Friday, December 18, 2015

Pixar News Articles for December 18, 2015



It's been a while since I did a news post but between the releases of Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur, the 20th anniversary of Toy Story and the start of the 2015 award season (which both Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur have been wonderfully participating in),  there's been a lot of great interviews and articles. Below is a small sampling of these articles.

The first is an interview with Director of Photography Danielle Feinberg. I first fell in love with Danielle's work about the time I started this blog, right before the release of Brave (which she did the lighting on). In this interview, Feinberg discusses how light can be used to convey emotion and help bring Pixar's stories to life.


Next up is the Pencil Kings podcast interview artist Noah Klocek. Klocek just finished working as Art Director on The Good Dinosaur, and also recently released his first children's book Cloud Country. Klocek talks about his path to Pixar, the importance of collaboration and Cloud Country.



The touching short film Sanjay's Super Team was released alongside the theatrical release of The Good Dinosaur. The director of the short, Sanjay Patel, gave a very personal and in-depth look at the making of the short film, including his relationship with his father.


Finally, there is a good interview with Pixar president Jim Morris. I really enjoy hearing from folks on the production side of Pixar. Morris talks about his history, starting with Industrial Light & Magic and his moving up the ranks at Pixar to his current position as president. Morris also discusses production of The Good Dinosaur, other Pixar films and non-Pixar films like John Carter, which he produced.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Toy Story Theatrical Release, Pixar's IPO and the Brilliance of Steve Jobs



In honor of the 20th anniversary of the theatrical release of Toy Story (which occurred exactly 20 years ago today), I want to do some historical looks at Pixar and its employees back around the time of Toy Story's release. This post is one I've wanted to write for quite a while.

I don't think there's any argument that Steve Jobs was a marketing genius. I think on his return to Apple in 1996, he had a well thought out strategy for the company and its products and services. To me it's clear he knew exactly where he wanted the company to be in the future and he laid it out perfectly.

But his genius went beyond marketing, which he demonstrated at Pixar. Perhaps his most brilliant and boldest move was taking the company public only a week after the release of their first feature film, Toy Story. To understand, companies usually don't try to access the public markets until they are on firm ground and have a history demonstrating that their business plan is working. Without this confidence, investors will not give the company a high valuation and likely shy away from investing.

Pixar's situation in late 1995 couldn't be farther from solid ground. This was a company that had already lost approximately $50 million. They were going to release their first ever film, never having made anything longer than commercials and some short films. In addition, they were using this new technology called computer generated animation. Everything screamed "Stay Away!"

But Jobs had reasons for his timing, much of which was explained in Ed Catmull's excellent book, Creativity, Inc. To take a step back, Jobs wanted to turn Pixar into a world-class studio. To do this would require a lot of money, more than the 10%-15% of profits they were receiving under the current Feature Film Agreement with Disney. He knew they would need a new agreement with Disney that evenly shared profits between the 2 partners. But he also knew that Disney wasn't going to just hand Pixar such generous terms - Jobs needed the financial footing necessary so that they could leave Disney and go it alone if the 2 companies couldn't come to agreement.

Jobs knew he had the best artists and computer animation engineers assembled at Pixar. He'd also seen how strong of a story John Lasseter and the creative team had constructed.  Then, in the spring of 1995, Jobs saw the power of Disney marketing with the release of Pocahontas. With that knowledge, all the pieces were in place to give him confidence that Toy Story would be a success.

He knew if Toy Story was as big of a success as he expected, Michael Eisner would immediately want to extend their agreement rather than risk Pixar going independent and becoming a formidable competitor. With the film's success he knew an IPO would also be a success, giving him the financial footing he could utilize in his negotiations with Eisner. In his mind, Jobs knew Eisner would have no choice but to agree to his terms.

The Pixar management team in 1995: Lawrence Levy, CFO; Ed Catmull, CTO; Steve Jobs, CEO;
John Lasseter, VP of Creative; Sarah McArthur, VP of Production

By the fall of 1995 the board was set and the game played out exactly as Jobs envisioned. Toy Story was the #1 film its opening weekend and for the year, going on to make almost $362 million worldwide and garnering a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. A week after its release, Pixar went public in a very successful IPO, raising almost $140 million for the company and valuing Pixar at close to $1.5 billion. Within weeks, Eisner called to renegotiate their agreement, which led to Disney and Pixar signing the Co-Production Agreement, a 10 year, 5 film agreement entitling Pixar to 50% of all theatrical and merchandise revenue.


I marvel at how Steve Jobs was able to so clearly see the future and predict how Michael Eisner would respond. This demonstrates a deep insight not only in business logic but also human behavior, something I don't think Jobs gets enough credit for. Because of his vision, he was able to put Pixar on the path of stability and accomplish his goal of creating a world-class animation studio.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Toy Story: The Art and Making of the Animated Film







Living in Minnesota, our family has a tendency to want to get away to someplace warm. That usually consists of going to either Disney World or Sanibel Island. My wife and I made our first trip to Sanibel about 20 years ago and since then we've returned a number of times. I can remember on our first trip bringing the book Disney's Art of Animation by Bob Thomas. I was mesmerized by this book and loved learning about the process of making animated films. I especially enjoyed the second part of the book that focused on Beauty and the Beast. It's how I began learning about the current generation of Disney artists like Chris Sanders, Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale, Glen Keane, Brenda Chapman, James Baxter, and Lisa Keene. That first trip started a tradition of bringing an Art of book whenever we go to Sanibel. I find it very relaxing to sit on the patio or lanai, listening to the waves and reading some sort of Art of or Making of animation book.



We just returned from Sanibel where we were celebrating my wife's birthday. On this trip I brought Toy Story: The Art and Making of the Animated Film by John Lasseter and Steve Daly. It felt right to bring this book as this month is the 20th anniversary of the release of Toy Story.


Toy Story: The Art and Making of the Animated Film is a gorgeous book and is so fun to look at, starting with the lenticular cover. If you're familiar with other Pixar Art of books, this one is somewhat different. True, it is full of pre-production artwork. There is plenty of beautiful color script and lighting art from artists like Ralph Eggleston and Tia Kratter, plus character concept and story art by Bud Luckey, Jeff Pidgeon, Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft. But the book also has gorgeous fully rendered images from the film to complement the artwork. It's cool to see the storyboards side-by-side with their rendered versions.



Also, where there is usually limited text in the Art of books, this one provides great, in-depth discussions of Pixar's film-making process. There are detailed descriptions of character development and the voice actors, with extra time spent on the main characters including Woody, Buzz, Sid, Rex, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head, Hamm and Bo Peep. In addition, there are separate sections for story, modeling, layout, sets, animation, lighting, rendering, music and sound effects. I also enjoyed that the book talks about some of the tools used, such as the animation software. There are also a number of great stories, such as Black Friday, the story session that led to the green aliens and "the claw", and the evolution of the Pizza Planet restaurant.

All in all, this is a great book and addition to the rest of the Art of collection. I highly recommend picking up a copy!



Tuesday, October 13, 2015

17th Annual Animation Show of Shows

It's not too often we get to see animated short films on the big screen. But producer and curator Ron Diamond is bringing his Animation Show of Shows cross country throughout October and November. This looks to be a great opportunity to see shorts using many different animation styles from a number of countries. Diamond has a knack for picking out great shorts; many shorts from previous shows have gone on to be nominated for the Academy Award Best Animated Short Film, with a number of them winning the award.

The list of films include:
  • Ascension - Colin Laubry, Thomas Bourdis, Martin de Coudenhove, Caroline Domergue, Florian Laubry, France
  • The Ballad of Holland Island House - Lynn Tomlinson, USA
  • Behind the Trees - Amanda Palmer & Avi Ofer, USA
  • Love in the Time of March Madness - Melissa Johnson, and Robertino Zambrano, USA
  • Messages Dans L’Air - Isabel Favez, France/Switzerland
  • Snowfall - Conor Whelan, Ireland
  • The Story of Percival Pilts - Janette Goodey & John Lewis, Australia, NZ
  • Stripy - Babak Nekooei & Behnoud Nekooei, Iran
  • Tant de Forets - Geoffrey Godet & Burcu Sankur, France
  • We Can't Live Without Cosmos - Konstantin Bronzit, Russia
  • World of Tomorrow - Don Hertzfeldt, USA
 Here is the trailer for the show:



The tour will visit approximately 2 dozen theaters during its run, with Ron Diamond attending a number of them. Additional screenings may be added so keep an eye on their website or Facebook page! If you're lucky enough to attend, I'd love to hear what you thought of the films!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Good Dinosaur Giveaway! UPDATED With Winner!

The excitement for The Good Dinosaur is really starting to build! A couple weeks ago was the bloggers press event, and last week Pixar released a new trailer for the film. We're only a little more than a month away from its theatrical release!


I was very fortunate to go to the Pixar studio last month. It had nothing to do with The Good Dinosaur press event; rather it was due to the amazing thoughtfulness of my friends Santi and Laura, and the generosity of Pixar Supervising Animator Victor Navone and his wonderful wife Candy. I had a great time, and was able to meet some Pixar legends like Ralph Eggleston and Bob Peterson.

While there, we of course had to stop at the Pixar Studio Store. At that time they didn't have much Good Dino merchandise, but they did have some cool t-shirts and I picked up a few. So with the film just a few weeks away, I thought it would be fun to give one away in a Good Dino giveaway!

This is a women's medium Arlo tee. It a soft tee with the film's protagonist on the front. The word "Pixar" is on the left sleeve, and on the back is the film's title. I just love the minimal, clean design. What a great way to show your Pixar spirit at The Good Dinosaur theatrical release!

So how do you win this Pixar Studio Store shirt? Hopefully it's not too tough, just fill out the form below and hit submit! There are a couple of rules. To enter, you must be at least 18 years of age and live in the 48 contiguous United States. If you are under 18, you can have a parent enter. Only one entry per person - multiple submissions will be ignored. No purchase necessary to enter. The giveaway starts NOW and will end Saturday, October 17, 2015 at 11:59pm Central Time. One random winner will be chosen and contacted via the email address used to enter the contest. Once the winner claims their prize, I will announce it here in this post and on Twitter. Good luck!



UPDATE (October 18, 2015)
Congratulations to Jenny Y. on winning the contest!

As part of the contest I asked, "Which upcoming Pixar film are you most excited for". Perhaps not surprising, The Good Dinosaur was the overwhelming favorite, taking in over 55%. Next was very close with The Incredibles 2 coming in at 18% and Finding Dory at 16%. Coco only received 9% of the votes, which surprised me.

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 "...art 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.