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Smash and Grab: An Elegant Ode to Robots

Shorts, Smash and Grab, SparkShorts

Posted by Simoa • February 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SparkShorts – What Is It And Why Should We Be Excited About It?

Short Film, Shorts, Smash and Grab, SparkShorts

Posted by Joanna • January 12, 2019

One of the best things about Pixar is their commitment to innovation. We’ve been highlighting the studio’s short films recently, which have been part of its DNA since it was founded over 30 years ago. That legacy continues with their latest project.

Yesterday Pixar revealed their new SparkShorts program – an official title for the experimental shorts department that we found out about in 2017. It was already an exciting concept – for years, Pixar shorts have been a way of trying out new things and giving employees a chance to try their hand at directing. Having a whole internal program dedicated to giving people at Pixar – from all sorts of different backgrounds and departments – the opportunity to create with little to no restriction or pressure is ingenius. It’s what Pixar is all about: encouraging and inspiring creativity.

Now that the program has been officially revealed and titled, SparkShorts is filling us all with that feeling of awe and pride that Pixar fans are familiar with. Watch their video about it below for some sneak peaks of the upcoming SparkShorts (some of which we’ll be lucky enough to see in just over a month!):

“Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of SparkShorts. The program was created to provide opportunities to a wide array of artists – each with something unique to say.” – Lindsey Collins, vice president of development for Pixar.

The first three shorts in the SparkShorts program will be shown at the El Capitan Theater following The Little Mermaid this January 18th-24th. After this, the shorts will even be available on YouTube for us all to see. Pixar have published the titles and descriptions of these three shorts which you can read below.

  • “Purl,” directed by Kristen Lester and produced by Gillian Libbert-Duncan, features an earnest ball of yarn named Purl who gets a job in a fast-paced, high energy, bro-tastic start-up. Yarny hijinks ensue as she tries to fit in, but how far is she willing to go to get the acceptance she yearns for, and in the end, is it worth it? [Available on YouTube on February 4th]
  • “Smash and Grab, directed by Brian Larsen and produced by David Lally, is about two antiquated robots who risk everything for freedom and for each other after years of toiling away inside the engine room of a towering locomotive. [Available on YouTube on February 11th]

  • Kitbull,” directed by Rosana Sullivan and produced by Kathryn Hendrickson, reveals an unlikely connection that sparks between two creatures: a fiercely independent stray kitten and a pit bull. Together, they experience friendship for the first time. [Available on YouTube on February 18th]

Just months after Domee Shi became the first female director at Pixar for her memorable short “Bao”, it’s so encouraging to see more female directors and new talent from all sorts of different backgrounds making their debut. It’s exciting. We’re looking forward to the new shorts, and to the future! There are countless stories waiting to be told by the talented employees at Pixar, and with projects like this going on, we’ll actually be able to hear them!

UPDATE 16/01/19

You can now find out more about each of the SparkShorts on Pixar’s site here. They’ve also released each short’s corresponding poster. “Loop” and “Wind” are my personal favourites, but they’re all very cleverly designed.

It’s already clear that having crews of diverse storytellers and animators has led to these SparkShorts connecting with a wider range of underrepresented communities and cultures: praise has been given to “Float” for being the first Pixar short to feature Filipino characters, and “Loop” will feature Pixar’s first non-verbal autistic character ‘Renee’, who can be seen in the poster.

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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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