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Aphton Corbin and Rosana Sullivan developing new films at Pixar

Aphton Corbin, Pete Docter

Posted by Simoa • January 9, 2021

Last September, I interviewed the story artists on Soul. I asked Aphton Corbin and Michael Yates if they had any plans to direct SparkShorts. Aphton with a coy smile said, “I don’t think we can tell you that.” Well now it’s just been announced that she’s directing a feature length film!

The news appeared in a Hollywood Reporter issue profiling Pete Docter’s new role as Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer. Rosana Sullivan, who directed “Kitbull” is also developing an original full length film for the studio. Ever since taking over John Lasseter’s role, Docter has prioritized diversity and inclusion. Diversity has become an almost toothless word now, but it’s clear that Pete is committed to giving women and nonwhite creatives the space to tell their own stories. It is long overdue, but it makes me so hopeful for Pixar’s future and the future of animation as a whole. Andrew Stanton described Docter in such a way that makes him a perfect replacement.

“Pete’s not interested in repeating anything. He wants to invent a new color every time.”

I’ve been wishing for a Black female protagonist in a Pixar movie for years now. Now it seems like my wish may actually be granted. And with a Black female director, no less! I can’t wait to hear more about Aphton and Rosana’s films and share more of that info with all of you.

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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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The journey of a soul – there and back again

Aphton Corbin, Kristen Lester, Michael Yates, Pete Docter, Pixar Employees, Soul, Soul press day

Posted by Simoa • October 9, 2020

A trip to Pixar was out of the question this year, due to COVID-19’s travel and gathering restrictions. It definitely was a bummer, although minor in the grand scheme of things. But even if I couldn’t visit the studio in person, I was able to talk to the filmmakers of Soul and learn about the film virtually. As always, I’m grateful for the opportunity to go behind the scenes.

Soul has been in production for five years, but the story has been with Pete Docter for a lifetime. It all began 23 years ago, when his son was born. Docter marveled at his newborn child’s personality.

“I thought your personality developed through your interaction with the world. And yet, it was pretty clear that we’re all born with a very unique, specific sense of who we are.”

Pixar movies so often create something out of nothing, dazzling worlds vibrant with color and detail. They are either places we’ve never been or can only imagine. Soul‘s Great Before surpasses anything we’ve seen before, since the artists at Pixar outdo themselves every time. But no matter how mesmerizing the look of a film is, the characters within should take precedence. Enter Joe Gardner.

Playwright Kemp Powers joined the production in 2018 to write the script and was made co-director. His script pages were brought to the story department, where the artists were tasked with drawing them. Story supervisor Kristen Lester led this process, with a team that included Michael Yates and Aphton Corbin. According to Lester, Powers’ script contained a lot of history and authenticity, which really helped to inform Joe’s backstory.

There was a staggering number of storyboards drawn for this film – 73,611 to be exact! Take a look at just two of them below. Absolutely stunning!

Of course, not all of the boards made it into the final film, but those discarded ideas were still vital in establishing Joe and his background. We know that he’s a middle school band teacher with more lofty aspirations of a career in jazz music. Joe’s never realized these dreams, and Michael Yates was concerned with why that was the case. Joe is a talented pianist without any delusions, so why wouldn’t he have found success? Yates thought about people he knew who hadn’t achieved their dreams and was able to envision the obstacles standing in Joe’s way. In each instance, Joe misses an audition because he’s helping out his family, friends, and students. Through these sketches, we learned that he’s a selfless person who put his dreams on hold.

The sketches and script were then boarded by Aphton Corbin. One of the sequences she worked on was Joe’s life in the Hall of You, an exhibit that showcases a person’s life on earth and their achievements. Corbin “imagined it as a dark space with moments of Joe’s life playing in beams of light that characters could walk through, kind of like a museum.” Joe’s is distinctly unimpressive, a series of unexciting moments combined with failures. From this vantage point, his life is disappointing. This was intentional, as Corbin explained:

“We wanted Joe’s Hall of You to feel more like an exhibit of his failures rather than his successes. We piled on rejection after rejection to build our case and placed the moments where he decided to become a band teacher at the end, so Joe falling down the manhole felt like the perfect coda to his sad life. It was our goal at this point to get the audience on Joe’s side. We wanted them to feel like he needed to return to his body to finish living his dream as a jazz musician.”

Corbin also included Joe’s first encounter with jazz, a moment where he discovers the passion that now defines his life. His face was the focus in that scene – it’s one of the most wonderful in the film’s trailer. Joe’s face is lit up with love and wonder, aglow in the colors from the jazz club. We all have moments like that in our lives, no?

The completed storyboards were then sent to editorial, where music was added. Editorial is where the story artists watch how their drawings come together for the overall film. They watched the entire film from beginning to end about eight times in Pixar’s theater.

Mainstream animated and live action films rarely feature nonwhite characters as the heroes of the story. Too often they’re shunted into supporting roles. Audiences hardly ever watch films with Black protagonists that they can relate to and root for. I think people will definitely see themselves reflected in Joe’s Hall of You as I could, a place where our failures and dim moments eat up all the spotlight.

For Pete Docter, making this film was less about failed dreams, but questioning his purpose. He’s directed acclaimed films and won numerous awards, but still the question nagged at him.

“Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing with my limited time on Earth? In fact, in darker days, around now, I wonder sometimes, is there any point to it? If I had a choice, would I decide to be born and come live?”

I was so shocked to hear him admit that. We’re usually discouraged from sharing such thoughts, but I think it’s a universal feeling, especially with a world that’s constantly in turmoil. And with 2020 going on record as possibly the most disastrous year ever, this film’s release could not be any more timely.

Who would want to live if they were given that choice? But Soul seeks to both answer that question and dispel the doubt that surrounds it. This is a journey we’re all going to take with Joe, by asking ourselves the same questions.

There’s still so much more that I learned about this stunning film. Stay tuned to read all about it! But in the meantime, delve into Joe’s world with more gorgeous artwork.

Soul will premiere exclusively on Disney+ on December 25. This is the third time the film has been pushed to a later date. Theatrical release dates are pending. Surely whenever pandemic restrictions are eased, audiences will have the opportunity to be dazzled by it on the big screen.

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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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Soul’s New Release Date: November 20th

Pete Docter, Pixar, Poster, Soul

Posted by Joanna • April 13, 2020

Soul, Pixar’s next original movie directed by Pete Docter, has been pushed back from it’s original release date of June 19th to November 20th. This means it will land on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Many movies have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This is the first official word of Soul being pushed back, but it doesn’t come as a surprise.

Other movies with less notice have had to resort to straight-to-digital release, but with lockdown effects likely to be differing around the world come June, a delayed release seems the more sensible choice. It was revealed last week that a number of Pixar employees have been put on furlough – perhaps this would have had an effect on the completion and marketing of the film as well.

Soul was originally set to share a ‘release date birthday’ with Inside Out (another of Docter’s films).

Bring on November 20th – hopefully this new date will see us in a much more familiar world and will allow us to experience the film for the first time in an exciting crowded theatre.

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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.

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Pixar’s got Soul

Pete Docter, Soul

Posted by Simoa • November 6, 2019

Where do we go when we die? Is there some part of us that lives on when our bodies are buried beneath dirt? Some form of disembodied consciousness? Does it still wander earth or does it exist in a liminal space? What is the soul? Nearly every religion believes in the existence of a soul, and science can neither prove or disprove it. No one knows what the soul looks like, but Pixar’s going to show us their idea of it, in Pete Docter’s newest film.

An exclusive new look comes to us courtesy of Entertainment Weekly, as well as a new look at protagonist Joe Gardner, played by Jamie Foxx.

Soul’s writer and co-director Kemp Powers describes Joe as someone “who’s lived his whole life like he was meant to do this one thing [music] to the exclusion of pretty every other thing.” Powers also characterizes that single minded pursuit as similiar to anyone involved in the arts: it’s an almost religious obsessiveness you have to have to have success and a career in the arts.”

If you want to avoid any more plot details about the film, read no further. Joe dies in an accident right after he scores his dream job. His soul doesn’t journey to the afterlife, but to the You Seminar, where souls are given personalities and sent to inhabit human bodies. Like Docter’s Inside Out the film ventures into the interior. Instead of examining the emotions of the mind, this one will portray the essence of a person. At You Seminar, Joe meets 22 (Tina Fey), a human hating soul who Docter describes as a teenager with an attitude. She teams up with Joe to reunite his soul with his body on earth.

The film will surely ask some existential questions and get us all thinking about those concepts outside our realm. Docter hopes it makes us introspective.

“What are the things that, at the end of the day, are really going to be the important things that you look back on and go, ‘I spent a worthy amount of my limited time on Earth worrying or focused on that’?”

Soul flies into theaters on June 19, 2020.

 

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Pixar sneak peeks at D23

D23, Dan Scanlon, Dana Murray, Disney+, Onward, Pete Docter, Soul, Toy Story 4

Posted by Simoa • August 26, 2019

D23, Disney’s official fanclub, hosted its bi-annual expo this past weekend. There’s been a drought of Pixar news recently, barring Toy Story 4‘s billion dollar box office earnings, but now we’ve got a nice trickle of news! Attendees were treated to previews of the newest Pixar films in theaters next year: Onward and Soul. And that’s not all, since the expo is always packed with lots of celebrations and giveaways for fans. This year, there were booths for a sculpting demo with longtime Pixarian Jerome Ranft, the Pixar archives, and designing toys. Guinevere, the truck from Onward, also made an appearance.

Here’s what we can look forward to in 2020!

Onward

Described by director Dan Scanlon as a modern fantasy quest, the film follows two elvin brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot, living in a fantasy suburbia that has lost much of the former. Pixar’s films usually bring magic into the real world, but this time they’re taking audiences to an imaginary one where magic has faded.

I absolutely love this poster’s design. I’m a rookie pin collector, but I’d love to get my denim jacket on this level! Notice the cassette tape simply marked with Dad. It’s not as flashy as the others, but my eyes are drawn to it anyway. The Disney Store could even sell some of these pins; I covet that unicorn.

If you’d like to read more about the storyline, Collider has a great write up but beware of spoilers! Knowing how personal this film is for Dan Scanlon, those brief details about the footage screened at D23 is quite moving.

Soul

Pete Docter’s latest venture after probing the human mind in Inside Out will now plumb the depths of the soul. This film is already a challenge since many people don’t even believe in the existence of a soul. Pete hasn’t disappointed us yet though. And it’ll be the studio’s first ever full length film with a black protagonist! The synopsis over on Polygon also has a handful of plot details if you’d rather avoid those.

Soul tells the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), on a quest of his own like the Lightfoot brothers, but an entirely dissimilar one. Tina Fey also joins the cast as 22, along with Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, and Questlove. The soundtrack will be provided by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and Jazz musician Jon Batiste. The newly unveiled character art:

Tina Fey as 22

concept art

Forky+

Pixar’s got a new shorts collection debuting on the new streaming service, Disney+, starring Forky! In “Forky Asks a Question,” Tony Hale reprises his role and revealed the other characters who will be joining our favorite spork as he unravels the answers to life’s questions. 

The Forky series will be available on Disney+’s November 12th premiere, but we still have many months to go before Onward and Soul. Looks like the drought is over!

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Pixar has just announced a new movie!

Pete Docter

Posted by Simoa • June 19, 2019

A single tweet. That’s all. Just one tweet about a brand new, never before heard or hinted Pixar film which debuts in theaters exactly one year from today, on June 19th, 2020.

We are getting two Pixar films next year! Both one word titles that involve mystical journeys, although Soul has a more philosophical bent than Onward‘s fantasy adventure. Oh man. It’s so cryptic! Just a simple logo with the lofty goal of answering life’s most important questions. Which are not simple! Here is one question I have: who is the heroine of this story? Please tell me Soul has a female lead.

A longer description from The Wrap:

Ever wonder where your passion, your dreams and your interests come from? What is it that makes you… YOU? In 2020, Pixar Animation Studios takes you on a journey from the streets of New York City to the cosmic realms to discover the answers to life’s most important questions.

And guess what? Pete Docter is directing! His first film as Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer and his first since Inside Out, which coincidentally turns four today! The similarities to the former film are undeniable. First we were in the mind, now we are venturing to the soul.

There does seem to be another connection to Onward. While that film takes our elven heroes out of a suburb, Soul will leave the streets of New York city. Existential pondering leading us out of the places we know  that can sometimes be a bit stifling into the unknown. At least that’s my take on it.

Let us know what you think! We will update this post with any more details and will be doing lots of Soul searching in the coming year!

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Domee Shi: Pixar’s Newest Source of Creative Power

Bao, Domee Shi, Pete Docter, Shorts

Posted by Joanna • November 29, 2018

It was recently revealed that Domee Shi will be directing a feature length film for Pixar Studios.

Domee Shi, best known for directing Pixar’s newest short “Bao”, has been fuelling the studio’s movies with fun and creativity for a number of years now. She started out as an intern, contributed to Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and Incredibles 2 as a storyboard artist, then had her directorial debut as the first female director of a Pixar short, which received an overwhelmingly positive response for several reasons. Firstly, “Bao” is wonderful. It beautifully represents Domee Shi’s Chinese-Canadian background while still depicting a very universal message. It’s also a sign of a great leap forward for Pixar and the animation industry as a whole to not only see a female director, but a female director who is actively bringing more diversity onto our screens, and in such a heartfelt and personal way.

(Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

Shi was recently interviewed by Deadline, and the interview as a whole really fills you with confidence about Pixar’s future. There are some very important and exciting things to be taken away from this chat with Shi, the most obvious one being that Shi is working on a new feature length film for the studio! This is huge. Only one Pixar film has been directed by a woman (Brenda Chapman for Brave), and she was replaced by Mark Andrews midway through the film’s development.

 “We’re just developing the story for it right now,” Shi says. “It’s super early on, but I’m really excited to play in this new 90-minute film format.”

Shi originally had to pitch three different ideas for a Pixar short, so it’s clear that she has plenty of imagination to offer. Shorts are often more experimental in their stories, concepts, and character designs, but here’s hoping that Shi’s experience as a short director stands her in good stead for creating a unique feature film for us to look forward to.

Completely charming concept art for “Bao” by Domee Shi

It’s also incredibly encouraging to hear how Domee Shi feels about Pete Docter’s new role in the company, and how she’s excited about the studio’s future. Pete Docter was officially named as Chief Creative Officer for Pixar Animation Studios this June, and this was pretty much unanimously met with enthusiasm – Docter’s films (Monsters Inc., Up, Inside Out) are seen as many as some of ‘Pixar’s best’. It’s comforting to hear that within the company he is viewed as a good mentor, a “humble and down to earth” man, and someone who values creativity and diversity.

We’ll leave you with these particularly heartwarming quotes, but the full interview is definitely a worthy read.

“I think [Pete Docter]’s always been a huge supporter of unique voices at the studio. You can tell he’s really curious and interested in different types of stories, different types of characters—and he always wants to try new things.

 

“I feel like Bao was a pretty huge example, for me, that Pixar is fully behind supporting diverse storytellers. I think Sanjay’s Super Team and Coco were the two other films at Pixar that really helped pave the way for Bao to be made, and because those two productions were done before Bao, it gave me confidence, knowing that Bao isn’t just going to be a trend, or a blip.”

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