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.
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.
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.”