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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!

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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.

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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!

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Love in the Details of Toy Story 4

Behind The Scenes, Pixar, Toy Story 4, TS 4 press day

Posted by Simoa • June 19, 2019

There is something Ling Tu, the Sets Shading Lead on Toy Story 4, said during the It’s All in the Details presentation at the studio back in April that I think is very important. She hoped that we could feel the love that was put into the sets. The intention and purpose of Pixar films are not only the result of painstaking research, but painstaking love too! And that love extends to the locations as much as it does to the characters. The level of detail in Toy Story 4 is so intricate that even the sharpest eyed viewers might not notice – and that’s exactly the point. Regardless, each detail is both deliberate and necessary.

Tu was joined by Characters Shading Lead Alex Marino and Graphics Art Director Craig Foster to give us an in depth exploration of all the details.

As we’ve learned, the goal of the Toy Story films is to allow audiences to see everything from a toy’s perspective. Achieving that in Toy Story 4 relied on a number of factors, like making the sets characters with their own backstories and conveying the journeys of the toys through subtle visual hints. Something that was emphasized throughout were the imperfections in each detail, which allowed for greater authenticity and added a richness that would otherwise have been missing if the filmmakers aimed for perfection.

While it might be impossible to spot them all, here are some details (and Easter eggs!) to keep an eye on when you watch Toy Story 4.

Top 5 Sets Details

  • The leaves in the reunion scene between Woody and Bo Peep make Woody appear smaller and toylike. Pay attention to their texture, as they have the same veins and holes as real leaves do.
  • The reunion scene takes place in a dried creek bed. There’s a sprinkler box there to remind the audiences that this is still happening in the human world.
  • Dust in the antique store is very specific and just the right amount had to be applied. Take a look at the comparison image below – there’s a clear difference between them. The final frame still conveys the store’s age and unique history, but the dust isn’t distracting as it is in the first one.

©2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

  • Another crucial element of the antiques store is that it makes Woody feel out of place. It’s also the last place any toy wants to be, which is why Gabby Gabby is so eager to leave. The subtleties make it feel that way, without the filmmakers being obvious about it.
  • As Tu explained, carnivals draw you in with flashy lights and colors, but they’re actually shabby when you take a closer look. One of the ways they zeroed in on the shabbiness was the carnival prize grid where Ducky and Bunny spend all their time. The image below is fascinating because it’s something we take for granted and it’s distinctly unglamorous. But the filmmakers still took the time to include it for that extra layer of credibility!

©2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved. Lots of Easter Eggs here too!

Top 5 Characters Details

Photo by Marc Flores. ©2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Just like the antiques store, it was important to show how our toys have aged too. This was achieved by taking their journeys and motivations into account. Alex Marino also explained that subtle updates helped integrate the characters into the new settings.

  • Pay attention to Buzz’s stickers – they’re peeling. He’s no longer the glossy space ranger in mint condition.
  • Woody we know, has been through a lot. The micro scratches on him clue us into that and remind us that he and Buzz aren’t new toys.
  • Bo Peep’s porcelain isn’t as pristine as it was before, which makes sense considering that she’s been living as a lost toy. Her garments are a little shabby too.
  • Gabby Gabby is inspired by dolls of the 1950s and 1960s which were mass produced, but her hand painted features and the nylon quality of her hair are a contrast to the more generic features.
  • Since Gabby has been sitting on a shelf for so long, her dress is desaturated. She’s often in the dark, which would explain why her eyes are ominous rather than soft and inviting.

The Toy Story 4 art gallery, as seen on March 18, 2019 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Top 5 Graphic Design Details and Easter Eggs

Here’s something you won’t see in Toy Story 4: Woody’s Round Up. Craig Foster was deliberate about that because Woody is meant to feel out of place wherever he goes. To that end, no Western style fonts appear in the film either. Here’s a handy list of (more than) five Easter eggs to be on the look out for instead! And these are just the ones we were told about. A good chunk of the 8,000 graphics in the film reference past Pixar films.

Photo by Marc Flores

  • A Victrola in Second Chance Antiques has a record of Ernesto de la Cruz songs.
  • Paintings in the film include one of Alpha which is reminiscent of  John Singer Sargent; the classic ‘dogs playing poker’ with Dug, Muntz and the other hounds of Up; Riley’s dad as a conquistador (?!); and Angel Kitty from “Toy Story That Time Forgot” in Margaret Keane’s signature style.
  • Fun ads in the film include 1940s Triple Dent Gum (and now I’m humming the jingle of course); 1950s era Eggman Movers from the first Toy Story; Hud’s Garage, a reference to Doc Hudson; and “Small Fry’s” Poultry Palace, also from the ’50s.
  • The pinball machine has a tiki theme and naturally, the tiki heads from Finding Nemo are there.
  • A really cool graphic is Duke Caboom‘s maple leaf. Not only is it a symbol of his Canadian heritage, it looks like an explosion too!

As always, this visual storytelling expertly reinforces the film’s main themes. The labyrinthine aspect of all these details doesn’t overwhelm the characters; they blend into the background of the story and beckon us to take a closer look.

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Pixar Heroines: A Spotlight on Dot from A Bug’s Life

A Bug's Life, Andrew Stanton, Behind The Scenes, Pixar Heroines

Posted by Nia • February 7, 2019

In honor of Little Bo Peep’s fabulous new look in Pixar’s upcoming Toy Story 4, we’re starting a new series dedicated to the countless Pixar heroines who’ve graced the silver screen. From Elastigirl to Merida, we want to highlight them all; not only focusing on their strengths, but their weaknesses too; it’s every little bit about these heroines that makes them so empathetic, so powerful, and why they mean so much to us.

We’re starting off the series by focusing on Dot from the often overlooked and severely underrated A Bug’s Life. Dot is rut of the family, the young princess ant, and sister to Princess Atta. She’s small and she hates it. Because of her size, and her position in the royal family, she’s often overlooked and made fun of. It’s also established early on in the film that Dot is trying to fly, but she can’t quite grasp how her wings work yet; it might be her obvious inexperience or her lack of confidence, but either way, that’s one obstacle she struggles to overcome throughout the film.

It also doesn’t help that Dot is constantly punished for her lack of flying and her failed attempts are deemed dangerous; she feels distraught and her free spirit is crushed under the pressures of her family. No wonder she finally feels at home, at peace with herself, when she meets Flick. She finds his inventions fascinating, even when the other ants in the community think they’re ridiculous and a waste of time. Flick ends up giving Dot some stellar advice about her size and how it doesn’t matter how small she is, “you might not feel like you can do much now, but that’s just because, well, you’re not a tree yet. You just have to give yourself some time; you’re still a seed.”

Dot stays loyal to Flick, even when the other ants in the community show their obvious distaste for him after he knocks the food they spent months gathering, for the villainous grasshoppers, into a stream. When Flick decides to leave the colony in search for bigger and tougher bugs to help protect the colony against the grasshoppers, Dot eagerly awaits his return, using his telescope invention to keep watch for him. Dot’s friends make fun of her for using his inventions and siding with Flick, but she has tough skin and ignores their mockeries. She’ll do anything for Flick.

Why Dot is inspiring:

It’s safe to say Dot is the sole ant who helps save the day in A Bug’s Life. She’s a cutie that packs a punch, despite her youth she’s wise and optimistic and helps move the main cast of characters through even the darkest moments in the film. Her determination alone is inspiring; not once does she give up and sulk at the fact that she can’t fly or that she’s small and incompetent. She has her bad days, but she keeps on moving forward. She keeps trying, again and again, and doesn’t stop until she gets the results she’s satisfied with.

Dot also isn’t afraid to speak her mind, even if it means hurting someone else’s feelings in the process. She doesn’t let her age or her size get in the way when the people she loves are in danger, even when she knows it could be a risk. Despite being part of the royal family, she doesn’t hesitate to put herself out there and to show initiative; she is at her bravest while her sister and Queen Mother are in hiding.

After the grasshoppers return to the ant colony and take over their land, demanding the extra food that they weren’t given on their last visit, Dot goes into hiding with the other young ants. When she hears that Hopper, the ruthless leader of the grasshoppers, is going to murder her mother, she comes up with a plan: find Flick and get him to help. As soon as she leaves the hiding spot, she’s chased down by Thumper; the ravenous grasshopper who nearly tore her to shreds at the beginning of the film. Thumper chases Dot and she escapes only when she falls off a nearby cliff. For an instant, we think it’s over for Dot, but she suddenly reappears on screen – her eyes shut tight and her wings finally fluttering, albeit frantically. She uses her newfound ability to track down Flick where she gets him to return to the colony just in time to help save her family.

Dot continues to grow during the final beat of the film, constantly learning and moving out of her comfort zone to get her colony to safety. She works with Flick, gathering the other young ants on to a fake bird that they built in order to scare off the Grasshoppers. As Flick drives it, Dot gives instructions and even makes fake bird cries. She steps into more of an adult roll, accepting her duties and putting herself last to save everyone else. Even when she is captured by Hopper again after their failed attempts at scaring him away, she never backs down or even hints at surrendering; as everyone looks on in horror, she looks back with fire in her eyes and is ready for a fight. As Thumper confronts her at the end, ready to start where they last left off after their chase, she shouts at him and slaps him, treating him like a bad dog.

At the end of the film, Dot is a changed ant. When Atta, her sister, is crowned the new Queen of the colony, Dot receives her tiara and has officially moved up the ranks in her royal family. (Honestly, after Dot’s bravery, she’s the one who deserves to wear the crown at the end, but I’m willing to let that go…) Regardless, the tiara is a much earned badge after her triumphant display of courage.

Some behind-the-scenes fact about Dot:

  • Andrew Stanton, who worked on the story of A Bug’s Life, discussed creating Dot because his daughter had just been born at the time of production. He was inspired by his daughter and wanted to have a little girl character depicted in the film.
  • Dot was voiced by Hayden Panettiere, but Ashley Tisdale originally tried out for the part.
  • You can find Dot, along with the other characters from A Bug’s Life, in Toy Story 2; they’re all on Al’s abstract painting that’s on the wall of his living room.

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How Pixar Employees Utilized Their Archives for The Incredibles 2

Behind The Scenes, Brad Bird, Incredibles 2, Pixar, Pixar Archives, Pixar Employees, The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2

Posted by Nia • May 31, 2018

During my most recent visit to Pixar for an Incredibles 2 press event, which was a massive thrill in itself,  I was given an exclusive tour of their new archive facility. And it was definitely the cherry on top of a very fabulous two days at the studio. Inside the archives I learned how Brad Bird and his team went back in time to research the designs and characters for the Incredibles 2.

© 2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Pixar itself is a magical place, and I don’t have enough room in this post to write about how it meant to visit the studio for the first time (stay-tuned for an upcoming post about just that), but the archives are really something special.

Just think of your favorite Pixar film and then think about all the hard work that went into making it. All of the designs that were created in the 3+ years of developing the film are all archived in their new 15,000 square foot facility.

Originally the building was just a raw cement warehouse, but the folks at Pixar spent a few years making it perfect and customizing it to accommodate all of the designs. The facility is now a working space where employees from Pixar can come to visit and pull designs for their research.

The archives is so big that it could get a little creepy when you’re there by yourself; every time someone enters through the main door there’s a cute little doorbell that rings, which alerts whoever’s working that someone has entered the premises. *Cue dramatic music*

I wanted to spend days, hours, WEEKS in that building looking at each and every piece of art work but alas, I only had less than an hour inside.

Archives Manager, Juliet Roth, led the tour and has been with Pixar for 15 years. Everyone who works in the archives has a master’s degree in library science with an archive focus, or something similar. According to Juliet, “this is as much my job as a story artist is an artist that draws storyboards, we work really closely with the art and story teams in production, that’s where the majority of the materials are coming from. We also collect scripts from editorial, some animation drawings, and we also have a historical collection; which is more about the history of Pixar as a company, sort of what is culturally unique. What makes Pixar Pixar?”

(Photo by Marc Flores)

So, what does the Pixar Archives house exactly? And how did going back through the old designs help the artists prepare for the Incredibles 2?

  • The archives hold molds and maquettes of some of your favorite characters, like Mr. Incredible; some are full body while others showcase a range of emotions and expressions for the animators to study as they work. Artists were able to come into the archives and use these old designs as a starting point when re-creating the characters for the sequel. “They make the sculpts so they can sit on the animators desks and they can reference it as they’re animating all the smile lines, teeth and tongue and eye shapes, so we have a lot of them for all the main characters in The Incredibles. You can draw a character all you want, the drawings are really wonderful, but there’s nothing like bringing a character to life in 3 dimensions.”
  • The archivists work with the production team to integrate themselves into their pipeline. Once a design has served its purpose in production, such as going through art reviews and being approved by the director, it slowly makes its way into the archives. But it doesn’t stop there: the archivists spend time with the team, making sure the artists hand off important information, such as the context of the artwork that was created. It’s even important to know about the characters who didn’t make it in the final film or a character who might’ve started off as the villain but ended up the hero; whatever it is, they like to get the contextual information because the archivists are the “information experts in the future.”
  • The archives also hold all the concept art that was created during The Incredibles and the rest of Pixar’s feature films. In relation to the world of the Incredibles we saw heaps of collages from the first film, pieces assembled from copious magazines and other materials created for character and costume designs; there were also color scripts from Lou Romano; background roughs, character sketches, and original Tony Fucile model packs, which is basically a blue print of the main characters; Ralph Eggleston and Lou Romano gouache paintings; different versions of Edna Mode’s concept art, in each one you could see her attitude, despite it being completely different to what made it on film; and finally the tour included Tony Fucile’s Edna designs and expressions. It was pretty neat seeing what Edna could have looked like and how all of these different artists initially pictured her in their minds.

    (Photo by Marc Flores)

    (Photo by Marc Flores)

  • Ralph Eggleston and his team came to the archives prior to starting their work on the sequel 3 years ago. Eggleston was trying to work out designs for the Incredibles 2, particularly for all of the background characters. Since they had done so much work on the first film with unused characters and villains, they decided it was a good place to start and pull from, maybe even re-using old designs. You’ll definitely see a lot of the initial forgotten supers and background characters in the Incredibles 2 next month.

    (Photo by Marc Flores)

    (Photo by Marc Flores)

Some other fun things I found in the Pixar archives worth noting:

  • The building houses a collection of press clippings from the early days of Pixar, including clips from when Pixar was first founded and when Steve Jobs bought it; those artifacts go back to Juliet’s earlier quote of “what makes Pixar Pixar?” That thought alone blew my mind because the posts I write for Upcoming Pixar, and even this post, *might* somehow end up in the archives one day.
  • Before Pixar started making movies they sold software and hardware and they made some commercials; like the dancing Life Savers holes in Babies and the boxing Listerine in Boxer, which were both Pixar’s claim to fame before Toy Story. They had copies of the original software and items from the commercials mentioned on display. Those items all come from Pixar’s “historical collection.”
  • They even saved original crew gifts from the wrap parties of each feature film; for the first Incredibles they had given out t-shirts. I asked for a shirt but unfortunately they were out of stock.
  • The walls of the archive facility were decorated with original concept art from Brave, Up, Monsters Inc., and an even original character line-ups from Inside Out.
  • At the end of the building there were display cases that showcased a squash and stretch maquette of Sulley from Monstes Inc., samples of different Sulley concept art, a maquette of Woody’s original character design which was a ventriloquist dummy, and a maquette of Buzz Lightyear AKA Lunar Larry’s original design. There was even a printed card that showed a bunch of potential titles for Toy Story, my favorite being Toys in the Hood. The best part was seeing some of the bronze statues the employees at Pixar get after being there for 5, 10, 20 years, etc.

    (Photo by Marc Flores)

You could get lost in the Pixar archives and honestly, if that happened to me I’d be content living inside the building for the rest of my life. Although it was only a tour, I could see how important the archives are to the employees at Pixar and the company’s legacy. It’s amazing that the everyone at the company has a place like the archives to escape to, where they can venture into the past to study previous films and pull designs for research. It not only makes them stronger artists, but it makes the content coming from Pixar even more important and relevant. The more Pixar grows, the more designs and artifacts the archivists have to help continue to build the company’s legacy.

Don’t forget to grab your tickets to the Incredibles 2, which comes to cinemas on June 15th. Only 15 more days to go!

P.S. Do you have your super-suit packed and ready to go?

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The Making of Bao: Story, design inspiration, and more!

Bao, Behind The Scenes, Domee Shi, Interview, Short Film, Shorts

Posted by Nia • April 23, 2018

Bao is Pixar’s new theatrical short that will be playing this summer in front of the Incredibles 2. It’s one of my favorite shorts from Pixar and it goes without saying – the film is full of scrumptious designs and a heartwarming story that will have you begging for more. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out our review of the film.

During my most recent trip to Pixar I learned some fantastic things about the making of Bao from director Domee Shi, production designer Rona Liu, and producer Becky Neiman-Cobb.

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

  1. Bao has two meanings in Chinese: steamed bun and to treasure something precious. Domee thought it would be the perfect title for a story about “a precious little steam bun.”
  2. Domee’s #1 obsession in life, outside of animation, is obviously food (and I don’t blame her – I think about food 24/7). “I love food, not just eating it, but drawing it as well.” Before the days of Bao, Domee was making art about food and posting it online. You might remember some of the food related gags and little food-centric comics from her My Food Fantasies
  3. Domee was also inspired by food folk tales because “they’re so cute and strange – like the little gingerbread man and that one song, there was an old lady who swallowed a fly.” With Bao, she was inspired to do a Chinese version of all those folk takes she loved.
  4. According to Domee, the first ingredient to Bao was obviously food and the second ingredient was what she knew best: growing up as an only child. Domee’s family was a small immigrant family that moved from China and lived in Toronto. Domee’s father worked a lot and because of that she spent a lot of time with her mom growing up. Her mom would hold her close whenever she could and treated her like a “delicate little dumpling.” When Domee started growing up and doing things on her own, it was hard for her mom to let go and she’d tell Domee,“I wish I could put you back in my stomach so I’d know exactly where you were at all times.” Domee even said, “It’s that creepy sweet love of a mom who doesn’t want to let go of her little dumpling that was the spark that became the heart of the story.”

    ©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

  5. Domee wasn’t only inspired by her relationship with her mom, but she was inspired by her. She is a “dumpling Queen.” Food was how Domee’s mom showed her love for her and they formed a special bond making dumplings together over the years for numerous holidays and events. “In Chinese culture, food and family go hand in hand. When you want to show that you care about someone and that you love someone, you don’t say ‘I love you’ you say ‘have you eaten yet?'”
  6. Her mom was involved in the research for Bao. She’d come in to do “dumpling making demos” for the animators and effects and simulation artists.

    (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

  7. The third ingredient for this short was Chinatown, specifically Chinatown in Toronto where Domee grew up. She wanted to honor that setting and the equally vibrant Chinatown grannies. “I wanted to celebrate their bold colors, their keen eye when it comes to picking out the freshest produce, and their determination to get the best deals in town.”
  8. The style of Bao was inspired by 2D Japanese animation, especially the visual styles of My Neighbors the Yamatas and One Piece. Domee “loved how squishy the characters looked and how pushed their expressions were.”

    ©2018 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

  9. Though translating 2D designs to 3D was the biggest obstacle Domee and her team had to get past. Some poses and expressions didn’t translate as well when it was created with 3D software, since 3D itself is its own medium. Some of the design aspects Domee wanted to pull from My Neighbors the Yamatas or One Piece were going to be an challenge, like the mother’s massive head and exaggerated limbs, but there’s nothing that a little planning can’t solve, especially in animation production. In the end, after trial and error, they were able to combine 2D graphic design and 3D modeling, which gave Domee range to achieve what she wanted.
  10. Production designer Rona Liu “oversaw all the visuals in the film.” Her job was to work with the different departments to make sure the look was cohesive and adhered to Domee’s vision.
  11. According to Rona, Domee wanted the short to look and feel very, very cute. It was also heavily influenced by Japanese folk art. She loved the “simple and graphic designs and the fact that a slice of life was the main subject… she wanted to borrow some of that philosophy with Bao, while keeping focus on the characters as much as possible.”
  12. The patterns on the mother’s clothes supported her emotional journey throughout the film. When the mother is unhappy and lonely, Rona used muted colors. When the mother is happy, the colors were “bold and red and auspicious.”
  13. The environment also played a supporting role to the characters. The background designs used throughout the short are not perfectly straight; if you look closely at some of the sets in the trailer and even when you see the film this summer, you’ll find that none of edges actually meet perfectly together, lines are wibbly wobbly. The mother’s house in particular had to reflect that she was an immigrant, a “blend of East meets West.” Rona had decided all the built-ins in the mother’s kitchen would be Western, while all the things the mother buys would be Chinese. 
  14. According to producer Becky Neiman-Cobb, the pork filling was the hardest thing for the effects artists to figure out. “It took two months for them to master the look and feel of the pork filling for the short.” What made the food effects so challenging was that, “we’re all experts as to what food looks like.” And food is the star in Bao, so “if it didn’t look perfect or believable it would pull the audience out of the story.”

Make sure you save lots of room for dessert because Bao is coming to theaters June 15th!

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Pixar Launches New Experimental Shorts Department

30 Years of Pixar, Behind The Scenes, Luxo, Jr., Short Film, SIGGRAPH, Smash and Grab, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B

Posted by Nia • May 28, 2017

It was recently revealed that in August, Pixar will be hosting a panel at SIGGRAPH titled, “Smash and Grab: Off-The-Rails Filmmaking at Pixar.” The summary of the panel gave us some insight into what some of the talented folks have been up to in between projects at the studio:

“Pixar launched an internal, experimental storytelling initiative to create short films without executive oversight, to explore new creative visions and increase studio opportunities. This talk shares Pixar’s six-month journey of creating seven-minute shorts, with limited resources, amidst the backdrop of a busy studio, juggling multiple feature productions.”

Cartoon Brew reported the first film produced through this new division is aptly titled Smash and Grab, and will be directed by Brian Larsen. Larsen himself has plenty of experience at Pixar in the story trenches – serving as Story Supervisor on Brave and Head of Story on Piper, just to name a few.

Pixar’s first few short films, The Adventures of André and Wally B and Luxo JR., initially put the studio on the map and showcased what was to come with technology driving animation. The fact that the studio is continuing to push the boundaries of storytelling with their famed short films, and finding time to make new projects with an already grueling film schedule is quite impressive and inspiring.

We can’t wait to find out more about Smash and Grab, and their new shorts unit.

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You Can Now Take A Pixar Storytelling Course Online For Free!

Behind The Scenes, Khan Academy, Mark Andrews, Pete Docter, Pixar in a box, The Art of Storytelling

Posted by Nia • February 24, 2017

Have you ever dreamed about being able to learn from some of the greatest storytellers in the industry? Or what about gaining specific insight in animation from some of your heroes like Pete Docter and Mark Andrews? With Pixar’s new online course, you will be able to do just that.

This month Pixar launched the first course of their 6-part online curriculum on “The Art of Storytelling.” The program will be helmed by Docter, Andrews, and a plethora of other top notch animation talent from the studio. The course is aimed to guide anyone who is interested in learning more about the Pixar storytelling process – the segments will give tips on how to create original stories, captivating characters, and diverse worlds. The courses will also offer a variety of techniques other than your typical video and reading assignments; there will be firsthand exercises that will even teach some newcomers the ABC’s of taking an original idea and seeing it through to the story boarding phase. Pixar’s online class will disperse their different lessons throughout the year, so stay-tuned for more production wisdom from the studio!

Pete Docter’s own statement on the course should give you enough motivation to give it a try: “We hope that by sharing how we tell stories, we’ll inspire students all over the world to tell their own stories.”

“The Art of Storytelling” can be accessed through the online-education website Khan Academy.

Have you already taken the course or are thinking about trying it out? Let us know on Twitter and in the comments below.

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The Incredibles 2 Sequel Happily Moves Through Production

Behind The Scenes, Brad Bird, Interview, sequels, The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2

Posted by Nia • September 12, 2016

incredibles-2-update-main

It’s insane thinking about how its been 12 years since The Incredibles first premiered in cinemas. For some of us old folk, it only feels like yesterday when we sat in the dark, jaws agape, and inspired as we traveled through dangerous territories following the Parr family. With that being said, fantastic news, as always, regarding one of the most anticipated sequels from Pixar to date! Happy to report, straight from Brad Bird himself, that The Incredibles 2 continues to move smoothly through the production pipeline. From our friends over at Entertainment Weekly, we’ve found that Brad Bird dished some small insights into the upcoming film, careful not to give away any key plot points:

“I don’t like unwrapping presents before Christmas… It’s very actively moving, and we’re excited about it. We’re trying to take it in some new directions. Hopefully it’s the same characters and feel, but going in a new direction. I mean, that’s the trick with a sequel. It’s repeating yourself, without repeating yourself.”

Considering how Hollywood seems to be pushing out superhero films in an assembly line fashion these days, we’re curious to see what new spin on the genre Bird and team will create this time around. We’re also eager to see how the Parr family has been faring all of these years since we’ve last seen them on screen. It’s great to know that despite it being a sequel, Bird is conscious of that aspect and is trying to create a film that will stand alone from the first installment. Back when The Incredibles was released in 2004, Bird helped shape a new form of storytelling both in animation and in the superhero universe; delving into the familial side of superheroes, getting into their psyches, while straying from the cliches that have been notorious with Hollywood’s representation of anyone who wears a cape. Thank God Edna banished those fashion statements long ago. Perhaps this even inspired the darker side of superheros seen in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy? Regardless, 2019 can’t come soon enough.

The Incredibles 2 is scheduled for release on June 21, 2019.

 

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