Newton, Reher and Wellins Talk Disney and Pixar Shorts
KR: One of our shorts was actually [made] to show a producer how to produce one of our films. We’d hired a producer from outside of Pixar, so this was his way of learning how our pipeline works compared to an effects house [where he’d been], so that he could adapt it to his feature.
DS: Going back to the genesis of your film and the initial idea for the story, was the final visual close to what you envisioned. Do you think story first, do you think visual style first, do those go hand in hand right from the beginning?
DW: For this [film] it was hand in hand. As I was story boarding it, I did a big viz-dev digital painting of the clockmaker sitting in his shop with all his clocks surrounding him. It had that sort of semi-photorealistic look with a little bit of pushed animation style. For my presentation, I had that painting, and we go, “Yep, that’s pretty much what we want, that’s the idea.” I put it up on the wall and John went up to it and said, “If it looks like this, then we’re doing it.” Because he just loved the painting. He said, “I want this to happen just like this.” So the style of the film ended up just like I had intended.
DS: Was there any thinking that historically, Disney shorts, unlike Pixar shorts, have had fewer inanimate objects as main characters? Doesn’t that seem more like a Pixar thing? Was that ever a consideration?
DW: No. This was just something personal. I just love that sort of thing. For me, I just find when you have something inanimate, it’s going to lead to a lot of pantomime. I just think a lot of creativity comes about when you’re really hamstrung…you have all these parameters. Once we got into it, the clock itself, I figured, “Well, this will be a big challenge trying to get acting out of something that is pretty inanimate.” An example is Charlie Chaplin with no head. He has no facial expression…this is really hard to communicate. It was difficult. Initially, I had these two keyholes in the clock’s face and I thought maybe at least I can use that, make them as little eyes. John was like, “No, I don’t want anything like that. I want it to be just a flat face.”
I went in thinking, “Oh, this will be a really fun challenge” and I came out scratching my head thinking, “Oh my god, this is really hard to get across, the story points, how he’s feeling!”
DS: There was an article some time ago on the Time Magazine website about why parents cry at Pixar films. One of the theories at Pixar was that because inanimate objects aren’t real people, they have no emotional back story. So, the audience can take ownership of what the character is going through and create their own emotional connection. When you make a film like Day & Night, or Tick Tock Tale, obviously you’re thinking about how people are going to watch it, but do you think about what people’s emotional experience and response will be as they watch? Does this in turn impact how you write or design the film?
TN: Yah, I hope so, I hope it comes through. You always want it to come through. Usually, the way I normally draw, I will get a very specific expression and sometimes I’ll draw it over and over to know if it’s funny or not. That’s usually a place where I start. Is this making me laugh, is it appealing, is it cute? There are so many things that can go wrong, where it looks ugly or alienating because the eyes aren’t just right. I’m always thinking about those kinds of things, as far as the how will someone else look at this. I remember when we did Violet for The Incredibles and at one point we were thinking, “Oh Tim Burton, we’ll do a Tim Burton thing, we’ll make the eyes pinpricks.” And it just had no appeal to it compared to the other characters. It didn’t have that warmth you’d want. That’s where I start with anything. It’s the eyes… knowing that connects directly to whomever is watching it.
DW: I had no eyes.