On to Pixar!
By Lauren Brown
Friday is here and we continue at Pixar with the third and last day of our Bay Area tour. It is another gorgeous day as we drive onto the Emeryville campus. The campus has beautifully kept lawns with a soccer field and the sun hits the brick buildings in a beautiful way.
Reception is located in the main building. The entrance has life-size models of Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc. and Guido and Luigi from Cars. Sunday/Demanche producer Marc Bertrand marched over and had his picture taken with the Monsters, Inc. stars while we gathered together to start our tour. Reception opens up into the cafeteria, the gift shop and then leads to the theatre where we had the screening of the Oscar nominated shorts. Michelle Radcliff, our host for the day, greeted us in the lobby. Michelle is a part of the Pixar University Educational group. They coordinate screenings, talks and lectures for the employees.
Our first stop on our tour was the legendary Love Lounge, a cozy secret (well not so secret now) room created by Andrew Gordon, a long-time Pixar animator. Everyone had to crawl into the room because the doorway is only a few feet high. Inside was the most amazing room used for the employees to act out, be silly, and get away from it all. The walls of the lounge were signed by many famous people. The filmmakers were asked to add their signatures - Brandon Oldenburg was pretty excited about it.
Andrew created the space after he found the access door one day on a wall in his office. He saw the compartment door and opened it to find a small unused area, possibly set aside to work on the ventilation ducts. He turned the wasted space into an awesome room filled with goodies of all kinds. The filmmakers talked, hung-out and put on various 3d glasses so we could see different patterns in the Christmas lights that were on the walls.
After leaving the Lounge, we were off to visit Andrew Gordon’s new office and the Lucky 7 Lounge. The hidden bar (also not a well kept secret any more) is attached to his office via a secret entrance. The room reminds me of what an old speakeasy might be like. Andrew said that it took a few months to put the room all together. On the side of his office, there is a bookshelt with a bust statue that hold a secret button that lets you in. Inside, the room is lined with old photos of some of the animators’ ancestors and new photos of people who have visited the room in the past, like Sarah Silverman. Since it was too early in the morning, we could not enjoy the room fully by sharing an adult beverage, but all the filmmakers expressed how much they liked the atmosphere. Patrick Doyon thought it was pretty nice.
We continued the tour through various hallways. The décor that stuck out the most was that some of the employees had little cottage-like offices instead of cubicles. Michelle told us how there was a wave of employees that were trading in their cubicles and exchanging them for pre-fab sheds bought at the local home and garden center. She said that they researched it and it was actually cheaper at the time to buy the sheds rather than the cubicles. Many of them traded up and decorated their cottages with cool designs. One cottage had a pink unicorn theme. It was so awesome to see such a unique and different kind of creative work environment.
The next stop on our tour was the Knife and the Fiddle, an employee run and built bar. It was a neat place that was decorated in a winter, Valentine’s Day theme. Michelle mentioned that the employees come after work to hang out, play music and relax. It looked like a great place to chill and I wish we could have gone back later to enjoy it.
We then visited the upstairs gallery that is currently showing reproductions of the work from Sketchtravel. Sketchtravel was created by Dice Tsutsumi a visual development artist at Pixar, and Gerald Guerlais a French illustrator. They wanted to help the Room to Read Global Organization raise money for one of their literacy projects. The project was started with one red sketchbook in September 2006. The red book was passed around for four years and went to twelve countries. The first hand off was from Dice to Hayao Miyazaki and continued being passed along for the next 4 years. Each artist added their drawing to the book. At the end of its journey the book was auctioned off. The money will be used to build a library in Laos and other places across the globe. Room to Read hopes to be able to publish at least one children’s book by a local artist in the area. They would like to expand and develop the project into other regions. More information about Sketchtravel can be found on http://sketchtravel.blogspot.com/.
It was finally time for the screening. The theatre at Pixar has lovely red, comfy seats. The ceiling lit up with stars when the theatre lights went off and two shooting stars passed over us. On cue, the audience ‘ooed’ and ‘awed’ when the shooting stars went by. It seemed like they had seen the stars shoot across the ceiling many times before. It was pretty funny.
There was a full house for the screening and at the end, Kevin Reher, the producer of La Luna was able to join us for the Q&A. The first question was asked of the film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, “How did you finance the film?” Producer Lampton Enochs spoke of how supportive the state of Louisiana was to Moonbot Studios during the filmmaking process and that the state is continuing to support the company by giving them tax incentives. He compared it to a smaller version of the NFB. It was surprising to hear that Louisiana would support the arts in this way. It is not something that is done in many states.
Bonnie Thompson, co-producer of Wild Life, was asked, “Where did the inspiration come from?” She said that Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis had grandparents that came from Britain and settled in southern Alberta. They weren’t remittance men like in the film, but still had a hard time on the plains. They included the information about comets because it happened in 1910 around the same time their family settled in Canada.
The third question, from Kevin Reher, was for the directors. He asked, “What are you guys doing now?” Brandon said that Moonbot just finished a short story app called Numberlys that was released earlier this year for the iPad. They are now in production on a short film based on the story from that app. Bonnie said that Wendy and Amanda just finished working on a couple of commercials and are talking about starting a new short film project. Patrick Doyon, director of Dimanche/Sunday said that he is doing illustrations for a children’s book, but will be starting a new short film later in the year called Le Volleur du Sandwich/The Sandwich Thief. It is about a man that keeps getting his lunch stolen at work and he tries to go after the culprit.
Pixar had a spectacular lunch waiting for us after the screening. There was roasted chicken, two different types of salads, an assortment of amazing vegetables and the most wonderful deserts. My favorite dish was the asparagus because they were as fat as two of my fingers and my favorite dessert was the raspberry cheesecake. They were small, delicious and I had two!
Many people stopped by to visit during lunch. Sanjay Patel, a long-time animator at Pixar, sat talking with Patrick Doyon, about various work projects. Sanjay gave Patrick a book of his, artwork from the Asian Art Museum show. Sanjay’s show, Deities, Demons, and Dudes with ‘Staches: Indian Avatars will be on exhibit until April 22nd in San Francisco. Patrick said he is going to go check it out this weekend before he leaves for the LA tour.
John Lasseter, the chief creative officer and one creative visionary behind Pixar, came to say hello and spent time meeting the filmmakers. We took pictures and he spoke to the directors about their films. Teddy Newton, the director of Pixar’s Oscar-nominated short Day &Night, stopped by and sat with us while we ate lunch. He was a really fun and interesting guy. He talked to Marc Bertrand and Patrick Doyon about their film.
We then went on a tour of the rest of the studio. There was an exhibit of the visual development work from Cars 2. Brandon mentioned he really liked the cars that had monocles. The Story Corner had displays of storyboards from Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3. It was cool to see and we were told that most of the boards are drawn by hand.
We ventured next door into the newest building, known as Brooklyn. The building accommodates 350 people, which is about half of the main building. It was built on part of the soccer field and opened May of last year. The architecture and décor mimic the city of Brooklyn. The brick walls and steel beams make it feel like you are in the historic city. We couldn’t take any photos in the building, but we did get to see the secret room in the fireplace. The room is called the Hearth Lounge. It is hidden behind a gas fireplace located on the front of the brick chimney and everything in the secret room has a fire theme to it. The bricks are a dark brown/black and the chandelier is woven metal wire. It looks like flames. There is also a television with a live feed of the view of the bay bridge. Ralph Eggleston, a senior art director who won an Oscar for the Pixar short For the Birds came down from upstairs to greet us. Ralph himself had been on the AWN Oscar Showcase Tour in 2002.
All the filmmakers said that they had a wonderful time at Pixar. It was really cool to see and experience the studio that has brought us amazing films like Toy Story, The Incredibles, and Wall-E. At the Q&A earlier in the day, Brandon Oldenburg said it best. “They say Walt Disney World is the greatest place on earth, but that is just for vacations. This (Pixar) is the greatest place on earth to work. It’s such a special setting and I am sure you all know it.”