautiful quote to live by. We may never be the best at what we do, but we can put our hearts into things and have fun along the way.

 

Nia

Nia’s pick:

“You’ve got a friend in me.”

Randy Newman’s lyrics that launched an animation empire and a franchise that continues to grow almost 25 years after its debut in cinemas, changing film history forever. I know it’s not a direct quote from Woody or Buzz but you can’t imagine Toy Story without that verse from the song. There is nothing more magical and heart-warming than hearing those words for the first time, where we’re then introduced to the rest of the iconic toy gang and of course, Andy himself. The song not only fuels us with nostalgia but it also reminds us of the importance of friendship and no matter how old you are or where you are in life, you’re always going to be a kid at heart and you’re never alone if you have friends.

Sure, Clarence the angel from It’s A Wonderful Life famously said, “No man is a failure who has friends,” but Randy Newman’s lyrics give us a that reassurance and walk down memory lane as we revisit our companionships, past and present.

“You’ve got a friend in me” gives us a solid reminder of some of the most important friendships we’ve had in this life; reminds us to be grateful for all the people who are no longer with us. And like me, it reminds me of my childhood and the glee I found playing with my own toys and unlocking my imagination in my tiny bedroom as I daydreamed about one day telling stories and working in animation.

 

Simoa

Simoa’s pick:

“Now I know exactly who I am and what I’m here for.”

Toy Story is one of the rare Pixar films that isn’t heartbreakingly emotional. But it is punctuated by moments of melancholy. When Buzz realizes that he is indeed a toy (and one that can’t even fly at that), he’s devastated. What follows is one of the more brilliant musical touches in the film, with Randy Newman singing “I Will Go Sailing No More.”

“Now I know exactly who I am and what I’m here for.” Within the context of the scene, that line isn’t victorious. It’s admitting defeat. Buzz realizes that he’s just a toy with only a single purpose. Rather than joyfully embracing it as Woody has done for so many years, it depresses him. Dashed dreams, shattered illusions. And I think that’s one of the most familiar aspects of the human condition, figuring out exactly why we’re put on this Earth and what we’re meant to do with our time here. Even though this is a fantasy with toys that come to life, Toy Story doesn’t retreat from sobering realities. It takes Buzz some time before he finally accepts his purpose, and this shocking discovery was the catalyst. Sometimes we recognize our limitations and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Like Buzz, we can still find happiness even if our impossible dreams don’t come true. We can dream new ones.

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The original score for Pixar’s OUT is now available!

Soundtrack, SparkShorts

Posted by Joanna • July 3, 2020

If you haven’t seen Pixar’s latest SparkShort “OUT” yet, then I envy you – watching it for the first time is an absolute joy. It’s on Disney+ along with all of the other shorts from Pixar’s experimental shorts programme. You can read our review of it here.

“OUT” was made even more charming by its soundtrack, written by Jake Monaco and Natasha Adorlee. The rainbow space cat and dog duo’s theme – which is titled Pink and Purple in the soundtrack listing (by Natasha Adorlee) – stuck with me in particular. I think it stuck with the protagonist’s parents too, evidenced by the fact that they hum along to it at the end of the short.

You can purchase and listen to the soundtrack now.

Apple Music 

Spotify

 

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Catch A Sneak Peek Of Soul – Tomorrow!

Pete Docter, Soul

Posted by Joanna • June 26, 2020

Pixar’s next film Soul, directed by Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, was originally set to release on June 19th. It will now be released on November 20th. Lots of ‘firsts’ have happened this year due to obvious reasons, so Soul is now Pixar’s first movie to be postponed not due to production delays but due to a…global health crisis. A lot of the marketing is clearly shifting to virtual means because of this too.

Tomorrow (June 27th), Essence Festival of Culture is hosting a virtual conversation with the team behind Soul. We’ll even be given an exclusive sneak peek at the film.

The team behind Disney & Pixar’s upcoming film, “Soul” – director Pete Docter, producer Dana Murray, and co-director Kemp Powers – are joined by Dr. Johnnetta Cole and Jon Batiste to offer an exclusive sneak peek at the film.

To see the little featurette, you need to RSVP by following this link. The Soul portion of the event will run live from 6:44PM to 6:54PM ET. Since it’s live, we’ll be tuning in a bit earlier to make sure we don’t miss anything!

 

For many of us, Soul is acting a bit like a light at the end of a very long tunnel. We’re hoping that November 20th won’t just feel a bit more normal, but also better than the previous ‘normal’. I’ll leave you with this lovely quote from Pete Docter that has seen me through a lot.

“It’s like you run into this dark tunnel, trusting that somewhere there’s another end to it where you’re going to come out. And there’s a point in the middle where it’s just dark. There’s no light from where you came in and there’s no light at the other end; all you can do is keep running. And then you start to see a little light, and a little more light, and then, bam! You’re out in the sun.”

 

UPDATE:

Here’s the sneak peek and conversation with the film makers in case you missed it:

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