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Perception Helps Pixar Start and Finish with ‘Lightyear’ Titles

The New Jersey-based studio celebrates spacesuits and spaceships as it creates the opening and final credits for the studios most recent animated feature.

An important part of the cinematic aesthetic, and experience, are a film’s opening and end title sequences. For New Jersey-based Perception, title treatments are their specialty; the studio received an Outstanding Main Title Design Emmy nomination in 2021 for its work on WandaVision.  The visual effects and design lab, co-founded by Danny Gonzalez and Jeremy Lasky, collaborated with Disney and Pixar to create an end title sequence that celebrates the spacesuits and spaceships from their most recent animated feature, Lightyear, the film within the Toy Story franchise that inspired the Buzz Lightyear action figure character.   

Different tonal dynamics are in play with opening and end title sequences.  “When you’re doing the end title sequences its like a recap of what happened in the movie,” notes Gonzalez. “Whereas in an opening title sequence sometimes we’re introducing specific characters.”  Lightyear was a unique project. He continues, “This was the first time Pixar worked with an outside studio for a title sequence. That’s awesome as far as them trusting us, especially with the Lightyear brand.”

Take a look at the finished end title sequence:

Work began with the studio presenting various ideas to Pixar. “We wanted to come up with a wide range of different creative directions and concepts that we felt best illustrated the major themes of the film,” explains Lasky. “Then we worked collaboratively with Pixar, specifically director Angus MacLane, and other artists involved to narrow down the direction and concept they felt most resonates with the film.  Is that punctuation mark at the end of the movie in this case?  What feels to be the most appropriate coming out of this film?  The mood, tone and emotion we want to evoke at the end of it.”    

Ensuring visual consistency was not a problem. “It was not lost on us that we needed to make something that fit in a Pixar movie,” states Doug Appleton, CCD, Perception. “Fortunately, the folks at Pixar are generous and provided us with all the models at varying level of detail.  The things that we did make from the scratch were the textures because Pixar has its own proprietary system for textures, lighting, and rendering that didn’t work in our pipeline.” 

Here's the entire sequence of short production test videos for the end title sequence:

End Title Look Development Animatic

Camera Motion Tests

Laser Look Development Tests

As far as lighting and texturing, Lasky points out, “We went through a pass of default lighting at grey scale with no textures to say, ‘What moments do we want to focus on?’ Once that was locked, we went, ‘We only need to texture the wrist, these buttons or this part of the suit.’ It allowed us to put a lot more time and energy into making those look as detailed as they did. The Pixar model was so high resolution that our director of production, Eric Daly, who is the biggest Buzz Lightyear fan, 3D printed it and now flies back and forth from the studio and home in that!”

Greys and reds dominate the color palette. “Lightyear is more grounded in reality than we have seen from previous Pixar films,” Appleton reveals. “A lot of the reference we were looking at to put this together, and talked to Angus about, was The Terminator, Alien, and Blade Runner; these classic sci-fi movies that inspired everything that we put into this.  We wanted to make a sequence that evoked those movies as well.  That’s why we ended up with a darker color palette where it feels like we’re in a factory.  Maybe the suits are being put together or built.  Our guiding light was the original teaser trailer for Terminator 2: Judgement Day where the T-800 is being built in a factory.” 

The aesthetic was a deliberate departure from the first Pixar franchise. “There is a realism and an authenticity to the color palette and the look overall that is a far cry from the clean, shiny toys we are used to in Toy Story,” observes Lasky. “That was a deliberate and conscious decision to make this thing feel rougher around the edges.  It’s much more realistic in terms of the metals, materials, textures and reflections that went into it.  The names had to feel integrated and completely within the world, and on the texture and materials themselves.  We didn’t want it to feel like a sticker on top or something that was pasted in front of it.  That was all part of the design challenge.”

“Getting to our final laser look was definitely an iterative process but we knew from the beginning that we wanted this laser etching effect to happen,” Appleton shares.  “We found great reference of a laser that can remove rust from metal. It’s a fiery laser that smokes and sparks.”  Key moments were blocked out.  “We figured out what names would go on what imagery, what the best representation of that credit might be,” states Lasky.  “Sometimes there are great opportunities in a title sequence to match an image or vignette from the film with the actual person or credit.” 

Fiery sparks are a prominent effect in the opening title sequence.  “It comes right up as they crash the ship,” Appleton says. “We could have done a happy-go-lucky Disney Animation presents but it didn’t feel right.  We put a few directions together for that as well. With fiery sparks, you’re looking at it through the ashes of this big crash, which just happened to fit the tone. This is not your typical Pixar movie.  This is something new.”

Here's the opening title sequence:

The sparks were practical elements. “At some point its easier to use something practical rather than trying to cover the whole Houdini simulation to make just a few sparks.”  Reflecting on the project, Lasky say he’s proud of the work. “I saw the film in a movie theater and thought it was so appropriate. I can’t imagine any other title sequences!”

Trevor Hogg's picture

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer best known for composing in-depth filmmaker and movie profiles for VFX Voice, Animation Magazine, and British Cinematographer.