Monday, December 31, 2012

Top Pixar-Related Web Events for 2012

I thought for the end of the year it would be fun to list some of my favorite Pixar-related web events that occurred during 2012. There is so much great Pixar content out there and it can come from many places. I came up with the following list for a couple reasons; first, to give you an idea of the blog posts, interviews and web sites that really caught my eye and inspired me. And secondly, to hopefully introduce you to some alternate and different places that you can find not only Pixar, but animation, film and other related content.
  • Let's start with The PixarPost's #followrex hashtag and related posts. T.J. and Julie loved the new Pixar short Partysaurus Rex so much, they created their own Partysaurus Rex character, took him around town and tweeted about all of Rex's adventures! I had a blast seeing all the pictures of Rex and his crazy antics! They also of course brought Rex along for the Partysaurus Rex premier on September 14 with Finding Nemo 3D. Since then, Partysaurus Rex has done a lot more traveling, such as going to the World Series, partying with BT and even being sent to the Pixar Studios! T.J. and Julie were also able to interview Mark Walsh, director of Partysaurus Rex!

  • Along the Partysaurus Rex lines, William over at the A113Animation blog did an extensive interview with Partysaurus Rex director Mark Walsh. This is a great, in-depth interview covering the inspirations for the short and working with the Pixar Canada folks who did the awesome animation on the film. Make sure to follow William and A113Animation on Twitter!

  • I love the Disney parks, and love photography. So it's no surprise I love listening to the Disney Photography Podcast! In episode 25, they covered the re-opening of Disney's California Adventure this past summer which included the new Cars Land. Besides the photography tips and fun humor, Cory, Ryan and Tom's passion for the Disney Parks really comes through in their episodes. Even if you're not a photographer, listening to the podcast will point out many details that you might otherwise miss when visiting the parks.

  • Many of my favorite Pixar events had to do with the release of Brave. For instance, in episode 21 of the Animation Fascination blog, Marc and Matt interviewed Pixar animators Austin Madison and Chris Chua. Not only did they have some great Brave discussions, the podcast included their usual coverage of animation news, the latest trailers and home video releases. Get a list of all their podcast episodes and subscribe to it on iTunes!

  • On The Incomparable podcast, Jason Snell and his guests cover all sorts of media-related topics, usually tending towards the geekier side! Jason has discussed Pixar in a couple of episodes (take a look at episodes 49 and 50), and in episode 102, he and his guests give their views and thoughts on Brave.

  • If you consider yourself a Pixar fan and somehow are not familiar with or don't listen to The Pixar Podcast, well, you should stop reading right now and head over to the website and subscribe! Derrick, Greg and Johnny cover all the latest Pixar news and have done some awesome interviews, including ones with the owners of the Up house, composer and Pixarian Alex Mandel, and Michael Giacchino. Derrick was also invited to spend a couple of days at Pixar for the Brave Bloggers day and published the recordings from a number of the great sessions he sat in on. Here is the list of the episodes from that trip:
    • Episode 73 - Interview with Director Mark Andrews - "story is hard!"
    • Episode 74 - A walking tour of the studio's 2nd floor, which also provides a good overview of the steps taken to make a Pixar film.
    • Episode 76 - Simulation Supervisor Claudia Chung discusses simulating cloth and hair.
    • Episode 77 - Shading Art Director Tia Kratter and Production Designer Steve Pilcher talk about color scripts and lighting the film, what they learned from traveling to Scotland and what the details in a character's clothing can tell us about that character.
    • Episode 78 - Interview with Producer Karen Sarafian.
    • Episode 81 - Interview with Story Artist Louis Gonzales, who discusses the steps early in film development.
    • Episode 82 - Interview with Enrico Casarosa, director of the short film La Luna.

  • The Rotoscopers have only been doing their podcast since early 2012, but they've already done a number of great episodes and interviews! I particularly enjoyed their interview with Pixar technical director Chris Horne. I loved the nerdy discussion on lighting and rendering, especially how each character has its "posse of lights", and how one of the last scenes for Brave they needed was going to take a month to render but the film was due in only 2 weeks! Their podcasts, which also include reviews of animated films, are great fun and I really enjoy the interaction and humor between Morgan, Chelsea and Mason.
  • As a techie, I love getting into the technical details of film making, especially animation. That's why I loved the Chris Horne interview (above), and why I also really like fxguide. The fxguide is composed of a number of podcasts including the rc, the vfx show, fxpodcast and fxguidetv. Their podcasts and articles cover areas like digital cinema, visual effects and trade shows like SIGGRAPH. Much of their content goes way over my head but it's still fun hearing all the technical details about the films I've enjoyed so much. fxguide did a couple of great podcasts related to Pixar this year. In the June 22 episode, fxpodcast interviewed Claudia Chung on Brave simulations. Some of the information in this podcast was covered in The Pixar Podcast's episode 76 I mentioned above, but this one goes into more technical details. But as a big fan of Pixar history, if I could only pick one episode, I'd have to pick their podcast on July 6 with Dr. Alvy Ray Smith. If you're not familiar with Smith, you should be! He was at NYIT with Ed Catmull and moved with Catmull and others to Lucasfilm to create their computer division. With Catmull, he founded Pixar. This interview delves into the "early" days of Pixar and computer graphics, and covers many of the early computer graphic pioneers and inventions, a number of them created by Smith and which are still used in film making.

  • Pixar's next film will be Monsters University, to be released June 21, 2013. The marketing for the film has already begun with some great concept art and a fun teaser trailer. Disney/Pixar has also created a Monsters University website to help market the film. The site is a mock university website with everything a real university would have - information on admissions, academics, student life, classes and an actual university store where you can buy Monsters University apparel and other merchandise (I have yet to buy the 4-armed sweatshirt, maybe I'll get it for my birthday!). The site is also set up with a M.U. Net page where students, faculty and staff can log in. I'm hoping that as we get closer to the film's release Disney/Pixar expands the site and allows fans to obtain a M.U. Net user ID. Keep your eye on this site!
So that's my list! What about you? There's so many great Pixar bloggers out there, which ones caught your attention? Please leave your favorites in the comment section below, and have a great New Year!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 Animation Awards Season (UPDATED)

2012 was a great year for animation! This can be seen by the number of films that have won a Best Animated Film award from the different critics associations and award organizations. Out of the 60 or so award associations I follow, the following have announced winners for 2012:

Academy Awards: Brave
Alliance of Women Film Journalists: ParaNorman
Annie Awards: Wreck-It Ralph
Austin Film Critics Association: Wreck-It Ralph
British Academy of Film and Television Arts: Brave
Boston Society of Film Critics: Frankenweenie
Central Ohio Film Critics Assocation: ParaNorman (runner-up Wreck-It Ralph)
Chicago Film Critics Association: ParaNorman
Critics Choice Movie Awards: Wreck-It Ralph
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association: ParaNorman (runner-ups Frankenweenie and Pirates! Band of Misfits)
Florida Film Critics Circle: Frankenweenie
Golden Globes: Brave
Houston Film Critics Society: Wreck-It Ralph
International Press Academy: Rise of the Guardians
Iowa Film Critics Association: Brave
Kansas City Film Critics Circle: Frankenweenie
Las Vegas Film Critics Society: ParaNorman
Los Angeles Film Critics Association: Frankenweenie (runner-up It's Such a Beautiful Day)
National Board of Review: Wreck-It Ralph
Nevada Film Critics Society: Frankenweenie
New York Film Critics Circle: Frankenweenie 
New York Film Critics Online: Chico & Rita
North Texas Film Critics Association: Wreck-It Ralph
Oklahoma Film Critics Circle: Wreck-It Ralph
Online Film Critics Society: ParaNorman
Phoenix Film Critics Society:  Wreck-It Ralph
St. Louis Film Critics Association: Wreck-It Ralph (runner-up ParaNorman)
San Diego Film Critics Society: ParaNorman
San Francisco Film Critics Circle: ParaNorman
Southeastern Film Critics Association: ParaNorman (runner-up Frankenweenie)
Toronto Film Critics Association: ParaNorman (runner-ups Brave and Frankenweenie)
Utah Film Critics Association: ParaNorman (runner-ups Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph)
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association: ParaNorman
Women Film Critics Circle: Rise of the Guardians (Best Family Film, tied with Life of Pi)

I will keep this list updated as more awards are announced.

Here is a count of wins for each film:
Chico & Rita1
Rise of the Guardians2
Wreck-It Ralph9

There are a couple of surprises here. The first is that the New York Film Critics Online gave the award to Chico & Rita, a film I am not at all familiar with. It was nominated for Best Animated Feature this year at the Oscars, and has an 86% rating on RottenTomatoes so I am happy it is getting some award recognition from the critics. The other real surprise to me is a film missing from the above list: Brave. On one hand this saddens me as I think it's a great film and very worthy of some recognition. On the other hand, I think this goes to show how strong the animation industry has become. Look at the studios represented by these films - Laika, DreamWorks, Sony (Hotel Transylvania has been nominated for awards, and the studio co-produced The Adventures of Tintin last year), in addition to Disney and Pixar. And last year's Academy Award winner Rango came from ILM. This is a good sign for the animation industry!

I'll keep this count up-to-date as award season progresses. If you're interested in seeing what awards Brave has been nominated for and has won, check out the Pixar Wikia Brave Award page.

UPDATE (12/31/2012)
I've updated the list above with 9 more award organizations. ParaNorman continues to lead in the awards with Frankenweenie and Wreck-It Ralph close behind. Rise of the Guardians received another win, and Brave did receive runner-up recognition from the Toronto Film Critics Association, but it still has no wins. Likewise, the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association gave a runner-up nod to Pirates! Band of Misfits. I don't remember a previous year where 3 films seemed as equally likely to win the major Best Animated Film award. It will be very interesting to see which films take home the award from the major award organizations, which will heat up in January! Stay tuned!

UPDATE (1/11/2013)
4 more critic organizations announced winners - the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (ParaNorman), the Critics Choice Awards (Wreck-It Ralph), the Houston Film Critics Society (Wreck-It Ralph) and the Online Film Critics Society (ParaNorman). That makes 26 organizations having made their winner announcements.

We're also getting closer to the top-tier nominations and winners. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) announced their nominations for the year on the 9th, which included Brave, Frankenweenie and ParaNorman. It is really a shame the BAFTA treats animation as a second class entity - it is the only category that has 3 nominations (the other categories all have 5). This means great films like Wreck-It Ralph and Pirates! Band of Misfits do not get the recognition they deserve. The Academy Award nominations were announced on the 10th and included the 3 BAFTA nominations plus Wreck-It Ralph and Pirates! Band of Misfits. Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees! All of these films are deserving of the Best Animated Film award, it will be exciting to see which one takes it home!

UPDATE (1/28/2013)
The Producers Guild of America gave the Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures award to Wreck-It Ralph!

FINAL UPDATE (2/27/2013)
What a roller coaster of an awards year it was! Both ParaNorman and Frankenweenie started off strong but fell off at the end. Conversely, Brave started slowly but ended up winning the majority of the "major" awards including the Best Animated Feature awards from BAFTA, the Golden Globes and this week, the Academy Awards! Wreck-It Ralph also did great, winning a number of Annie Awards, including their Best Animated Feature Award.

For a full list of all the awards Brave was nominated for (and won), please check out its wiki page.

Monday, December 10, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Pixar Earnings Report, 3rd Quarter 1996

I'm back with another post on Pixar's quarterly results from when they were an independent public company. In my previous posts I covered the first and second quarters of 1996. This post will cover the third quarter of 1996 (July - September).

Film revenues from Toy Story more than doubled from about $5 million last quarter to over $11 million this quarter. Remember that Pixar did not receive revenue until Disney recovered all of their marketing and distribution expenses. So even though Toy Story had been in theaters for over 7 months, Pixar's revenue from the film was finally being received. And according to the 10Q report, Pixar made clear that this may be the peak of revenues for the next couple of years. The document stated the next large window of revenue would be the Toy Story home video release, which occurred in October, 1996. It would take Disney a quarter before transferring the revenue to Pixar, so Pixar wouldn't start receiving home video revenue until the first quarter of 1997. After the Toy Story home video release, the next large event would be the release of A Bug's Life which would not occur until the end of 1998, and Pixar wouldn't see revenues from that for at least a couple of quarters. Pixar clearly states in the 10Q that until then, revenues and earnings would likely decrease as compared to 1996.

Besides film revenue, Pixar had revenue of $1 million from animation services, which consisted of short animation projects and television commercials. Animation service revenue increased 157% from the same period in 1995. Even with the large increase, Pixar had announced in July, 1996 that it would discontinue most of its commercial work after existing commitments had been fulfilled to focus on feature animation. It also stated that most of the 18 employees in the television commercial division had been moved to other projects.

Software revenues of $949,000 came from RenderMan licensing and royalties from Pixar's first CD-ROM, Disney's Animated Storybook, Toy Story. Software revenue increased 34% from 1995, primarily due to CD-ROM royalties of $350,000.

Patent licensing revenue was $700,000 for the quarter. Pixar had granted Silicon Graphics (SGI) a non-exclusive license to use certain Pixar patents pertaining to creating computer-generated photorealistic images. The agreement called for SGI to pay $6 million in cash to Pixar (which was paid in the first quarter of 1996), plus giving Pixar credits of $5 million to purchase SGI hardware and software over 4 years. The $700,000 in revenue for this quarter was part of the $5 million in purchase credits.

Overall, total revenue for the quarter was $13.8 million compared to $1.1 million in the 3rd quarter of 1995, the majority being the Toy Story film revenue.

I find it amazing how high Pixar's gross profit margins were. For the quarter they were 90%! This was due to margins of 92% for film revenue and 98% for software revenue, as there were no costs associated with the CD-ROM royalties. Also, there were no associated costs for patent licensing revenue. Animation service margins were only 16% due to higher costs from increased complexity in the animation projects Pixar had undertaken and increased market competition. I'm guessing the low margins had an impact on Pixar's decision to exit this market.

Although margins were very high this quarter, Pixar anticipated operating expenses would significantly increase as it was having to pay higher salaries due to competition for animators, technical directors and other creative personnel. It was also funding higher levels of R&D and expanding administrative staff.

Net income  increased to $9.6 million for the quarter from a loss of $1.3 million in the previous year. The net profit margin was 69.5%. For the first 9 months of 1996, net income was $20.7 million and net profit margin was 69%.

The great financial news was not doing anything for Pixar's stock, which sat in the teens throughout the quarter.  Investors realized that revenues would decrease, and with no obvious sources of new revenue until the release of A Bug's Life, most decided to sit on the sidelines.

According to their agreement with Disney, Disney paid for costs incurred in the development of the feature films. Even though A Bug's Life would not be released for another 2 years, Disney had already reimbursed Pixar $6.3 million and had another $1.3 million outstanding.

Also, it can be seen that Pixar was looking towards the future, as in September, 1996, they paid a $150,000 refundable deposit on the purchase of land in Emeryville for their new headquarters, which would not be complete until late 2000.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Pixar IPO

How many of you remember 1995? I would guess there are a few of you who weren't even born! But 1995 had a number of significant events including Finland winning the ice hockey world championship, Microsoft releasing Windows 95, Netscape becoming a public company and the final original Calvin and Hobbes comic strip being published! Of course, it was a big year for Pixar as they released Toy Story, their first and the first ever full length computer animated feature film! You might think the folks at Pixar would be nervous leading up to the film's release, but CEO Steve Jobs must have been confident as he scheduled Pixar's IPO exactly one week after the theatrical release, on November 28, 1995.

Just like the Netscape IPO a few months earlier, the Pixar IPO was highly anticipated. The IPO brought 6.9 million shares to the public market at $22/share. The proceeds from it provided Pixar with almost $140 million which was used to expand the studio as they worked on producing A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2. The stock opened at $47/share, more than double its offering price, and closed its first day of trading at $39, valuing the company at almost $1.5 billion! As Steve Jobs owned approximately 30 million shares, he became an instant billionaire that day.

Looking back, Steve Jobs was right to be confident. Toy Story ended up becoming an immediate classic, earning a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and becoming the highest grossing film of 1995, earning close to $362 million worldwide.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pixarian Start and Birth Dates, November, 2012 Edition

Here are the start and birth dates for November! Sadly, it's a quiet month. Let's begin with start dates!
  • Chris Chua (2007) - Chris, active on both Twitter and his blog, started his Pixar career working as a fix animator on WALL•E. He moved up to animator on Up, Cars 2 and Brave. Prior to coming to Pixar, Chua studied traditional animation at CalArts. He has taught at Animation Mentor and worked at Dreamworks on films such as Flushed Away, Shark Tale and Sinbad.
  • Brad Lewis (2001) - Lewis produced Ratatouille (for which he won the Producer of the Year award from the Producer's Guild), and co-produced Cars 2. Before coming to Pixar, Lewis spent 13 years at Pacific Data Images as Vice President of Productions. He also produced Antz for Dreamworks. Lewis left Pixar in 2011 to go work at Digital Domain's animation group in Florida, which unfortunately was shut down this past September.

  • Derek Williams (1997) - Derek Williams was born and raised in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom, and studied film at The London International Film School. At Pixar, Williams first job was as a set dresser on A Bug's Life. He has worked on almost every feature film since, including as the sets supervisor on Brave. Besides feature films, Williams has worked on short films such as For the Birds and Tokyo Mater.

As for November birth dates, these aren't Pixar employees but some actors that have voiced characters in Pixar films:
  • Owen Wilson, November 18, 1968 - Wilson is known for voicing Lightning McQueen in Cars, Cars 2 and Mater and the Ghostlight. He also did voice acting in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and has performed in a number of live-action films such as Meet the Fockers, Zoolander and Wedding Crashers.
  • Wallace Shawn, November 12, 1943 - Shawn is an American actor who voiced Rex in the Toy Story films, and Gilbert Huph in The Incredibles. He has also performed in live-action films including My Dinner with Andre and The Princess Bride.

Friday, November 2, 2012

This Day in Pixar History: Monsters, Inc. Theatrical Release

11 years ago today, what I consider to be Pixar's most creative film, Monsters, Inc., was released. It turned into Pixar's highest grossing film at that time, making over $525 million worldwide, and was the #4 highest grossing film for 2001, behind some very tough competition - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and Shrek.

Pete Docter
Monsters, Inc. was the first Pixar film not directed by John Lasseter. Lasseter knew that to continue growing the studio and to reach their goal of producing two feature films a year, other animators would need to step into the directorial role. Lasseter chose Pete Docter to direct Monsters, Inc. (and had Andrew Stanton direct their next film, Finding Nemo). Docter later directed Up, and is now working on the Inside the Human Mind film, scheduled for a 2015 release.

You may not be aware that the release of Monsters, Inc. was almost delayed by a lawsuit brought by Lori Madrid. The lawsuit named Pixar, Disney and Chronicle Books as defendants, and claimed they had stolen Madrid's 28 line story, There's a Boy in My Closet, and used it as inspiration for Monsters, Inc. Madrid wrote the short story in 1999 and sent it to many publishers, including Chronicle Books. Madrid believed Chronicle Books forwarded it to Pixar, who used it to come up with Monsters, Inc.

Madrid requested a preliminary injunction to block the release of the film until the court case was complete. So on November 1, 2001, the day before the film's release, the film's director, Pete Docter, and Dick Cook, chairman of Disney's Motion Pictures group, were in a Wyoming courthouse. Both Docter and Cook took the stand; Docter explained how Madrid's book had had no impact on the Monsters, Inc. story or film development, and how the development of the film had begun years before Madrid wrote her story. Cook then explained to the judge the substantial and negative impact delaying the film's release would have on The Walt Disney Company. After an entire day in court, the judge ruled in favor of Pixar and Disney, and denied Madrid's request. The film was released on its scheduled date, becoming the #1 film and grossing over $62 million that weekend. The entire case against Disney, Pixar and Chronicle Books was completely thrown out in June, 2002.

Much of the above information regarding the Lori Madrid lawsuit came from David A. Price's wonderful book The Pixar Touch. It is full of great stories from the early years of Pixar, beginning even before John Lasseter and Ed Catmull began working together at Lucasfilm, and going through the years until Pixar was purchased by The Walt Disney Company. If you love Pixar (which, if you've read this entire post, you must!), and want to know more about the company's history, I highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pixarian Start and Birth Dates, October 2012 Edition

Wow, this is a busy month for people to both start at Pixar and have their birthdays! First, some Pixarians who started at Pixar during October:
  • Dylan Brown (1995) - Dylan Brown is the creative director for Pixar Canada, where the animation is done for shorts like Partysaurus Rex and Air Mater. Brown has worked on films beginning with A Bug's Life and including Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Brown has lead Pixar Canada since its inception in 2010.
  • Matt Jones (2010) - Matt Jones is a story artist for Pixar. According to his website, he saw John Lasseter on TV talking about Knick Knack, and decided then that was what he wanted to do.
  • Shawn Krause (1994) - Shawn started his Pixar career working on the studio's first feature film, Toy Story, as an animator and layout artist. He has worked as an animator on a number of other films such as Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo. He was the Directing Animator on Up and Supervising Animator on Cars 2. Krause has also been involved in theme park attractions, working on The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot in Florida. You can see Shawn visiting Disney's Art of Animation Resort in this YouTube video. Krause graduated from the University of Missouri, Columbia with a degree in Art and a Minor in Art History and Archaeology. He studied character animation for a year at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) before starting at Pixar.
  • John Lasseter (1984) - John Lasseter was hired by Ed Catmull while Catmull was working in the Computer Division of Lucasfilm. Catmull knew he wouldn't be able to hire Lasseter as an animator, so John was given the title of Interface Designer. While at Lucasfilm, Lasseter animated the short film, The Adventures of André and Wally B. He directed a number of Pixar's early short films like Luxo Jr., Tin Toy and Knick Knack. He also directed the first 3 feature length films (Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2), plus Cars and Cars 2. Lasseter is now the chief creative officer at both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. Prior to working at Lucasfilm, Lasseter was in the inaugural class of the Character Animation program at CalArts, along with Brad Bird and John Musker. While at CalArts, he received 2 Student Academy Awards for Animation for his films Lady and the Lamp and Nitemare (both which will be on the upcoming Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 2). He received his BFA in film in 1979, and went to work at Disney.
  • Mark Nielsen (1996) - Mark joined Pixar as a modeling and shading coordinator on A Bug's Life. He has worked on many of Pixar's feature films, such as a lighting manager on Monsters, Inc., story and crowds manager on Cars, Production Manager on Up and the Associate Producer on Cars 2. Nielsen has been interested in the behind-the-scenes activities for films since watching Star Wars at age 7. Nielsen graduated from Chico State University with a degree in English and Journalism, and did production work on a number of films prior to coming to Pixar, including The Joy Luck Club and James and the Giant Peach.
  • Denise Ream (2006) - Ream started her Pixar career as an Associate Producer on Up. She also produced Cars 2, and has a character named after her (Denise Beam). Prior to Pixar, Ream spent 13 years at ILM, working on films like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

    Apurva Shah (left)
  • Apurva Shah (2001) - Apurva Shah is an effects wizard, lending his talented hand to films such as Finding Nemo and Ratatouille, the latter which won him an award from the Visual Effects Society. He was Supervising Technical Director on the short films Your Friend the Rat and Tokyo Mater. You can see some of the papers he has authored in Pixar's online library. Shah has taught at the Art Institute, Academy of Art University in San Francisco and Ringling School of Art and Design. Prior to coming to Pixar, Shah worked at Dreamworks on Shrek and Antz, and did visual effects for the live action film Batman Forever.
Finally, the late Joe Ranft started at Pixar in 1992. One of the early, key artists at Pixar (along with Lasseter, Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton), Ranft was Pixar's first Head of Story and made large contributions to a number of early Pixar films from Toy Story through Cars, where he received Director credit alongside Lasseter. He also voiced a number of memorable characters such as Lenny the binocular from Toy Story, Heimlich the caterpillar in A Bug's Life, Wheezy in Toy Story 2 and Jacques in Finding Nemo. Prior to Pixar, Ranft worked on many animated films for The Walt Disney Company, including Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. Sadly, Joe died in a car accident on August 16, 2005, near the end of production on Cars. Joe was a comedic genius and loyal friend to many people inside and out of Pixar. From the number of tributes and comments across the web and on sites like YouTube and his Facebook page, it is easy to see the impact he has had. One of the most poignant tributes was done by John Musker for what would have been Ranft's 50th birthday.

Now for birthdays:
  • Enrico Casarosa, October 19, 1970 - Casarosa joined Pixar in 2002 as a story artist. He has worked on films such as Cars, Ratatouille and Up. He directed the short film La Luna, and received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Animated Short Film. Casarosa is now working as Head of Story on Bob Peterson's The Good Dinosaur. Prior to coming to Pixar, Casarosa worked at Blue sky Studios on films like Ice Age.

  • Pete Docter, October 9, 1968 - Pete Docter was born and grew up in my home state of Minnesota! He was the third animator hired at Pixar, after John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. His early Pixar work was directing and animating commercials. He was one of the primary writers and animators of Pixar's first feature film Toy Story. He also worked on A Bug's Life and Toy Story 2, before being asked by John Lasseter to direct Monsters, Inc. Docter also directed Up, and is now working on the untitled Inside the Human Mind project. Docter is very musical, and comes from a musical family; if you watch the special features on the Up Blu-ray/DVD you may see him playing with the orchestra as they record the score.
  • Ralph Eggleston, October 18, 1965 - Eggleston is a long-time Pixar employee, starting in 1992 to work as Art Director on Toy Story. Since then he has done visual development on Monsters, Inc., production design on Finding Nemo and WALL•E, and was the Art Director on The Incredibles. He was one of the writers on Monsters, Inc., and wrote and directed one of my favorite short films, For the Birds. Eggleston's name was used as inspiration for the moving company in Toy Story (Eggman Movers). 
  • While not a Pixar employee, I must give a special shout-out to composer Michael Giacchino, born on October 10, 1967. Giacchino has done a number of scores for Pixar feature and short films such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Cars 2 and One Man Band. When not composing music for Pixar, he's doing it for other films such as Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, John Carter, Super 8, Star Trek and television shows like Lost and Alias. You can check out clips of his work on his website. I've never met Michael but was at his session at Pixar Weekend at Epcot a couple years ago. He seems like a genuinely nice person, and someone who would be a blast to just hang out with!
  • Another shout-out to the late Ollie Johnston, who was born on Halloween in 1912. Johnston was one of Walt Disney's Nine Old Men, the main animators at The Walt Disney Company responsible for many classic animated films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Bambi. Many Pixarians, including Lasseter and Brad Bird, have found inspiration from Johnston and the other Nine Old Men. Bird even gave cameo roles to Johnston in two of his films, The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. Johnston passed away on April 14, 2008. While working on this post I stumbled across the official site for Johnston and Frank Thomas, another of the Nine Old Men and a close personal friend of Johnston. I strongly recommend this site if you want to learn more about these 2 friends and animation giants.

In sad news, Steve Jobs passed away last year on October 5. William at A113Animation wrote a wonderful piece on the one year anniversary of Steve's passing that is more eloquent than anything I could ever come up with, so I won't try. But I can say that two of the companies Steve led (Pixar and Apple) probably have had more impact on my life and of my family than any other company.

Also, Pixar animator Glenn McQueen passed away on October 29, 2002 at the age of 41. He started at Pixar in 1994 as an animator on Toy Story, and was Supervising Animator on their next 3 films, A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. He passed away during the production of Finding Nemo. McQueen was described as "the heart and soul of the animation department" by John Lasseter. Finding Nemo was dedicated to McQueen, and there is a very nice tribute to him on the Finding Nemo DVD.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Disney World Trip Report, Day 3 - Islands of Adventure

Our family had been talking about going to Universal's Islands of Adventure for well over a year. My kids are at that age where they want to go on big rides. Our middle child, Julia, is a big Harry Potter fan (as am I), and had been asking to go see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for a long time. We figured lines would be shorter in October than next March when we'll be back in Orlando, so decided this would be the trip. Julia and I did some pre-trip planning like checking out Universal's website and reading some guidebooks. Plus, I got some great info from John Ludwick who has been there a number of times.

The plan of attack was to arrive before opening, head immediately to WWoHP (the abbreviation I will use to reference The Wizarding World of Harry Potter throughout this post), then hit the rest of the park. After that, we would head back to Harry Potter to spend some more time checking it out. I'd say the plan worked very well.

We woke up at about 7am and were ready to go before 8am. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I rented a car the night before. I also had bought the park passes online before leaving home so we wouldn't have to deal with that. I was a bit worried about rush-hour traffic, given it was a Monday, but it took less than 20 minutes. There are 2 large, 5 story parking ramps for both Universal and Islands of Adventure, and parking costs $15. When we arrived, they asked if we wanted preferred parking, which costs $5 more and puts you on 3rd floor, the same level as the moving walkways. If you are arriving early, I don't see a reason for preferred parking. We parked on 5th floor and took the elevator down to 3rd floor, then took the moving walkways towards the park entrances.

To get to the theme parks you must walk through Universal's CityWalk, an entertainment center similar to Downtown Disney. As you go through CityWalk, Islands of Adventure is straight ahead, Universal Studios to the right. It only takes 10 or so minutes to walk from the parking ramps to the park entrance. We arrived at the entrance gates at about 8:15, 45 minutes before park opening.

Everyone was queued up on the right side, but there are gates at the center umbrellas
NOTE: It seems people queue up at the gates on the right side of the entrance plaza, but they use and open all the gates at the same time. The far left gates were being used for Universal resort guests, who can enter the park an hour early. Otherwise, where ever there is an umbrella and computer monitor, that is a gate. We initially queued up on the right side along with everyone else. But one person, obviously someone who knows the park, went to one of the center gates, so we moved to the same one.


Hogwart's Express

They opened the gates about 10 minutes early, and it was a dash to WWoHP (well, maybe not a dash, more like a fast walk)! The quickest path is to go through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent. That will bring you to Hogsmeade. It is so well crafted and detailed, you would think you are really on the movie set. I have never seen such attention to detail in any other theme park area (although Cars Land in California Adventure and the soon to open New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom may be at the same level). The village is set in winter, and some of the shops include Zonko's Joke Shop (items there include Sneakoscopes, Extendable Ears, Shrunken Heads and U-No-Poo), Honeydukes (where you can buy Chocolate Frogs and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans), Ollivanders, Dervish and Banges, the Three Broomsticks for a meal and Butterbeer, and Hog's Head Pub.

Approaching Hogwarts Castle

After walking through Hogsmeade you will come to the gates of Hogwarts (topped by winged boars), then straight ahead to go inside the castle and the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride!

NOTE: If you have bags or other loose items you must place them in lockers before going on this ride and any of the other thrill rides such as Dragon Challenge, The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Jurassic Park River Adventure. On Forbidden Journey, there is a small pocket near the bottom of the ride seat that you can place sunglasses, cell phone or small camera. The lockers are complimentary for at least the ride wait time so it shouldn't cost you anything, but it does cause some delays and congestion as everyone tries to use one of the locker pay machines and get their stuff into a locker. I decided to not bring my DSLR; I knew we would be running around a lot and that I probably wouldn't have much time for significant picture taking. Plus, knowing about the lockers, I didn't want to deal with that. So all pictures in this post are from my iPhone and are quite the usual, pedestrian type.

Another NOTE: If you have a phone, sunglasses or other things in your pockets, I recommend putting them into the pocket in the seat. Half way through the ride I heard something rattling around in my seat. I reached down and found my new iPhone 5 sliding around! I was wearing cargo shorts and it had slid out of my pocket!

It only took us about 10 minutes to get through the castle to the Forbidden Journey ride. I'm not going to give much away regarding the inside of the castle or the ride itself (I will upload photos of the castle to flickr once I get home and get through them all), but I will say they are both amazing!! There is so much detail inside the castle, I would consider it an attraction onto itself. The 10 minutes did not give us near enough time to explore and enjoy all the details in the castle. You will see and hear from a number of your favorite HP characters, and there are other great references from the books and films. The ride is an amazing mixture of motion simulator and roller coaster.

After coming off Forbidden Journey you are right next to Flight of the Hippogriff. This is a small roller coaster, but was OK and gives you views of Hagrid's hut. It also gives you a great up high view of Hogwarts - I wish I had my camera available to take a picture.

We then went on Dragon Challenge, originally called Dueling Dragons. It was re-themed as a Harry Potter attraction when WWoHP opened, and in the queue you will see items like the Flying Ford Anglia and the Goblet of Fire. There was no wait (it took us about 5 minutes to walk through the entire queue line). This is a major coaster with 5 inversions, and I thought it was a very jerky ride.
The back of Ollivander's Wand Shop

We came off Dragon Challenge back in Hogsmeade and next to Ollivander's Wand Shop. There is a small, 5 minute show in the shop where "the wand will choose the wizard." I've heard it is good, but the wait was over 45 minutes so we skipped it. In fact, this was the longest line we encountered all day! You can still get into the shop by going to the next door. My daughter bought a couple of wands, then we wandered slowly through the village, trying pumpkin juice and deciding it was time to eat, which we did in the Three Broomsticks. Again, the theming inside was meticulous. The Three Broomsticks is a counter service restaurant, but after ordering you go find a table and servers will bring your food to you. We had the choice between breakfast or lunch, and we all had breakfast meals. The meals cost about $16 and come with a drink (we got a couple of Butterbeers, which Anna and I both liked - sort of like cream soda topped with flavored whipped cream).

Outside the Three Broomsticks

Inside the Three Broomsticks

Jurassic Park River Adventure
After our late breakfast, we moved out of WWoHP and to Jurassic Park. I watched while the kids went on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. They said it was fun, and it was a great way to cool off! We continued in a counter-clockwise fashion and into Toon Lagoon, where Sam and Julia went on Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. This is a high speed flume ride and the kids loved it. And just like the Jurassic Park River Adventure, they got soaked! One fun thing for observers, you can stand on the bridge, and for $0.25, shoot water guns at the riders, just to make sure they are soaked!
Ripsaw Falls

We next came to Marvel Super Hero Island. After WWoHP, we spent the most time in this area and did 3 rides: The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Doctor Doom's Fearfall. Doctor Doom's Fearfall shoots riders 150' up into the air, and that's about it. Good for a quick thrill, but probably not worth it if the line is long (our wait was less than 15 minutes). The Incredible Hulk Coaster is bigger and badder (that is a word, right?) than Dragon Challenge. Again, I don't want to give too much away, but the ride starts with a bang and never looks back as you do a total of 7 inversions! There are some cool features that make this ride more than just another coaster - there are tunnels and trenches, and the ride makes a continuous roaring sound. The Islands of Adventure website says the ride is 2 minutes and 15 seconds long, but with all the loops, drops and turns it felt longer than that to me!

NOTE: This may be a good time to talk about motion sickness! First, I am not one to get sick on most rides - I love coasters, and going up, down, backwards or upside down usually doesn't bother me. The one thing I can't do is spinning rides - the "more intense" version of Mission: SPACE at Epcot leaves me with a headache for hours, and I will not ride the Mad Tea Party at Magic Kingdom unless I'm in control of the turntable! But Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk Coaster all left me feeling a bit woozy (I'm getting a headache just thinking about it). Sam and Julia both did The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk Coaster multiple times but once was enough for me. I did go on Forbidden Journey a second time just because it is an awesome ride. If you are prone to motion sickness you will want to avoid these 3 rides, but under no circumstance should you skip going through the Forbidden Journey queue! Once you get to the front of the line just ask a cast member to direct you to the exit.
The Hulk, with Hogwarts in the background

At this point it was about 1pm and we had done all the attractions we wanted to do, although we had not gone back to do a second walk through Hogsmeade or ridden WWoHP a second time. Before doing that we decided to have lunch at Confisco Grille, a full service restaurant with Italian, Mexican, Asian, Greek, and American inspired dishes. I found the interior to be somewhat strange; the wood and rock work plus stain-glass lanterns were wonderful, but the other decorations like cut-outs of Boris and Bullwinkle, a rubber floaty, and an anchor caught in a net, looked out of place. I realize the goal is to bring in elements of all the lands, but it didn't work for me.

But really, the decoration and theming are of secondary importance compared to the food, which was just average. I had the soup and salad combo - a house salad with potato leek soup. The salad was fine and I thought the soup was bland. My son had the tomato basil pasta. You could definitely taste the basil but otherwise bland. Anna wasn't very hungry so only had the onion rings appetizer. These were a nice, golden brown color and were fine. The best meal was Julia's trader wings appetizer with traditional buffalo sauce, which had a nice, spicy taste. With sodas and tip our meal came to $52.

We headed back to Hogsmeade going through Seuss Landing and The Lost Continent. In The Lost Continent we stopped to watch Poseidon's Fury, a special effects show that occurs in 3 different underground chambers. The show wasn't anything special but some of the special effects were good, especially the water tunnel.
Outside Poseidon's Fury

We took our time going through Hogsmeade, then went back to Hogwarts. The stated wait for Forbidden Journey was 30 minutes but it was probably only 15 or 20 minutes, and we only stopped a couple of times in the queue. I'm glad we went through the castle and did the ride a second time as I caught a number of details I missed the first time.
Behind Hog's Head Pub
By the time we exited Forbidden Journey and started the walk back to our car it was almost 4pm. I thought we accomplished everything we wanted; if I was ever to go back I would definitely bring my camera and spend a few hours taking photographs throughout the Harry Potter area. The only other tip I would give - if you really want to see the "wand chooses the wizard" show in Ollivander's, I would recommend going there first, even before Forbidden Journey. The show is only 5 or 10 minutes long; once you get out of Ollivander's I would think the line for Forbidden Journey would still be short, and in any case, having delays in the queue will give you time to enjoy all the details!

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Disney World Trip Report, Day 2 - Epcot, Food and Wine Festival

Our first full day at Disney World saw me up early (8am, which for me on vacation is early!!). I quickly showered and got ready to go. No one else seemed interesting in going with me (i.e. they were all asleep), so I headed out with my camera (Pentax K-r DSLR) and went to my favorite park, Epcot.

One note on Disney transportation: I can't imagine the coordination that must take place to get buses where they need to be. About 90% of the time it works great; we get to the bus stop and within 5 minutes the bus we want is there. But about 10% of the time, the coordination isn't quite working right. So, if you are using Disney transportation, give yourself enough time to get where you need to be, especially for dinner or other types of reservations, and doubly especially if you're going from one resort to another - this will likely require you to take a bus to Downtown Disney or one of the theme parks and then hop on another bus for your final destination. If it takes 20 minutes for your bus to come, 10 minutes for each ride, plus some walking time, you
Morocco Pavilion
should plan on at least 70-80 minutes, and maybe 90 minutes to be safe.

On this morning, it was off a bit (but still not bad). I saw about 8 buses go by without a single one for Epcot. Disney says you shouldn't wait any longer than 20 minutes; I would guess it was 20-25 for me (my son said he saw 11 buses, at least 3 for the Magic Kingdom, go by one day while he was waiting for his bus). So I ended up getting to Epcot just after the opening time of 9am.

My plan was not to ride attractions; I love just walking around the park, especially early in the morning or late at night when there's hardly anyone there.
Canadian Pavilion
I also wanted to do some photography. One of my favorite podcasts is the ISO5571 Disney Photography podcast (if you're into photography or Disney, I recommend giving them a listen). Listening to the podcast has given me some great ideas for photography locations and things to try. One member of ISO5571, Ryan Pastorino, loves monorail photographs - he thinks that if there is a monorail track in the frame there should be a monorail on it. I admit I hadn't really noticed the monorail beams before; yes, I knew they were there but since I wasn't photographing them I guess I just ignored them. But after listening to Ryan and the podcast, and getting back into photography, I immediately noticed the monorail beams at Epcot, and became a bit obsessed with trying to take photographs only if a monorail was on the track! I've included only a couple here (but have a few dozen in my photo library!)

Within a few hours my family had arrived, and by then the Food & Wine Festival was open. We first made a stop at the festival center in the old Wonders of Life pavilion. I loved this pavilion so any chance to go inside is a pleasure. We immediately went to the Ghirardelli booth to get our free sample of chocolate and try the Drinking Chocolate drink - a small cup of liquid chocolate that was fabulous!

Gardens of the United Kingdom Pavilion

We then headed to World Showcase and started eating! Rather than spread all the items we ate during the week across a number of posts, I am going to list them all here with the country and my rating (3 stars- do not miss!, 2 stars - excellent, 1 star - good). Please know, all the items are good so a 1-star shouldn't be taken as being bad or below average. They are all above average and you can't go wrong with any of them. I've also included pictures of the food if I have them - sometimes we were so hungry we forgot to take the picture before we started eating!

ArgentinaGrilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree***
AustraliaShrimp on the Barbie with Pepper Berry Citrus Glaze***
AustraliaGrilled Lamb Chop with Mint Pesto and Potato Crunchies*
CanadaCanadian Cheddar Cheese Soup***
CaribbeanRopa Vieja with Cilantro Rice**
CheeseCheese Fondue with Sourdough Bread**
CheeseTrio of Artisan Cheeses**
ChinaPork Potstickers***
DessertsYogurt Panna Cotta with Orange Cake, Raspberries and Pomegranate***
DessertsLemon Custard Verrine with Blueberry Compote***
DessertsDark Chocolate Mousse with Chili and Salted Caramel***
FranceEscargots Persillade en Brioche*
FranceGrey Goose Citron Lemonade Slush**
GreeceChicken Souvlaki with Tzatziki**
Hawai'iKalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise*
IrelandLobster and Seafood Fisherman's Pie**
ItalyRavioli di Formaggio All'emiliana*
ItalyCannoli al Cioccolato**
Anna with the Cannoli
JapanSpicy Hand Roll (Tuna and Salmon with Chili Pepper, Soy Sauce and Sesame Oil with Kazan Volcano Sauce)**
JapanKaraage Hand Roll ( Crispy Chicken Breast with Sushi Rice and Spicy Mayonnaise)*
New ZealandLamb Meatball with Spicy Tomato Chutney*
PolandKielbasa and Potato Pierogie with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream**
ScandinaviaRice Pudding with Berries**
ScandinaviaSwedish Meatballs with Lingonberries (that's a Margarita next to the meatballs in the picture)**
SingaporeBeef Rendang with Jasmine Rice*
South AfricaSeared Filet of Beef with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and Braai Sauce**
South KoreaLettuce Wrap with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw**

Just a couple of notes on some of the above items:
  •  The beef skewer from Argentina is great! Even my son Sam who doesn't eat a lot of meat liked it.
  • I loved the Shrimp on the Barbie from Australia, especially the Pepper Berry Citrus Glaze!
  • The Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup has long been a festival favorite, and I can see why. It was perhaps just a bit too salty but otherwise very good!
  • Get the Trio of Desserts so you can try them all!
I'll keep this list up-to-date as we try more items during the week.

I had to leave around 5pm to go get our rental car. We needed it as we were going to Islands of Adventure the next day. Since we had the car we took the opportunity to go off property and stop at Wal-Mart to pick up some groceries for the week. Not too much, just some breakfast items, water bottles, Mountain Dew and milk. We got back to the room and called it a night.

In my next trip report we will head off to Islands of Adventure and Harry Potter World!

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