kottke.org posts about Pixar
Watch how far Pixar’s skill in animation has come over the past 30+ years, from their initial shorts to the nearly photorealistic animation in last year’s The Good Dinosaur to Finding Dory.
It’s incredible how dated the original Toy Story looks now. It’s going to look positively prehistoric in 20 years and it’ll be impossible for anyone who didn’t see it at the time to understand how astounding and groundbreaking it was.
Adam Summers is a biomechanist who worked as a consultant on fish behavior and anatomy for Pixar’s Finding Nemo and its sequel, Finding Dory. How do you figure out where and how to stick to the known science (or sneak it in sideways) in a movie about talking fish? It’s not an easy question to answer.
This question is very important for the entertainment industry: does it matter whether you’re right, when you’re telling a story to entertain? Under some circumstances, I don’t think it matters. But with an animated movie about real, living systems, when you use the truth — their complexity and beauty — as a springboard for the story, you add a level of gravitas that is vitally important to creating a broad and deep appeal. A young audience is much more sophisticated than you think, and a story informed by a lot of facts alerts them to the presence of real concepts. I got an e-mail from an eight-year-old about Finding Nemo, explaining that characters could not emerge from a whale’s blowhole if they were in its mouth, because there is no link between the trachea and the oesophagus.
There are over 100 inaccuracies in Finding Nemo, but Summers says only one is a genuine error. (He doesn’t name it, but it might be Mr. Ray, who lists names of classes in his song about aquatic species.) Everything else, from the whale’s blowhole to ignoring clownfish’s ability to switch between male and female (although what if Marlin does become female, but just never spawns again?) is an intentional gloss or omission for storytelling purposes.
Or aesthetic ones. “The claspers — external, stick-like sexual organs on sharks — were cut off Bruce the great white shark,” says Summers, “not because of family values, but because he’s spherical, and when you add a bunch of sticks to spherical sharks, they look really stupid.” Noted.
Summers admits there’s also just a lot about the species in Pixar’s fish movies that nobody really knows.
They did ask me some questions about the biology of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) that we just don’t know the answers to. It’s the largest fish in the sea, yet I think there’s just one record of a pregnant female, which revealed that they can have more than 300 pups at a time. That’s not much to know about the reproductive biology of such an iconic fish.
This video is a quick look at how Pixar thinks about its characters and storytelling. It focuses on one item on this loose list of Pixar’s rules for storytelling:
Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
Hmm. I… Hmm. Up until Wall-E, Finding Nemo was my favorite Pixar film. And…I’m not sure about this. (via trailer town)
The teaser trailer for Pixar’s sequel to Finding Nemo is out. I’m excited for this one. Nemo was my favorite Pixar movie for a long while, until Wall-E came out. (via devour)
Charlie Jane Anders of io9 has a great preview of Pixar’s upcoming film, The Good Dinosaur, including some juicy details on how the film was made. Because the film uses many big landscape shots, which would have been impossible to render in a timely fashion using their usual processes, the filmmakers needed to come up with another solution. They ended up using real topographical data and satellite images to render the landscapes.
Enter the U.S. Geographical Survey, which posts incredible amounts of topographical data to its website-including the height above sea level of all of the land features, and lots of satellite images. So Munier and his team tried downloading a lot of the USGS data and putting it into their computer, and then using that to “render” the real-life landscape. And it worked: They were able to take a classic Ansel Adams photograph of the Grand Tetons and duplicate it pretty closely using their computer-generated landscape. And with this data, they could point a digital “camera” anywhere, in a 360-degree rotation, and get an image.
From 2003, a 25-minute documentary (plus a few extras) on how Pixar made Finding Nemo.
How far does Pixar go to get a movie made correctly? Far. For instance, everyone on the Nemo team got certified in scuba diving. (via @drwave)
John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer of Pixar, writing in The Onion: I’ve Got You Dumb Motherfuckers Eating Right Out Of My Hand.
Yes, after the success of our first few movies we had a hunch you’d continue to enjoy the wonderfully designed animation and our smart, lyrical writing, but I didn’t think we’d create a horde of drooling morons ready to drop everything just to watch a fucking rat cook dinner. Time and time again, though, there you chumps are, lined up around the block with your stupid little kids, eager to have your stupid little hearts filled with whimsy.
See also Disney’s Lasseter: Woody will find love in ‘Toy Story 4’.
Pixar: The Design of Story is an upcoming exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum here in NYC.
Through concept art from films such as Toy Story, Wall-E, Up, Brave, The Incredibles and Cars, among others, the exhibition will focus on Pixar’s process of iteration, collaboration and research, and is organized into three key design principles: story, believability and appeal. The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s immersive Process Lab — an interactive space that was launched with the transformed Cooper Hewitt in December 2014 — whose rotating exhibitions engage visitors with activities that focus on the design process, emphasizing the role of experimentation in design thinking and making.
More details are available in the press release. Definitely going to check this out and take the kids.
For the first time since 2005, Pixar didn’t release a movie last year but are doubling up this year with Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. Here’s the trailer for The Good Dinosaur, which looks like much more of a just-for-kids movie than Inside Out.
Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman served as scientific consultants during the production of Pixar’s Inside Out. Keltner studies the origins of human emotion and Ekman pioneered research of microexpressions. In this NY Times piece, they discuss the science behind the movie.
Those quibbles aside, however, the movie’s portrayal of sadness successfully dramatizes two central insights from the science of emotion.
First, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.
Second, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals.
I’ve thought about Inside Out every day since I saw it. Pixar clearly did their homework on the emotional stuff and it paid off.
Tim Grierson and Will Leitch did a pretty good job in this list of All 15 Pixar Movies, Ranked From Worst to Best.
We went back-and-forth on the top two here, but we ultimately had to go with [Wall-E], the most original and ambitious of all the Pixar movies. The first half-hour, which basically tells the story of the destruction of the planet and the devolution of the human race without a single line of dialogue, is total perfection: It’s almost Kubrickian in its attention to detail and perspective, though it never feels cold or ungenerous.
Piece-of-shit Cars 2 is rightly parked at the bottom of the heap, Wall-E is obviously #1, and they correctly acknowledged Up as overrated. I would have rated the original Toy Story lower and Ratatouille higher, but overall: well done.
For years, one of the knocks on Pixar was the lack of main characters who are women in their movies. 2012’s Brave and this summer’s Inside Out have addressed this criticism to an extent1. But Alex of every flavored bean noticed that, in contrast to the diversity of male faces, female characters in Disney/Pixar’s recent movies all have the same face.
Boys in animated movies have faces that are square, round, skinny, fat, alien-looking, handsome, and ugly. The only face that girls get to have is some round snub-nosed baby face. That’s not right.
Update: This piece has generated some interesting comments on Good, including this one from Dan Povenmire, co-creator of Phineas and Ferb.
This is idiotic and obviously written by someone who (A) can’t draw and (B) has an axe to grind. The female characters they show have very varied faces. Yes the face shapes are all softer feminine shapes, but they purposely didn’t include female characters from those same movies with less feminine faces, like Edna Mode in The Incredibles, or the Witch or the Cook in Brave, or any of the older female characters, like the fairy godmother, or… whatever. All the princes and male romantic leads in these movies have the same face shape as well but NO, she takes old men and villains and comedy relief characters to “prove” how sexist animation is. This is just stupid.
If you want literally dozens of examples of other characters omitted from the list see the other comments below.
Ok, I’m starting to feel better about Inside Out, Pixar’s upcoming animated feature that takes place mostly inside the mind of a young girl. The first trailer featured a bunch of gender stereotypes and mostly left me scratching my head, but the second trailer is solid:
2014 is the first year without a Pixar film since 2005’s gap between The Incredibles and Cars. The company has two films planned for 2015 and one of them will hopefully do something about one of my long-standing pet peeves about their movies: the lack of strong women characters. Inside Out takes place inside the brain of a teenaged girl, with her emotions as the main characters.
The film’s real protagonist is Joy (voiced by an effervescent Amy Poehler), one of five emotions who steer Riley through life via a control center in her mind that’s akin to the bridge from the Starship Enterprise. Joy and her cohorts — including Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) — all work together to keep Riley emotionally balanced, and for the first 11 years of her life, the primary influencer is Joy, as evidenced by Riley’s sunny demeanor.
But as adolescence sets in, Joy finds her lead role usurped. Suddenly, Sadness wants to pipe in at inappropriate times — coaxing Riley to cry during her first day at a new school, for instance — and as the two emotions jostle for control, both of them fall into the deepest reaches of Riley’s mind and have to work their way back. Meanwhile, left to their own devices, Fear, Disgust, and Anger collude to transform Riley into a moody preteen.
Holy cow, that sounds great.
Fast Company talked to a number of ex-Pixar employees about how they are using lessons learned at Pixar in their new endeavors.
“Delight” may be an intangible concept, but it’s a useful term to describe Pixar’s relationship with its audience, and one that any company can strive for even if they don’t make heartwarming cartoons.
It seems counterintuitive that simple pleasure would be a core principle of something as elaborate as a Pixar production, but Suzanne Slatcher says she has translated this idea directly to her new career.
“Food is a bit like cartoons,” says Slatcher. “It’s not some high-minded thing that people will make themselves like because they think they ought to. The food has to work on that very simple level of just someone is watching TV and they’re shoving it in their mouths.”
The idea that “everybody deserves quality” is a fundamental Pixar concept that Slatcher applies equally to snack foods.
“Pixar makes amazing, beautiful, hilarious, deep, wise films for kids, and adults can watch them and everybody watches them 25 times if they’ve got kids, and it’s still funny. It’s really, really great quality, where most things made for kids are made very cheaply. A lot of time and money is spent making the most accessible thing possible, and that’s such an inspiration and so not what you learn at art school,” Slatcher says. “The Good Bean could choose to be the darlings of the foodie world, using obscure, exotic spices, trying to be clever, but we’d rather make affordable, accessible food.”
Ed Catmull has written a book about Pixar’s creative process: Creativity, Inc.
Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation — into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture — but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.”
For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired — and so profitable.
Catmull was a founder of Pixar and while he never got the press Jobs and Lasseter did, he was instrumental in the company’s success and is currently president of both Disney and Pixar’s animation studios. Fast Company has an excerpt of the book.
Candor could not be more crucial to our creative process. Why? Because early on, all of our movies suck. That’s a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I’m not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so — to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.”
Think about how easy it would be for a movie about talking toys to feel derivative, sappy, or overtly merchandise driven. Think about how off-putting a movie about rats preparing food could be, or how risky it must’ve seemed to start WALL-E with 39 dialogue-free minutes. We dare to attempt these stories, but we don’t get them right on the first pass. This is as it should be. Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process — reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its through line or a hollow character finds its soul.
My mind is so tiny these days it doesn’t take much to blow it, so grain of salt and all that. But, this theory that Andy’s mom in Toy Story is Jessie’s original owner is popping my fuse right now.
Several months ago, one of my anonymous Pixar Theory Interns (that’s a thing on a resume) came to me with a crazy proposition: Andy’s mom is Emily, Jessie’s previous owner.
I laughed. I then agreed.
Previously: a grand unified theory of Pixar.
I love this theory from Jon Negroni that all of the Pixar movies take place in the same universe and are all connected.
Centuries later, the animals from Brave that have been experimented on by the witch have interbred, creating a large-scale population of animals slowly gaining personification and intelligence on their own.
There are two progressions: the progression of the animals and the progression of artificial intelligence. The events of the following movies set up a power struggle between humans, animals, and machines.
The stage for all-out war in regards to animals is set by Ratatouille, Finding Nemo, and Up, in that order. Notice I left out A Bug’s Life, but I’ll explain why later.
For the reading-averse, there’s a condensed timeline version. (via slate)
Update: And for the very reading-averse, here’s a video explanation:
If you’ve watched a movie in the past 20 years, chances are you’ve seen the animation featuring the Pixar logo and Luxo Jr., the company’s mascot. Luxo hops in, squashes the I, and takes its place; here’s what it looks like:
According to the Pixar wiki, there have been several variations of the logo, including the one where Wall-E comes out to fix Luxo Jr’s busted lightbulb:
Others include 20th and 25th anniversary versions, a 3D version that premiered with UP, and versions from Cars 2 and Finding Nemo that incorporate story elements into the logo.
This particular logo debuted with Toy Story in 1995. For the short films Pixar produced before that, they used variations on the not-very-exciting theme of circular indent in beveled square, a shape borrowed from the look of their Image Computer:
Many of the logo animation variations, including the pre-Luxo Jr. versions, can be seen in this video:
From 20101, a talk by Pixar’s Ed Catmull on how Pixar does what it does.
Part of the behavior is I don’t know the answers. And at first that seems a little bit glib. But after awhile people get that I really don’t know the answer to a lot of these things. So we set it up so that the management really doesn’t tell people what to do. We discuss, we debate, [but] people start to refer to ‘the management’, and I say come on guys, there’s three of us, we’re all in this together, and then we’re very open and honest about the problems.
Lasseter and Jobs get all the press, but Catmull deserves more credit than he gets for Pixar’s success. (via df)
 I don’t know why I put it like this. If something is good or interesting, who the hell cares when it’s from? [Shouldn’t you just delete it then? -ed] ↩
Jonason Pauley and Jesse Perrotta reshot all 80 minutes of Toy Story in live action — with a Woody doll, a Mr. Potatohead, human actors, and the like.
The pair say that folks at Pixar gave them their approval (sorta kinda) to post it online.
CHARLIE: Have you spoken to Pixar and what have they said? Followup question: Are there unmarked black sedans with dudes in suits outside your house right now?
JESSE: We just got back from visiting Pixar a few days ago. We weren’t invited inside, but we were allowed to pass out DVD’s of our movie to Pixar employees. We have spoken to one of the lead guys at Pixar on Twitter a little bit, and his attitude was positive towards the whole thing. We never got an official word on if it was okay to put it on Youtube though. And about the sedans… haven’t seen them yet, haha!
JONASON: Jesse pretty much covered it. Some of the Pixar employees that we talked to asked if it was online, so I took that as “it should be online” We put it off for a long time because we wanted to make sure it would be alright.
Pixar is showing this short in front of Finding Nemo 3D in the theaters. It’s funny, a little disturbing, and perfect for the kids.
The embed is relatively low quality — way to make your awesome short film look like shit, Disney/Pixar! — so you should head over to their site to see it in crisp HD. (via ★pieratt)
Andrew Stanton is working on a sequel to Finding Nemo. Holy cussing cuss!
I’ve been hearing for months that he would come aboard to direct the sequel to Disney-based Pixar’s Finding Nemo, with the idea that Disney would give him another shot behind the camera on a live-action film. I’m told he’s now officially come aboard the Finding Nemo sequel and has a concept the studio loves.
The prequel to Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. is coming out next summer…here’s a little teaser for it.
Over a month and a half, Pixar story artist Emma Coats tweeted out a series of lessons she learned on the job about how to create appealing stories. Here are a couple of my favorites:
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th - get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Taken from the Studio Stories series included on the Blu-ray versions of Toy Story 1 & 2, here’s a short story about how Toy Story 2 was almost erased before the film could be rendered for theaters.
Woody’s hat disappeared. And then his boots disappeared. And then as we kept checking, he disappeared entirely. Woody’s gone.
Update: Over at Quora, Oren Jacob (the guy in the video) explains in more detail what happened.
First, it wasn’t multiple terabytes of information. Neither all the rendered frames, nor all the data necessary to render those frames in animation, model, shaders, set, and lighting data files was that size back then.
A week prior to driving across the bridge in a last ditch attempt to recover the show (depicted pretty accurately in the video above) we had restored the film from backups within 48 hours of the /bin/rm -r -f *, run some validation tests, rendered frames, somehow got good pictures back and no errors, and invited the crew back to start working. It took another several days of the entire crew working on that initial restoral to really understand that the restoral was, in fact, incomplete and corrupt. Ack. At that point, we sent everyone home again and had the come-to-Jesus meeting where we all collectively realized that our backup software wasn’t dishing up errors properly (a full disk situation was masking them, if my memory serves), our validation software also wasn’t dishing up errors properly (that was written very hastily, and without a clean state to start from, was missing several important error conditions), and several other factors were compounding our lack of concrete, verifiable information.
The only prospect then was to roll back about 2 months to the last full backup that we thought might work. In that meeting, Galyn mentioned she might have a copy at her house. So we went home to get that machine, and you can watch the video for how that went…
Brent Schlender interviewed Steve Jobs many times over the past 25 years and recently rediscovered the audio tapes of those interviews. What he found was in those years between his departure from Apple in 1985 to his return in 1996, Jobs learned how to become a better businessman and arguably a better person.
The lessons are powerful: Jobs matured as a manager and a boss; learned how to make the most of partnerships; found a way to turn his native stubbornness into a productive perseverance. He became a corporate architect, coming to appreciate the scaffolding of a business just as much as the skeletons of real buildings, which always fascinated him. He mastered the art of negotiation by immersing himself in Hollywood, and learned how to successfully manage creative talent, namely the artists at Pixar. Perhaps most important, he developed an astonishing adaptability that was critical to the hit-after-hit-after-hit climb of Apple’s last decade. All this, during a time many remember as his most disappointing.
The discussion of the lessons he took from Pixar and put into Apple was especially interesting.
And just as he had at Pixar, he aligned the company behind those projects. In a way that had never been done before at a technology company—but that looked a lot like an animation studio bent on delivering one great movie a year—Jobs created the organizational strength to deliver one hit after another, each an extension of Apple’s position as the consumer’s digital hub, each as strong as its predecessor. If there’s anything that parallels Apple’s decade-long string of hits—iMac, PowerBook, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, to list just the blockbusters—it’s Pixar’s string of winners, including Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E, and Up. These insanely great products could have come only from insanely great companies, and that’s what Jobs had learned to build.
In a recent appearance on Charlie Rose, John Lasseter revealed the rough premise of an upcoming-but-untitled Pixar film:
Pete Docter, from Monsters, Inc. and Up, is doing a new film that takes place inside of a girl’s mind and it is about her emotions as characters, and that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
With Brave and now this, it looks like Pixar is finally taking their lack of female lead characters seriously.
You can’t believe how excited my four-year-old was at the arrival of this book last night. He read it this morning as he ate his breakfast, quiet as a stone, save for the occasional “daddy, look at this!” outburst.