By Kira Formina
It’s Friday and that means Pixar! Located in the quiet part of Emeryville, this impressive brick complex has an air of both importance and whimsy before we even enter.
But upon entering....the main “lobby” can be compared to a small airport in size and to a grand old Protestant cathedral in look - the high beams stretching to the two story high ceiling, the half-windowed roof, the woodwork; everything makes you want to stand and look around without talking for a few minutes.
But to half the nominees on the tour, this was nothing new, and there was quite a bit of talk to be had, in fact. Minkyu (Adam and Dog), interned here for three months; and both John Kahrs and David Silverman said it “brings back memories.” All three kept bumping into old friends and colleagues literally every step of the way; “you can’t walk ten feet!” was John’s remark.
John was given particular attention due to a recent “hottest directors” list circling the web. Every single person greeted him with “ginger hottie!” as per the description given him not too long ago in the article.
With familiar people everywhere, it was easy to pass the time before the tour began. Once we were greeted by our host Michelle Radcliff, we were led to the “no photographs allowed” second floor, its walls strewn with original concept art for Brave. Each stage of production was displayed and explained, from Steve Pilcher’s and Noah Klocek’s pencil/watercolors and digital renders, respectively, (there was actual moss reference on the walls next to plein air Scotland at sunset paintings), to the technical behind-the-scenes details (it was fascinating to find out that this was one of the first films to sculpt muscles into the characters’ faces, as well as to see the production process of 3D rendered cloth and hair, both using Pixar exclusive programs Renderman and Hairman.)
Afterwards, it was time for the screening. The lights dim over the red velveted theatre and the audience “oohs” as if on cue as a night sky complete with shooting stars comes over everyone, ironically very fitting to the start of Adam and Dog, the first on the screening list.
By day three, the films haven’t yet lost their entertainment value; the audience reaction, however, can already be guessed. Even before the screening, Minkyu’s former fellow colleagues seek him out to congratulate him on the brilliant film, saying how their moms cried at the end, and occasionally sharing dog photos...
The Q&A session is also familiar. The same questions seem to come up for each director: what was Minkyu’s inspiration? Tim’s timeframe and inspiration? whether John is planning to make a feature in the same style. Everyone was asked particularly about music: after all, it makes or breaks the film, taking less than half the time of actual animation to compose, but driving all emotion home.
David began by explaining how the Pagliacci sequence, done in the style of grand opera, helped express Maggie’s feelings without words. Minkyu continued, saying that originally he wanted to have only nature sounds in the background, up until Joey Newman (grandson of composer Lionel Newman) came up with the score you hear now, an ambient melody that asks the question “are you the one for me?” between Adam and the dog. “If before it was just a passable film, Newman’s score made it truly great!” Minkyu says.
Paperman was scored by Canadian Christophe Beck, except for the end sequence, which John sought in depth to express in just the right way. For this he went to Disney’s music editor Earl Ghaffari, who in turn recommended A&E, a piece by British duo Goldfrapp. An upbeat, modern sound building up to a sense of urgency, it nonetheless fits in beautifully with Paperman’s black and white retro look.
Here, John also took the opportunity to explain a bit more about the film’s visuals. None of the sets or props were modeled, although one might at first assume so from the picture’s seamless look. All flat geometry, plus semi-transparent brushes were used to paint right over the frames, allowing him to push and pull the values, arriving at the most realistic look for the piece. The paper airplanes utilized a vector program on top of hand drawn backgrounds.
After everyone returned their 3D glasses (used for Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare) it was time for lunch. Tons more people joined us for the meal, including Pixar legends Andrew Gordon and Teddy Newton, the latter who took part in Ron’s tour for his short Day and Night (2010). There are no chairs left, so Teddy pulls up a rocking chair, usually decoratively placed in front of one of the screens in the cafeteria; he’s already had lunch, so only has cookies and candies on his plate! John and David joke about medications in a plastic cup for Teddy, and continue in the same vein till everyone is cracking up. Old acquaintances and other industry people are discussed, Teddy never having to reach far for a hilarious comment!
After everyone is finished, it’s back up to the second floor for an inside look into Andrew Gordon’s office. The whole animation section of the floor is like a play room with random puppets, drawings, props, etc. all around, each cubicle and office decorated in a different theme. Andrew’s office is no exception, except for one minor detail in the back - it’s a hidden doorway!!! The classic bookshelf swings open to reveal the Lucky 7 Lounge inside, a mix of a casino and bar. The tiny closet space fits in ten people at most, all seated around the green-felt card table with “Presto” cards to the side and photos of celebrity visitors lining the walls; everyone is impressed by the pictures of Tom Cruise, Salman Rushdie, and Buzz Aldrin.
Exchanging anecdotes and laughs, Andrew hands out glasses of scotch to the group. A visitor sketchbook is passed around for doodles and signatures. But the hours run fast, so just as everyone is getting comfortable, it’s time to move on again. Where? To another bar across the hall! This time it’s the employee managed The Knife and The Fiddle, a genuine knife and fiddle tied up just above along with countless other memorabilia; old Pinocchio dolls just under the ceiling alongside glass chandeliers; glasses, old sketches, classic bar repertoire all included. There is a small stage and drums set up a few feet away with “Devoted Hound” written above. Mood lighting, toy houses, plants, and trays of cookies complete the experience.
But if we thought that was the top of the Pixar experience, it’s because we haven’t yet reached John Lasseter’s office. That came next. Pixar’s chief creative advisor’s main seating space is at first glance a jaw-dropping nest full of various toy collections. If you did not know who’s it was, the room would appear borderline clinical; but as it is, looks like the product of overwhelming devotion to his craft. Several collections of toy cars line the walls as you first enter; further down - the famous desk, flanked with photos taken with celebrities and presidents. Behind the corner - a bright miscellany of action figures, Buzz Lightyear dolls, plushes, vehicles, and other characters. Eyes can’t focus on one thing as you take it all in. But before long, we have to continue the tour and bid farewell to this most amazing of work spaces.
On to Brooklyn! Or such is the name of Pixar’s new building, the latest campus addition. Structurally the same as the main building, it lacks the fun decor of its partner structure. Still, we find fascinating tidbits and spaces in this two story high mansion. For instance the “Hearth Lounge” is designed made to look as if cast from a fire, with cast-iron doors, tables, and shelves. It’s suitable for anyone as a thinking or relaxing room.
The tour continues this afternoon at Tippett Studios...