Love for Pixar on Valentine’s Day

The Animation Pit, where the artists work, is filled with intricately decorated offices, a haven for toy lovers. When more office space was needed, traditional cubicles were brought in, but the artists hated them. So after a little research, for the same amount of money, they were able to bring in little huts called tough shed, which have been transformed into mini-offices in the middle of the wide halls.

The nominees cozy up on Valentine's Day on the trip to Pixar. © 2008 AWN inc.

The nominees cozy up on Valentine's Day on the trip to Pixar. © 2008 AWN inc.

It was a windy day in San Francisco with the filmmakers bundled up to guard themselves against the cold. Having received a much need rest, Suzie was far more energetic about the day’s events versus yesterday. In the car ride over to our first and only screening of the day at Pixar, Chris revealed that Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro saw Madame Tutli-Putli and said that it was a film made by masters. During the ride, Chris and Marcy discussed the treatment he and Maciek are working on for an adaptation of a Maurice Sendak story.

Find the funny looks in this group picture at Pixar. © AWN Inc.

Find the funny looks in this group picture at Pixar. © AWN Inc.

Our first and only screening today was at Pixar, where we were treated to an amazing tour of the behind the scenes of where few outsiders get to traverse. The Animation Pit, where the artists work, is filled with intricately decorated offices, a haven for toy lovers. When more office space was needed, traditional cubicles were brought in, but the artists hated them. So after a little research, for the same amount of money, they were able to bring in little huts called tough shed, which have been transformed into mini-offices in the middle of the wide halls.

The first stop on the backstage tour was Ratatouille animator Andrew Gordon’s office, where we piled in for a demonstration of Pixar’s proprietary animation software Mendie. Andrew showed off the ease of the program, which he said is easy for traditional 2D animators to pick up on. Through direct manipulation of the CG characters, the animator can move individual joints or use stock poses to save time. Deformation of the skin can be applied easily. For the clothes, the animators work closely with the sim artists to make sure the folds of the shirts move naturally with the characters. The artists have access to all the takes from the production along the process. Using Ratatouille as an example, Andrew showed us animatics to the final render of a scene he worked on. Andrew said that he uses various reference techniques to help him bring to life his creations, from videotaping himself acting out the scene to drawing out thumbnail sketches in TV Paint.

Pixar animator Andrew Gordon (center) poses with the nominees in the secret Lucky 7 room in his office. Courtesy of Pixar.

Pixar animator Andrew Gordon (center) poses with the nominees in the secret Lucky 7 room in his office. Courtesy of Pixar.

Capping the presentation, Andrew literally pushed a hidden button that opened up a secret room in his office, featuring a fully stocked bar called the Lucky 7. Celebs that come to visit the studio always stop in and the pictures on the walls stand as evidence. Recently, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly director Julian Schnabel dropped in. But Andrew didn’t tell us if he was there for the Thursday 2 pm scotch tasting event.

Madame Tutli Putli director Maciek Szczerbowski checks out the Ratatouille artwork. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Madame Tutli Putli director Maciek Szczerbowski checks out the Ratatouille artwork. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Some other facts that came out along the way were that some frames take as long as 36 hours to render, Pixar burns its own negatives and that the overall gender divide is 50/50 — however in the animation department the scales tip in favor of men. As we walked the halls, we were all impressed with the detailed maquettes that are produced for the characters. It was our lucky treat to run into one of their creators, Jerome Ranft, in the hall who is working on a project for 2012 for which he wished he could show us, but was not allowed to. For aspiring stop-motion animators, he said that floral wire works really well in armatures for puppets. One hall was dedicated to art from Pixar’s Annie-winning short film, Your Friend the Rat, which features 3D, 2D and stop-motion animation. One of the models where tiny rats take over the globe is on display. However, some of the rats have jumped ship and fallen off to the case floor.

Next up, we were invited to see John Lasseter’s office, which is like a museum of toys. Featured prominently on the wall is the giant head of the Cat Bus from Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. No one probably has more Cars toys than Lasseter. Next to Lasseter’s office is the office of Steve Jobs, whose work space could not be any more different. The slick minimalist style is in stark contrast to Lasseter’s treasure trove of collectables. We learned that John and Steve have less time to mingle with the artists, which is sad, because they brought an excitement to the studio, often dropping in on artists’ working to give encouragement.

Maciek score a point against James during a game of ping-pong in the lively Pixar atrium. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Maciek score a point against James during a game of ping-pong in the lively Pixar atrium. © 2008 AWN Inc.

In the hall before the screening, we had a chance to catch up with For the Birds Oscar winner Ralph Eggleston, who is just wrapping up work on Wall*E. Standing in the huge atrium as you enter the building, the busy Brad Bird came racing through, but was lured to stop by our videographer Guy’s HD camera. After grabbing a quick bite to eat, Brad dropped into the screening and promised to meet up with the filmmakers afterward.

Roger Gould, who is working on amusement park projects, chats with Ron before the screening. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Roger Gould, who is working on amusement park projects, chats with Ron before the screening. © 2008 AWN Inc.

Roger Gould, co-director of the Pixar short Boundin’, warmly introduced Ron to the audience in the Pixar Main Theatre. Ron presented the assembled directors and producers, before the films rolled. Having seen all the films already, the filmmakers snuck out to spend the 90 minutes playing ping-pong and air hockey in the commons area, as well as catch up on some work and chat with the Pixar artists who mingling around during lunch. Topics of discussion included the importance of doing adaptations right so not to alienate the already established audience. Marcy mentioned a Beatles documentary pitched to the NFB as a possible project for Maciek to animate on. In regards to animating The Beatles, the vet in the area, James, said, “give it a whirl.”