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Finding Inspiration at Pixar… and the Toilet

The lights dimmed a little. Everyone in the audience went “oooooh.” The lights went out, the ceiling became a starfield, and everyone said “aaaaaah.” The Pixar person sitting next to me explained, “It’s a tradition.” And the red curtain lifted.

Day 2 kicks off at Pixar.Day 2 kicks off at Pixar.

written by Barbara Robertson

Long day, but a good day for the Oscar nominees. We started at Pixar where, first thing, right after taking pictures of each other in front of the giant Luxo lamp outside the front door and the monsters inside the Pixar’s enormous lobby / café / foosball court, they met Pete Docter, director of Pixar’s next feature, UP, matte painter Paul Topolos, and the Presto visual effects supervisor Tony Apodaca. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, and president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios walked into the lobby to introduce himself and welcome everyone. And then we were swept into Pixar’s huge theater. Doug Sweetland, director of Pixar’s nominated short Presto introduced Ron and Ron introduced all the nominees in our travelling band.

The lights dimmed a little. Everyone in the audience went “oooooh.”  The lights went out, the ceiling became a starfield, and everyone said “aaaaaah.” The Pixar person sitting next to me explained, “It’s a tradition.” And the red curtain lifted.

Ron Diamond introduces the nominees at the Pixar Theater.

Ron Diamond introduces the nominees at the Pixar Theater.

This was the first time many in the audience had seen the films and the reception was wonderful. After, all the nominees gathered on stage for questions and answers. They were all dressed in blue jeans and black sweater/shirt/T-shirt except for Konstantin who wore white pants with his black shirt and Kunio who had grey slacks and a black shirt. They looked like a team and after almost a day together are beginning to develop some camaraderie despite the language differences – the feeling that they’re in this amazing adventure together, not that they’re competitors. Now, back to the Pixar theater and the questions from the audience.

Q: Where did your inspiration come from?

A: Konstantin (“Lavatory – Lovestory”): From the toilet, of course. And, from the lonely woman.

Kunio (“La Maison en Petits Cubes”): I saw a key visual in my head of many houses on top of each other. I showed that to our scriptwriter.

Emud (“Oktaodi): From drawings of Octopi and also pictures of Greece.

Q – to Kunio: Do you ever do comedy?

A: I love comedy as well, but for this film about a lonely old man, which does have a bit of humor, I wanted to describe it simply and straightforwardly.

Q: What were your technical challenges?

A: Konstantin: You saw the film. There were no technical difficulties at all. I was drawing.

Kunio: The most technically challenging was texturing the hand drawings. There were many, many drawings. The coloring was done by computer. The challenge was to put the color into the drawings.

Emud: The octopi were most challenging– how to design, model, rig. But there were many challenges.

Q: Was it difficult to get agreement among the six directors of “Oktapodi?”

Emud: Yes. We talked it out until we all agreed. Everyone had a say. Then we went by the majority. Everyone was mature about it.

Eric added that Gobelins has determined that no one student should be responsible for the films. All the work on every part of the process should be a team effort all along. The school hopes the students come to a harmonious agreement because that’s what they will have to do in the real world.

Question to Kunio: Why the French title?

Kunio: Of course the original name is in Japanese. When we entered the film in International festivals, we needed a universal title. In English the title translated to something like houses of wood blocks and that didn’t feel right. A French friend said the film has a French feeling so it might be good to have a French name.

Q: What was the favorite aspect of the film?

A: Konstantin: The story. Totally.

Kunio: To see and create a film with different people as the director. Before, I worked with two or three people, but for this film I had to communicate, talk, embody the story. It was a challenge.

Emud: It’s hard to pick one thing. Maybe the octopi on the clothesline. Maybe it was the story phase when we were all together pretty much the entire time. When we moved into production we split up.

As we left the theater, Konstantin turned to me and said, “That was too thrilling!”

And then, on to lunch. Pixar laid a lavish spread for us with salmon, ravioli, broccoli rabe, fruit, salad, and cookies. As I was waiting my turn, I heard someone from Pixar say, “I think we will always remember: What was your inspiration? The toilet.”

The filmmakers get a chance to visit Pixar's secret Lucky 7 room.

The filmmakers get a chance to visit Pixar's secret Lucky 7 room.

So… after lunch, we toured Pixar, saw the RenderFarm, and walked through the animation area, but the one thing everyone wanted to see was Andrew Gordon’s office because they’d heard the stories and sure enough, Andrew tipped back Shakespeare’s head on a shelf near the built-in bookcase in his office. The bookcase rotated, and his secret Lucky 7 room appeared behind the wall. We drank a toast to everyone’s good fortune and went in search of the legendary Love Lounge next.

All told, we were at Pixar for four or five hours. The nominees met with people from Pixar who dropped by the lunch area, they shopped in the Pixar store, they began to get to know each other a little more now that they had all seen each other’s films. They moved from table to table in the lunch room sharing stories, asking questions.

Next stop. PDI. Stay tuned. Tomorrow is another big day, so I’m going to fall into my bed in the George Gershwin room in the bunk house at Skywalker Ranch. Although…. calling it a room is an understatement. It’s a suite with a full kitchen, couch, easy chairs and best of all, a Bosendorfer grand piano next to the dining room table. I promised Eric, who is in the John Houston room directly below, that I would not play any tunes until morning. G’night.


My humble accommodations at Skywalker Ranch.

My humble accommodations at Skywalker Ranch.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.