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Pixar, Pixar and even More Pixar!

Sorry for writing so late. But yesterday evening I suffered from severe animation illness, information overload and heavy small talk. After seeing the commissioned film program filled with commercials and music videos up to the brink – sitting next to an equally tired Ron Diamond – I hardly reached my apartment and went into dreamland seconds later.

Bob Peterson (Co-Director UP), Peter Sohn and Kevin Reher (Director and Producer from Partly Cloudy)

written by Johannes Wolters

Sorry for writing so late. But yesterday evening I suffered from severe animation illness, information overload and heavy small talk. After seeing the commissioned film program filled with commercials and music videos up to the brink – sitting next to an equally tired Ron Diamond – I hardly reached my apartment and went into dreamland seconds later.

But if you had the opportunity to talk to Conrad Vernon, the Co-director of “Monster´s vs. Aliens,” to interview director Peter Sohn and producer Kevin Reiher from Pixar´s “Partly Cloudy” or to have a chat with Bob Peterson, who not only worked on “Monsters, Inc”, “Finding Nemo” and many, many more legendary features but also co-directed “UP”, then may be you would be a little tired and exhausted too. I ran into Nick Park, who is presenting his fourth short with Wallace and Gromit called “A Matter of Loaf and Death” and had a friendly conversation with Ruth Lingford, who is now teaching animation at the University of Harvard (sic!) This by the way during the charming Dutch party on the little island at the famous “Café des Arts”, which proves once again to be a place like Rick´s Café in “Casablanca” where everybody is coming to.

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Nick Park (left) and friends

But I have to tell you about the Pixar event of the festival. There both films, the short “Partly Cloudy” and the feature “Up” were presented by its directors. First Peter Sohn entered the stage and explained en Detail how he got the idea as a kid to tell a story about the origins of babies, who get delivered by storks. He described how he went to the cinema with his mother and saw “Dumbo” for the very first time. This was a special occasion, because his mother didn´t understand the American language well enough to understand most of the movies she went to. So Peter often had to explain what was happening on the screen but his mother did not understand a thing. But during the film when Dumbo and his mother are reunited during the “Baby mine” sequence, young Peter turned to his mother with tears in his eyes and there he saw that she was crying too. So Dumbo had a deep impact and the idea was born to tell the story about the origins of these babies.

While Peter Sohn told those stories to the festival audience he showed the events also in wonderful story sketches and he brought down the house with his story how he pitched the idea to Pixar´s Story Trust. The sketches of Lassetter and his men and their reaction to various drafts of the screenplay were absolutely gorgeous. Sohn had to change his ideas about the story, a very hard and painfully process. “It is like your brainchild should become a baseball star but out of the blue the child tends to become a great violin player.” So he had to let go and he changed the story from explaining how the babies were made to a story about friendship and miscommunication. The result is one of the best pixar shorts ever. It took a year and half from start to finish and although they don´t tell you anything about the budget itself, the team was proud that “Partly Cloudy” came in under budget. One of the biggest problems of the production was ironically the production of “UP”, so all the artists had to work on the feature film during its crunchtime, so the short had to deal with that. From now on, the shorts will be produced after the production of a feature. And producer Kevin Reiher added, that films didn´t get finished, they are just released.

Afterwards Bob Peterson told us about the origins of “UP,” how Pete Docter and he developed the idea from a single sketch of an old grumpy man holding a bunch of ballons. Old people have experienced so much, having raised families, lived through wars and terror, but are rarely seen on the screen. So both decided to center the plot around the old guy and found an interesting counterpart in the young boyscout, who has a remarkable resemblance with Peter Sohn. During the presentation he shared his opinion about writing with the stunned audience. Here are his advises:

  • Story is King!!!
  • Simple is best – Use highly interesting characters for a very simple plot
  • Just tell the Truth – Find common truth!
  • Show - don´t tell!
  • Apply screenwriting rules backwards – don´t use rules and methods to build the story, build the story and than apply the rules!
  • Never preach!
  • Relationships are very important!
  • He described his approach to 3D: If you think more about the 3D-stereoscopic than about the story, you are on the wrong track. So we wanted to be very subtle and we wanted to create more of a viewmaster-feeling.
  • All side characters must exist to propel the story and the main characters
  • When you get lost, get advice from a smart person!
  • Many Thanks to Pixar for this wonderful session!