10 July 2006

Pixar at the VCA

One of the pleasures of having children at this particular time in history is that entertainment crafted especially for them has a sophistication and richness unheard of when I was a kid, when ‘Sinbad’ was about the most exciting kids’ film I’d seen, and the latest release was likely to feature a talking Volkswagon.

I was thrilled to be able to take my daughter to a lecture at the Victorian College of the Arts by Tia Kratter, an Art Director at Pixar animation, on Saturday.

Tia is a very engaging presence, and like most of the Pixar crew I’ve ever seen in interviews or on DVD extras, she exudes a kind of warm glow of creative satisfaction and joy in the process of making films at Pixar. No wonder; if her account of working at the animation powerhouse is accurate, it must be like every artist’s moist dream: a community of creative fellow travellers, supported by an enthusiastic audience for their every product and funded to the gunnels.

I feel personally connected to the studio in a way, having grown up (in a computer sense) with them. My first intimate contact with computers didn’t occur until I had left school and was placed in front of a Mac to see what it could do with typography. That was 1987. I saw the first Pixar short ‘Luxo Jr.’ as a little film in the top corner of the screen in 1988. I think it was the first computer animation I’d ever seen, unless you count ‘Tron’.

Tia described the production process in detail, with emphasis given to the latest production with her heavy involvement, ‘Cars’. I haven’t actually seen it yet, which is unusual. At our house, every latest Pixar production is excitedly looked forward to and rapturously received.

Tia mentioned the husbandry of Steve Jobs, the man who changed the world twice – by not only founding Pixar but co-creating the Apple Macintosh. He seems to be involved at a level I did not suspect before. Before a slide of the Pixar studio building, she described how Steve had personally selected the seven different shades of bricks, which is kind of thing that makes Howard Hughes look like a dilettante.

I was interested to see slides of some of the research she did at the beginning of the project, which was crucial in the successful realisation of the characters. To me, one of the things which distinguishes Pixar from its competition is the solidity of the worlds they choose to create. Even when the universe is wholly out of this world, it is always solidly grounded. For ‘Finding Nemo’ I’ve read many of the artists actually learned to scuba dive and took thousands of their own photos to bring the underwater world to life. This was of course not strictly necessary. There are millions of shots of coral reefs they could have consulted, but the experience of being underwater informed the work they subsequently did and made it better. They also had the good taste to set the film on the real East coast of Australia, and having done so, didn’t get American actors to do the voices like no one would notice, they went out and got Australian actors like Barry Humphries, Bruce Spence, Eric Bana, Geoffrey Rush and Bill Hunter.

The audience was a mix of students, industry professionals in animation and gaming, screenwriters and interested walk-ins like us. There were also a number of very keen kids who asked intelligent questions. Some of them are no doubt, already putting their show-reels together.

Several of the kids in the audience, including me, were excited to hear of the current project, called ‘Ratatouille’ which has been taken up by the director Brad Bird, of ‘The Incredibles’ and the underrated ‘Iron Giant’. We’re looking forward to it.



I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

We are not worthy...a demi god in our midst.Ratatouille will be brillant which is synonomous with PIxar

Crritic! said...

I'm glad you agree Supamum. I recommend you have a look at the trailer of the new movie, via the link here. It's very funny.

I am the Queen of F*%&ING EVERYTHNG...OK!! said...

Saw it as a 10 minute feature/preview when we saw Cars. A gourmet rat...only Pixar could've done it.