Sunday, October 4, 2015

Thoughts on Pete Docter's Talk at Westminster Town Hall Forum

Westminster Presbyterian Church was a beautiful setting for the talk

As I wrote earlier, Pete Docter came to the Twin Cities earlier this week to give a talk at the Westminster Town Hall Forum. You can find Pete's talk on Minnesota Public Radio. so I'm not going to give a full write-up of the talk, instead I wanted to just write about a few of the highlights for me from the evening.

In true Pixar form, the night started with a short film. Pete showed Winter, one of his student films while he was at CalArts. It can also be found on the Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2.

After the short, Pete got into the main part of his presentation. While speaking, he showed clips of Pixar films to help get his points and ideas across. He talked about how Pixar was originally a computer hardware manufacturer, and that the first time he met CEO Steve Jobs was when Steve came to lay off half the staff. He then began talking about Pixar's feature films and directing his first film, Monsters, Inc. While he thought the original premise (monsters scare because it's their jobs) was great, it just wasn't working. He said it wasn't until after he and his wife had their daughter Elie and he began to struggle with spending time both at home and work that he realized Sulley's conflict between loving his job and Boo should be the key premise of the film.

He then talked about Up and how it began as a floating city with 2 princes. Again, the film went through major changes as he realized what he liked about the story was the idea of escaping the real world.

After a description of film development process at Pixar he went into a great discussion on the development of Inside Out. He discussed how they came up with the 5 emotions, their voice actors, and each emotion's trigger (Fear - uncertainty, Anger - injustice, Disgust - purity, Sadness - loss, Joy - benefit, gain). He said that over 177,000 storyboards were created for the film. (I think Monsters University still holds the record for largest number of storyboards with 227,000). He went into how story reels are created and how much time the process takes - for an average film with 27 sequences, each sequence takes 3-5 sessions, each of which take 3-4 hours.  They will do this 7 or 8 times throughout the development of the film. He also said making mistakes is an essential part of the process, as they know they'll get things wrong. He said they know if they don't schedule the time to be wrong they'll quit trying new things.

This and the next picture taken by
Pete's high school music teacher!
A few other interesting comments Pete made, most of which came during the Q&A portion of the event:
  • When asked which Pixar character was most "Pete Docter-esque", he said Kevin from Up. He then proceeded to do the voice of Kevin (he also did the voice for the film).
  • Some of his favorite movies include Wizard of Oz, Dumbo and Paper Moon.
  • His favorite cartoon character was Bugs Bunny.
  • He mentioned a couple of teachers in particular that were influential to him, his 4th grade and 12th grade writing teachers. Both were in the audience and received large applause.
  • Speaking of applause, if you listen to his talk on MPR, let me say that the applause Pete received, both at the beginning and end of his talk, went on much longer than what's recorded!
He ended the formal part of his presentation answering the question why he makes films. Pete said movies are an art form, and all art is about storytelling. He stated " is as essential to our existence as breathing and eating." By telling stories about our life experiences, it can bring us closer to each other.

These are awesome and powerful words. I think our world needs these words, and I'm so glad Pete Docter and the folks at Pixar make the films they do.

During Pete's talk he spoke of the importance of collaboration, and the sense of community in Minnesota, which I think was very present during the event. Afterwards as people waited in line to meet Pete, there was an energy as people mingled and talked. There was a wide range of people, from parents with children, high school and college students, and older adults. I spoke with a few students who were animators or wanted to become filmmakers and work at Pixar, and spent quite a bit of time talking to 2 of his music teachers from when Pete was in elementary and high school (the pictures of Pete and myself were taken by his high school music teacher). In a way, those of us at the talk were doing what Pete does when he makes films - telling stories and getting closer to each other.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Pete Docter Talking Animation at Westminster Town Hall

Exciting news for anyone living close to Minneapolis! Pete Docter, long time Pixar animator and director of this summer's tear-inducing mega-hit Inside Out, is coming back to his hometown to give a talk titled Inside the Creative Community: The Power and Process of Animated Film. I don't have any further information on what Pete will talk about, but I'm hoping we'll get some great information on how Pixar creates films and the studio's creative and collaborative culture. At the same time, given the title and forum, I hope it includes the positive impact animated films can make on society.

Courtesy of Westminster Town Hall Forum
Pete will be speaking at the Westminster Town Hall Forum on Monday, September 28th. The forum is free and will take place at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, a beautiful venue in downtown Minneapolis. According to its website, the mission of the Westminster Town Hall Forum is to engage the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day from an ethical perspective. Previous speakers have included a variety of well known and influential celebrities, politicians and educators, including Al Gore, Desmond Tutu, Andrew Zimmern, Salman Rushdie and Tom Brokaw.

The doors open at 6pm and the event will start at 7pm. It should last about an hour, consisting of Docter's talk and a Q&A session where audience members can submit written questions. It will be followed by a public reception. From other talks I have attended at Westminster, the presenter has participated in the reception, meeting guests and signing books, but there's been no confirmation that Pete will be able to stay for the reception. If I get official confirmation, I'll update this post. For directions to the church, see the Westminster website.

I will try to tweet some pictures and updates during the event. If you can't make it, I think it will be recorded and posted on the Westminster archive page. They also usually broadcast the events on Minnesota Public Radio's MPR News Presents show.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Traveling Route 66 through Springfield, Missouri

Last week my family and I spent a few days in Springfield, MO while my daughter played in a fastpitch softball tournament. When I found out her tournament was being held in Springfield I was happy as I knew Route 66, which was a major locale and inspiration for Pixar's 2006 film Cars, ran through the city. Cars is one of my favorite Pixar films - a story with simple yet important concepts like friendship and slowing down and enjoying the journey, not just the destination. Something about the charm, the music and beautiful sets in the film made me nostalgic for a simpler time when families traveled together and spent time together without all their electronic devices to pass the time. So imagine my surprise and excitement when I discovered the hotel we were staying at was only a block away from this historic highway! In between going to softball games, I tried to spend as much time as I could driving the road through the city and taking pictures.

An early route of U.S. Highway 66 took travelers into
Springfield on this road to Division Street
This small, original segment of Route 66 was just a block from our hotel on the SE corner of
Kearney and Glenstone. I can neither confirm nor deny I made my family drive on it multiple times!
One of the B&N workers rebuilt this pickup into an awesome replica of Mater!
Also at B&N is this original Model T that they found had been in a garage for years!
Their only customization was the eyes.

I enjoyed Cars so much it inspired me to take my own journey on the Mother Road. My first trip was just a couple months after the Cars release. My son Sam and I drove my Mini Cooper Convertible on Route 66 from Lincoln, IL to Catoosa, OK and we had a blast! We had no reservations and no plans - we took our time and stopped whenever we saw something that interested us. Since that first trip I've driven other portions of the route in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and one day I hope to drive the entire route.

Signs mark the path of Route 66 through the city
You can still find plenty of businesses proudly displaying the U.S. Highway 66 logo
along the route through the city

Route 66 was officially decommissioned as an U.S. Highway in 1985, and while many attractions and whole segments of the Mother Road have disappeared, one can still drive large portions of the road as it goes from Chicago to Los Angeles. Springfield is one of those cities that has done much to maintain the history and importance of the route. Springfield holds the distinction of being the city where the declaration was signed naming the route U.S. Highway 66 in 1926. Besides providing road signs so one can easily follow the different routes of the Mother Road through the city, there is also a Route 66 visitor center, a roadside park and the annual Birthplace of Route 66 Festival that includes live music, car show and parade, exhibits, plus many artists and authors.

The Best Western Rail Haven hotel, on the corner of Glenstone and East St. Louis Street,
was built in 1938 and once hosted Elvis Presley when he did a show in Springfield
I found these 2 vintage cars at the Best Western Rail Haven
These classic gas pumps are outside the Rail Haven lobby
The Route 66 Roadside Park features a replica of Red's Giant Hamburg restaurant sign,
seen in the background of this photo. Red's featured the first drive-thru window!
Directly across from the Roadside Park are these tile mosaics

Speaking of nostalgia, I definitely felt a bit more nostalgic on this trip. It was exactly 9 years ago this month that my son and I took that first trip from Illinois through Springfield and on to Kansas and Oklahoma. Now, my son is 18 and attending college, so he didn't make this trip with us. Just as time has caused plenty of changes along the Mother Road, time reminds us to enjoy what we have today because tomorrow will be different.

This classic Steak & Shake opened in 1962 along Route 66 (now East St. Louis Street) is on the
National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the few remaining Steak & Shake's with the original design
and sports the slogan TAKHOMASAK (Take home a sack).
A little further west on East St. Louis Street is the Springfield Visitor Center
The visitor center is full of Route 66 memorabilia
Also along the city route of U.S. Highway 66 is Park Central Square
This plaque in Park Central Square commemorates the naming of U.S. Highway 66 in Springfield in 1926

There is so much great stone architecture along Route 66 in Springfield. I love the Rex Smith gas station
on West Bypass, which was the Route 66 bypass route through the city.
The Rest Haven Court also sports some great stone cottages...
... as does the Rancho Court

There is so much to see along the Mother Road

After leaving Springfield, we headed to Sanibel Island on the gulf coast of Florida, where we'll be for almost 2 weeks. I will be posting pictures from that portion of the trip on my other Twitter and Instagram account if you're interested.

This year's Birthplace of Route 66 Festival starts next week on August 14! If anyone is able to attend the festival, I'd love to hear about it or see pictures! Leave a comment below or send me email!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pixar News Articles for May 17, 2015

I know I've said it before, but this is such an exciting year for Pixar fans! Yes, the excitement always builds as we approach a new theatrical release. But this year we have not one but two releases, and both are looking to be amazing. Plus, not only are we looking to the future with these new films, but we can look back to the studio's first feature length film, as this year marks the 20th anniversary of Toy Story. Here are a couple news stories surrounding Toy Story. The first is a story that KTLA aired, going into how dependent Pixar was on the success of their first film. I love hearing from some of the long-time employees like Bill Reeves and Tom Porter, and hopefully with more attention being paid to Toy Story we'll be seeing and hearing from more of these artists who really created the computer animation industry.

Twitter user e_pixar retweeted a Variety article which recapped a recent speech John Lasseter gave at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He began by talking about technology and the part technology plays in film grammar. Then he went on to talk about the importance of learning the fundamentals and continuous learning, the importance of showing your work often, and surrounding yourself with people you trust, who will give you honest and candid feedback. I love these themes of learning and trusted mentors, and how they permeate the Pixar culture. I mentioned this in a post earlier this year where I highlighted some of my favorite Pixar interviews from 2014, and how often these topics came up in those interviews. I strongly recommend listening to the speech; if you want to hear it, head over to the Pixar Post and grab episode 38 of their podcast where they have a recording of it.

As I started writing this article, I noticed I had started another article a few weeks ago that I never finished. That post contained links regarding Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli's new book Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart Into a Visionary Leader. The first link was to a great BusinessWeek cover story written back on November 23, 1998, just days before A Bug's Life was released. Titled Steve Jobs, Movie Mogul, the in-depth article covered the beginnings of Pixar back at the New York Institute of Technology, through Job's purchase of the company from Lucasfilm, their film agreements with Disney and even hinted at a future where Disney might buy out Pixar. One quote I enjoyed was from Ed Catmull, who stated "We're not jumping on the bandwagon, we're making it." In addition to the cover story, the BusinessWeek site has links to other related information such as how the company brings a character like Flik to life and some estimates of how much profit Pixar could make from A Bug's Life. I will have to dig deeper into that last one and see how it compares to reality.

Another article related to Becoming Steve Jobs came from Business Insider and talks about how Jobs split his time between Pixar and Apple, and how he was more hands off, and therefore more relaxed, when he was at Pixar. The article states that Apple employees would try to meet with Jobs on Fridays when he was at Pixar as he was less likely to get upset.

A fun factoid, I found these last 2 articles through tweets from long-time Pixar employee AJ Riebli. If you read the BusinessWeek story, you'll recognize that it was Riebli who won the 1998 Halloween contest mentioned in the first paragraph of the article!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Inside Out Emotion Garden at Epcot

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Inside Out marketing is in full force. Besides the great pre-production artwork at Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, Epcot is getting in on the upcoming film during the Flower and Garden Festival with its Inside Out Emotion Garden. The garden has displays of plants matching each emotion, and can be found near the Imagination Pavilion in Future World.

If you have the chance, make sure to stop by and see the garden. Don't forget, Inside Out will hit theaters June 19, 2015!