Sunday, December 31, 2017

My Favorite Pixar Interviews and Podcasts, 2017 Edition

It's that time of year again! I listen to a lot of podcasts. I have my regular half-dozen or so but I always discover a few new ones during the year. At the end of the year I like to go back and highlight a few. Saying that these are my "favorites" is a bit of a misnomer; I'm not ranking them. It's just a sampling of some that stood out and caught my attention. As you'll notice, most aren't Pixar or even animation-focused. I think that's great, as it demonstrates the great number of sources for finding Pixar-related interviews and content.
  • The Pixar Post - OK, this is not a new one, LOL. If you're a Pixar fan then I'm sure you're already listening to TJ and Julie's podcasts and reading all the Pixar news on their site. There's no better site for your Pixar news fix. A number of their podcasts this year were interviews they did with Pixar artists during the Cars 3 and Coco press events. The one I linked to above was one of my Cars 3 favorites with directing animator Jude Brownbill, characters supervisor Michael Comet and production designer Jay Shuster discussing the challenges of creating and designing the characters of the film.

  • Market Foolery interviews Steve May - This one also isn't new, but I love when one of my regular, "non-Pixar" podcasts talks Pixar. Market Foolery is a daily podcast from the Motley Fool that covers business and investment news. It's rare to have an interview (interviews are usually done in their weekly Motley Fool Money podcast) but this was a special episode recorded live at SXSW, where host Chris Hill interviewed Pixar CTO Steve May. They covered Steve's early career at Pixar (he started during production of A Bug's Life), plus talked about how technology has changed over the past 2 decades, and how virtual reality is playing a role in film-making, whether for marketing, as a development tool or as a storytelling mechanism. For a bonus episode, Motley Fool Money reran an interview Chris did with Disney Animation and Pixar president Ed Catmull shortly after his book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, was published. I've raved about this book in previous posts, and I really enjoyed listening to Catmull discuss some of the reasons he wrote the book, plus other topics like his animation "origin" story and road to Pixar.

  • Stories Unbound interviews Mike Sundy - Sundy, whose credits includes Toy Story 3 and Inside Out, is now a children's book author. His books include the Pancho Bandito series and Part of My Heart. In this episode, host Shawna J.C. Tenney and Mike compare indie/self publishing versus traditional publishing. If you've ever thought about becoming a self published writer, you definitely should listen to it. You should also check out Mike's blog, where he's written about some of the lessons he learned while at Pixar, plus his inspiration for Part of My Heart and the process he used for publishing the book.

  •  The Bancroft Brothers interview the del Carmen brothers - I hope you're familiar with the Bancroft brothers. Tom and Tony are veterans of the animation industry, both having worked many years at Disney Animation. Tom did character animation on films such as The Lion King and Aladdin, and Tony was co-director of Mulan. Their podcast made my list last year when they interviewed Andrew Stanton. This year they're here with with one of the most fun and inspiring episodes I listened to, as they interviewed the del Carmen brothers live at the CTN Animation Expo. I'm sure you're familiar with long time Pixar story artist and director Ronnie del Carmen, the oldest brother. But his 2 brothers are also well-known story artists: Louie has worked at Dreamworks, Sony Pictures Animation and Disney Animation, while youngest brother Rick has worked on a number of television shows including Family Guy. Their interview goes into what it was like growing up in a small town in the Philippines and how they made the move to the United States.

  • The Animated Journey interviews Pixar story artist Louise Smythe - This is an in-depth interview that actually spans 2 episodes. Host Angela Entzminger and Louise Smythe go all the way back to Louise's childhood, her college life and how she got to Pixar. They also get into a great discussion on their favorite movies when they were growing up. I really enjoy interviews like this; I wasn't familiar with Louise until I heard it, which caused me to go look for some of her art in The Art of The Good Dinosaur and her website, but I'd love to see more!

  • Bullseye interview with Lee Unkrich - Of course there would have to be some Coco-related interviews this year, and one of the best was Jesse Thorn's interview with director Lee Unkrich. It starts with the quote from Jesse, “Congratulations on making another children’s movie about death” which leads into a discussion about love and death, the importance of family in Coco and how he got interested in Dia de los Muertos. I’ll admit I knew very little about Dia de los Muertos, but after listening to this interview and seeing the film, it has really opened up my eyes to the beauty and importance of the traditions of this holiday, and it’s made me want to incorporate some of them with my own family. On a side note, I’d like to give a shout out to the Pixar sound effects artists. It’s easy for me to get caught up in the beauty of all the visuals but it was a lot of fun listening to the clips Jesse played during the interview - you could really hear the details that go into the sound design. Some of the early Pixar DVDs had a sound effects track, with no dialogue or music, and I loved watching the film with only those sounds.

  • Squared Co review of Coco - I just discovered Squared Co a few months ago. The podcast is hosted by Mark Morris and Jerrod Maruyama, one of my favorite artists - if you not familiar with his website you should definitely check it out. In this episode, they review Coco along with Dan the Pixar Fan and Gavin Otteson. Many of you are familiar with Dan's daily posts of his amazing collection of Pixar memorabilia. And Gavin is also an artist and has his own animation podcast. I haven't had time yet to listen to it but I have it queued up. Maybe it'll be on my list next year!

  • Nickelodeon Animation interviews Pete Docter - This was also a new podcast for me, and I really enjoyed it. Hector Navarro interviewed Docter and they talked about Pete's early days at Pixar - getting hired and his first projects with the studio, which were television commercials.  They discussed the importance of constraints, how it impacted the development of their early films, and how the collaborative nature of Pixar can be traced back to the making of Toy Story. One of my favorite quotes from the interview is when Pete recommends not playing Pictionary against any of the Pixar story artists!

  • Crew Call interviews Michael Giacchino - This last one barely made the cut as I only listened to it a couple weeks ago, but it's a great one! I love film soundtracks. Listening to a great score, like Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or just about any Pixar film, takes me back into the film and lets me relive all of those emotions again. Michael Giacchino has composed many of those soundtracks - you can often find me listening to one of his scores while I'm working. I'm even watching Lost primarily just to hear his score. In this interview with Anthony D'Alessandro, they spend a lot of time talking about his music writing process and how he came up with the score and main themes for Coco. Michael also talked about his excitement of getting to work with director Lee Unkrich. After listening to this interview, it really intensified my desire for a complete soundtrack release for Coco!
That's the list for this year! I'd love to know if you've found any great podcasts over the past year. Happy listening and have a great new year!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

This Day in Pixar History: Ed Catmull and the (First?) Computer Animated Film

45 years ago, in 1972, Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull and Fred Parke created what may be the very first digital 3D film. They made this film while pursuing upper graduate degrees at the University of Utah. The film is short, and is an animation of Ed's left hand. I really enjoy how, at one point, the camera flies inside the model of the hand and into one of the fingers. Part of this animation was even used in the 1976 film Futureworld.

I think the best way to watch this film is via Robby Ingebretsen's website. Robby is the son of Robert Ingebretsen, who assisted with the creation of the film, and Robby gives a great description of the film, plus some details of meeting Ed Catmull at Pixar and getting a tour of the studio. The comments to Robby's post are also fascinating, and include many from individuals (or their family members) involved in the early computer graphics field. I love the details like how the film was created on two PDP-10 computers (My computer graphics course at the University of Minnesota was on a PDP-11). It's such a great look back at the start of computer animation.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

This Day In Pixar History: Brave Theatrical Release

Five years ago today, on June 22, 2012, Pixar's 13th film, Brave, had its theatrical release. It opened in first place with over $66 million and went on to make over $540 million worldwide. Brave won a number of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film, the BAFTA for Best Animated Film and the Golden Globe award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Brave was released with the excellent short film La Luna by Enrico Casarosa, with a beautiful score by Michael Giacchino.

Brave was a great, fresh take on the fairy tale story with strong female characters and a new interpretation of a princess character. It's really the relationship between Merida and Elinor that moves the story forward and sets it apart.

The archery scene where Merida declares she will shoot for her own hand, and splits Dingwall's arrow with her own, still gives me goosebumps. The film then jumps to the fight inside the castle between Merida and her mother; the animation is beautiful and full of such emotion. I also just love the music; I still often listen to the soundtrack (composed by Patrick Doyle), and think Touch the Sky is an awesome song.

I remember being stunned by the complexity of the film - the number of sets; all the atmospheric conditions -  rain, water, mist and fog; the different light conditions - full sunlight, candles and torches, moonlight,  and dark shadowed forests. And how can we forget Merida's wild and crazy hair?! It was a huge leap forward in simulations, photorealistic sets and environments.

Here are some fun facts:
  • The inspiration for the story came from director Brenda Chapman's relationship with her daughter.
  • Sadly, there isn't a director's commentary to the film, but fortunately there is a LARGE number of interesting and entertaining bonus features including ones on the music, the design language of the relationship between Merida and her mother, alternate and deleted scenes, computer-generated bloopers and an in-depth look at director Mark Andrews. The promos for the film were also hilarious!
  • To blow off steam (and to help rejuvenate the creative juices) during the production of the film, the crew would partake in Scottish activities such as eating haggis, wearing kilts and Nerf wars (not sure if that last one really qualifies as purely Scottish!)
  • Two of the songs in the film, Touch the Sky and Into the Open Air, were created by Alex Mandel, who was a Pixar manager. Director Mark Andrews helped come up with the lyrics with Alex on Touch the Sky.
  •  111,394 storyboards were created for the film, compared to 80,000 for Cars 2 and 92,854 for Toy Story 3.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Science Behind Pixar at the Science Museum of Minnesota

The museum is on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Paul

My wife and I went to The Science Behind Pixar last week on its opening night at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul, and I wanted to share some thoughts and photos from this amazing exhibition.

Inside the lobby

I want to start with the Science Museum as it has some significance to my wife Lynn and myself. Our first date was at the museum in January of 1982, where we saw Genesis on the domed Omnitheater during a blizzard. We've been to the museum many times since then, at first just the 2 of us, and then with our 3 children. For many years we had family annual passes, and the museum always had creative and interesting exhibits and films. But as the kids got older and became more involved in school activities and sports, we started going less and less. So I was super excited that, 35 years after our first trip there, Lynn and I would be going there to see this exhibition.

And we weren't disappointed! As its name suggests, The Science Behind Pixar is an incredible exhibit that demonstrates the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) concepts involved in creating Pixar films. It shows off these concepts in a multitude of ways making it easy for everyone to participate and learn.

The Science Behind Pixar is a 13,000 square foot exhibit that was created by the Museum of Science, Boston in collaboration with Pixar. It opened on June 28, 2015, and began a 10 year traveling tour in early 2016. It's been to The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA and the California Science Center in Los Angeles. It will next be at the Telus World of Science in Edmonton, Alberta and The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

The exhibit starts with a short introductory video, very similar to the Pixar in a Box introductory video and hosted by a couple of characters from Pixar films. Once the film ends you enter the main exhibition area. And the area is huge! My first thoughts when I walked in were how expansive and elaborate it was.

The exhibit is broken up into areas representing the steps of filmmaking, such as rigging, sets & cameras, simulation and lighting. Each of these areas has a number of stations to help you learn more about the concept.

What makes the exhibit so great is the variety of activities, with many that are hands on. For instance, in the rigging area there is a station to adjust Jessie's eyelids and eyebrows to match her expression to different ones from the Toy Story films.

Or you can explore and apply different arm rigs to Woody, Eve and Elastigirl.

I really enjoyed the Working at Pixar stations. These are videos of employees describing what they did at Pixar, maybe how they became interested in computer graphics and animation, and included great nuggets of information on making our favorite films: how they used lighting to make WALL•E stand out amongst the dust and trash, or why they had to move the location of the Eiffel Tower in Ratatouille.

Interspersed among all of this are life sized statutes of characters and plenty of wonderful artwork, maquettes and sculpts.

The Science Behind Pixar is an engaging, informative and fun exhibit. I had walked through most of the areas and tried a number of activities, and was shocked that we had already been there for more than 2 hours! I'll definitely need to go back and check out the areas I missed.

I strongly recommend trying to see this exhibition! It will be at the Science Museum of Minnesota until September 4th.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Cars 3 Sneak Peek at Hollywood Studios

Cruz Ramirez topiary at Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival

I just returned from a trip to Disney World. We had a great time and saw some wonderful Pixar exhibits and shows, such as topiaries that were part of Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival, and the brand new The Music of Pixar Live! at Hollywood Studios.

There was also a Cars 3 preview at Hollywood Studios. Inside the Walt Disney: One Man's Dream exhibit, they were displaying artwork, storyboards and maquettes from the film. 

They also had a 10-15 minute sneak peak of the film, which included a large portion of the Thunder Hollow scene. You've probably seen portions of this in the trailers for the film, with the crazy explosions, a lot of mud and a crazed looking school bus! The extended cut shown in the preview maintains that high energy, and it's a gorgeous scene that must've been a technical nightmare to pull off.

If you're going to Disney World this summer you'll really want to get over to Hollywood Studios and check out this exhibit and sneak peek. I'm hoping that as we approach fall, they'll have a similar exhibit for Pixar's next film, Coco!

Cars 3 will be in theaters in exactly 2 weeks from today, on June 16th!

Jackson Storm poster at Hollywood Studios

Monday, May 29, 2017

Pixar Topiaries at the Epcot 2017 Flower and Garden Festival

The annual Flower and Garden Festival is one of my favorite events at Epcot. Epcot is my favorite park at Disney World and is bright and colorful all year long, but come every spring it takes a giant leap up with the festival.

Start with the beautiful and elaborate topiaries, add over 70,000 flower beds and 220 floating pots, include the Garden Rocks concerts and the Outdoor Kitchens, and it's really giving the Food & Wine Festival a run for its money as the holder of my favorite event!

Pixar characters have been a part of the festival for many years. In the past, there's been Mike and Sulley topiaries from Monsters University, and there was the Inside Out Emotion Garden in 2015.

This year was no exception. As has been the case for the past few years, Woody from Toy Story could be found in the American Adventure pavilion in World Showcase.

His friend Buzz Lightyear was in his usual location right outside of the Mission: Space attraction in Future World.

In addition, Lightning McQueen from Cars returned to his same location on the walkway between the Mouse Gear store and Test Track.

In previous years, Tow Mater joined Lightning, but this year Mater was replaced with Cruz Ramirez from Cars 3!

The area where Lightning and Cruz were positioned was themed as the Road to the Florida 500, which highlighted plants and flowers that thrive in warm weather climates and is home for an outdoor playground. Epcot is always educating, and it was fun to read about how plants like the Spanish Bayonet, Silver Buttonwood and Sea Oats survive in hot weather.

Sadly, the Flower and Garden Festival ends today, Monday, May 29, but will return next year!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Pixar News Articles for May, 2017

It's been a long time since I've written a "Pixar News Article" post, but with the Cars 3 marketing machine fully ramped up, there have been a number of excellent behind-the-scenes articles and interviews.

Jay Ward, the Cars creative director and franchise guardian, shared this article regarding how Pixar brings Cars to life, with a focus on authenticity. And this Sahm Reviews article discusses story aspects and some of the challenges that Cars 3 presented with Bob Peterson, Scott Morse, Kiel Murray and Mike Rich.

The Pixar Post released a new podcast episode with the first in their series of interviews they had during the Cars 3 blogger press day a few weeks ago. This interview was with Production Designer Jay Shuster, Character Supervisor Michael Comet and Directing Animator Jude Brownbill, and covered the design, rigging and animation of the multitude of characters in the film.

There was some non-Cars 3 news too. In this Digital Arts article, Pixar's Matthew Luhn talks about the impact storytelling can have on people. Luhn also shares his opinions on how virtual reality is changing and how storytelling can work within that medium.

The next few months should be exciting, with more articles and interviews on Cars 3, and then we should immediately start seeing a lot more Coco news!