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.
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?”
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.
- 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.
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.
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?