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kottke.org posts about Pixar

Pixar’s story rules: how to create compelling stories

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 08, 2012

Over a month and a half, Pixar story artist Emma Coats tweeted out a series of lessons she learned on the job about how to create appealing stories. Here are a couple of my favorites:

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th - get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

(via @daveg)

We Work Remotely

How Pixar almost deleted Toy Story 2

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2012

Taken from the Studio Stories series included on the Blu-ray versions of Toy Story 1 & 2, here’s a short story about how Toy Story 2 was almost erased before the film could be rendered for theaters.

Woody’s hat disappeared. And then his boots disappeared. And then as we kept checking, he disappeared entirely. Woody’s gone.

(via tested)

Update: Over at Quora, Oren Jacob (the guy in the video) explains in more detail what happened.

First, it wasn’t multiple terabytes of information. Neither all the rendered frames, nor all the data necessary to render those frames in animation, model, shaders, set, and lighting data files was that size back then.

A week prior to driving across the bridge in a last ditch attempt to recover the show (depicted pretty accurately in the video above) we had restored the film from backups within 48 hours of the /bin/rm -r -f *, run some validation tests, rendered frames, somehow got good pictures back and no errors, and invited the crew back to start working. It took another several days of the entire crew working on that initial restoral to really understand that the restoral was, in fact, incomplete and corrupt. Ack. At that point, we sent everyone home again and had the come-to-Jesus meeting where we all collectively realized that our backup software wasn’t dishing up errors properly (a full disk situation was masking them, if my memory serves), our validation software also wasn’t dishing up errors properly (that was written very hastily, and without a clean state to start from, was missing several important error conditions), and several other factors were compounding our lack of concrete, verifiable information.

The only prospect then was to roll back about 2 months to the last full backup that we thought might work. In that meeting, Galyn mentioned she might have a copy at her house. So we went home to get that machine, and you can watch the video for how that went…

The lost years of Steve Jobs

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2012

Brent Schlender interviewed Steve Jobs many times over the past 25 years and recently rediscovered the audio tapes of those interviews. What he found was in those years between his departure from Apple in 1985 to his return in 1996, Jobs learned how to become a better businessman and arguably a better person.

The lessons are powerful: Jobs matured as a manager and a boss; learned how to make the most of partnerships; found a way to turn his native stubbornness into a productive perseverance. He became a corporate architect, coming to appreciate the scaffolding of a business just as much as the skeletons of real buildings, which always fascinated him. He mastered the art of negotiation by immersing himself in Hollywood, and learned how to successfully manage creative talent, namely the artists at Pixar. Perhaps most important, he developed an astonishing adaptability that was critical to the hit-after-hit-after-hit climb of Apple’s last decade. All this, during a time many remember as his most disappointing.

The discussion of the lessons he took from Pixar and put into Apple was especially interesting.

And just as he had at Pixar, he aligned the company behind those projects. In a way that had never been done before at a technology company—but that looked a lot like an animation studio bent on delivering one great movie a year—Jobs created the organizational strength to deliver one hit after another, each an extension of Apple’s position as the consumer’s digital hub, each as strong as its predecessor. If there’s anything that parallels Apple’s decade-long string of hits—iMac, PowerBook, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad, to list just the blockbusters—it’s Pixar’s string of winners, including Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, WALL-E, and Up. These insanely great products could have come only from insanely great companies, and that’s what Jobs had learned to build.

The new Pixar film, it’s coming from inside the brain!

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 07, 2011

In a recent appearance on Charlie Rose, John Lasseter revealed the rough premise of an upcoming-but-untitled Pixar film:

Pete Docter, from Monsters, Inc. and Up, is doing a new film that takes place inside of a girl’s mind and it is about her emotions as characters, and that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

With Brave and now this, it looks like Pixar is finally taking their lack of female lead characters seriously.

The Art of Pixar

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2011

The Art Of Pixar

You can’t believe how excited my four-year-old was at the arrival of this book last night. He read it this morning as he ate his breakfast, quiet as a stone, save for the occasional “daddy, look at this!” outburst.

A day in the life of John Lasseter

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 14, 2011

I wasn’t going to watch all twenty-five minutes of this day-in-the-life feature about Pixar’s John Lasseter, but I got sucked in after the first two minutes for some reason and couldn’t stop. The main takeaway is that Lasseter is a relentlessly upbeat, absurdly rich, hugging, cheeseball train freak.

Watching it, I found it almost impossible to reconcile his cheeseball personality with the kind of movies that Pixar makes, except to note that the Pixar films he’s been involved with in a directorial or story capacity (Toy Storys 1-3, Cars 1-2) are the studio’s syrupiest (and Randy Newmanest). (via devour)

Planes, a “sequel” to Pixar’s Cars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 13, 2011

Pixar’s not involved — DisneyToon Studios is making it — but a direct-to-video Cars spin-off that features airplanes will go direct-to-video in spring 2013.

This movie is mostly a commercial for the inevitable billion-dollar toy/theme park tie-ins, but in general I am in favor of any kids movie that features White Zombie in the trailer. (via devour)

ps #1: This is probably going to get yanked from YT pretty quick. Sorry.

ps #2: My 3-yo son calls the main character in Cars “Lightening the Queen”. That would be an interesting movie.

Pixar and Pepsi and Apple, oh my!

posted by Jason Kottke   May 09, 2011

Speaking of the New Yorker, there are three articles from the current issue you folks might be interested in (subscriber-only): Malcolm Gladwell on Apple borrowing ideas from Xerox Parc, John Seabrook on Pepsi’s mission to make their offerings healthier, and Anthony Lane visits Pixar to see how the magic is made.

Pixar’s gender gap

posted by Tim Carmody   May 05, 2011

Persephone Magazine’s Stefan on “The Fall Of The Female Protagonist In Kids’ Movies,” specifically the last fifteen years of CGI animated film:

Think of all the female protagonists in Disney musicals. There are quite a number, almost as many as there are males—Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas, Mulan… the list goes on. Now think of female protagonists in Pixar movies.

There aren’t any. Not a single one.

This claim’s hedged a little bit, pointing to The Incredibles’ Elastigirl and Wall-E’s Eve as “strong, memorable female characters.” I’d say these two definitely count as protagonists, but there does seem to be something of a two-to-one rule: Finding Nemo’s Dory is a great protagonist, but she has to be paired with Marlin and Nemo (and Gill, and Crush…) The Incredibles is almost balanced. Almost.

Note that Stefan is far from the first person to point this out: these are just the links from the kottke.org archives:

Stefan thinks it has to do with the shift in animation from human characters (and their attendant romance plots) to the animals, toys, and robots that dominate Pixar and co. There’s something to that — a new research paper shows that not just in movies but in children’s books, animal characters are much more likely to be male than female:

The tendency of readers to interpret even gender-neutral animal characters as male exaggerates the pattern of female underrepresentation. The authors note that mothers frequently label gender-neutral animal characters as male when reading with their children, and that children assign gender to gender-neutral animal characters.

Here’s a different interpretation. Pixar’s movies are usually not just focused on men, but specifically on dads. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are the best examples of this, but even Up and Ratatouille traffic pretty heavily in father issues, if not fatherhood outright.

Traditional Disney movies were really kids’ fantasies, even the ones seemingly targeted for boys, like The Jungle Book or Robin Hood. Pixar seems to have realized that if you can get the dad to come to the movie and love the movie, the whole family will come. Maybe more than once. And they’ll probably buy the DVD and the video game, too. That’s the formula.

And of course, it doesn’t hurt that the people making the movies are largely dads and young men who seem to probably be working out some issues with their dads. Pixar’s John Lasseter has five children, all boys.

They’re great movies. I love them. But I can’t deny that’s partly because they’re made for me.

(Via @araqueltrubek)

Update: As many people have pointed out, Pixar has a forthcoming full-length movie, Brave, about a Scottish warrior-princess. It was slated to be directed by Brenda Chapman (Pixar’s first female director), then was replaced by Mark Andrews, with Chapman as co-director.

Also, my friend (and former student) Kaitlin Welborn nails me: I used “protagonist” in its debased modern meaning of “sympathetic character”/”agent for good,” not its original sense as the first/primary character of the drama — which is also just a better definition. In this sense, the protagonist of Finding Nemo is definitely Marlin, The Incredibles Mr Incredible, Wall-E Wall-E, and so forth.

I also agree with Kaitlin that Stefan also overstates how much of a substantive change there’s been from the hand-drawn Disney animated films, and Pixar/Dreamworks’ computer-animated films.

First, there’s the obvious point that the older Disney movies were pretty ideologically screwed-up. I think this is well-known. And well before Pixar came along, Disney was already moving towards male protagonists: Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, The Emperor’s New Groove.

I’ll stick by my main point, which is that 1) an overwhelming number of Pixar movies focus on dads and fatherhood (biological or symbolic) and 2) this is not an accident.

Behind the scenes at Pixar

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2011

The New York Times gets a rare behind the scenes look at Pixar.

(via devour)

The beauty of Pixar

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 29, 2010

A nice video tribute to Pixar that weaves together footage from all their films.

(thx, asdhsa)

Pixar Star Wars

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 25, 2010

Illustrations of Pixar characters drawn as Star Wars characters.

Toy Story + The Wire mashup

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2010

Woody = McNulty, Buzz = Stringer, and Mr. Potato Head = Bunk. (via stevey)

Interview with Pixar’s Ed Catmull

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 21, 2010

Scott Berkun transcribed some of the more interesting points of a video interview with Ed Catmull done during an Economist conference last month.

[At Pixar] there is very high tolerance for eccentricity, very creative, and to the point where some are strange… but there are a small number of people who are socially dysfunctional [and] very creative — we get rid of them. If we don’t have a healthy group then it isn’t going to work. There is this illusion that this person is creative and has all this stuff, well the fact is there are literally thousands of ideas involved in putting something like this together. And the notion of ideas as this singular thing is a fundamental flaw. There are so many ideas that what you need is that group behaving creatively. And the person with the vision I think is unique, there are very few people who have that vision.. but if they are not drawing the best out of people then they will fail.

The video is embedded in Berkun’s post as well. (via sippey)

Pixar’s The Terminator

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2010

Pixar’s conservatism

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2010

Pixar, social conservatives?

There is something conservative about much of Pixar’s output, but when I say conservative, I mean a small “c” conservative that sees the world along the same lines as Edmund Burke: “A disposition to preserve.” I’m going to call this “social conservatism,” by which I don’t mean the religious or moral conservatism of modern political discourse, but a conservatism that is interested in preserving traditional social features — in particular, the idea of “family” — but which sees such preservation as ultimately futile. The family will dissolve, eventually, and so we must do what we can to keep it going as long as possible. It is a worldview based not on progression but on loss.

Has 3-D already failed?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2009

With the announcement of releasing Avatar only in 3-D, James Cameron was supposed to cram 3-D down the throats of theater owners, movie goers, and everyone else. Except that didn’t quite happen and Avatar is being released in 2-D as well. Kristin Thompson sees other cracks in the plan for 3-D’s future domination of cinema.

One of the main arguments always rolled out in favor of conversion is that theaters can charge more for 3-D screenings. Proportionately, theaters that show a film in 3-D will take in more at the box-office because they charge in the range of $3 more per ticket than do theaters offering the same title in a flat version.

But what happens when, say, half the films playing at any given time in a city are in 3-D? Will moviegoers decide that the $3 isn’t really worth it? Even now, would they pay $3 extra to see The Proposal or Julie & Julia in 3-D? The kinds of films that seem as if they call out for 3-D are far from being the only kinds people want to see. Films like these already make money on their own, unassisted by fancy technology.

Thompson briefly mentions Pixar as well, saying that they don’t seem too keen on 3-D (or at least not as keen as Cameron or Katzenberg). But the zeal with which the 3-D-ness of Up was promoted was tacky and not at all typical of Pixar, a company that spent the last twenty years insisting that their films were not about the technology but about the same things that the makers of live action films were concerned with…real moviemaking stuff. To trumpet this 3-D technology that doesn’t enhance films in anything other than a superficial sense seems like a step backwards for them.

Vol Libre, an amazing CG film from 1980

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2009

In 1980, Boeing employee Loren Carpenter presented a film called Vol Libre at the SIGGRAPH computer graphics conference. It was the world’s first film using fractals to generate the graphics. Even now it’s impressive to watch:

That must have been absolutely mindblowing in 1980. The audience went nuts and Carpenter, the Boeing engineer from out of nowhere, was offered a job at Lucasfilm on the spot. He accepted immediately. This account comes from Droidmaker, a fascinating-looking book about George Lucas, Lucasfilm, and Pixar:

Fournier gave his talk on fractal math, and Loren gave his talk on all the different algorithms there were for generating fractals, and how some were better than others for making lightning bolts or boundaries. “All pretty technical stuff,” recalled Carpenter. “Then I showed the film.”

He stood before the thousand engineers crammed into the conference hall, all of whom had seen the image on the cover of the conference proceedings, many of whom had a hunch something cool was going to happen. He introduced his little film that would demonstrate that these algorithms were real. The hall darkened. And the Beatles began.

Vol Libre soared over rocky mountains with snowy peaks, banking and diving like a glider. It was utterly realistic, certainly more so than anything ever before created by a computer. After a minute there was a small interlude demonstrating some surrealistic floating objects, spheres with lightning bolts electrifying their insides. And then it ended with a climatic zooming flight through the landscape, finally coming to rest on a tiny teapot, Martin Newell’s infamous creation, sitting on the mountainside.

The audience erupted. The entire hall was on their feet and hollering. They wanted to see it again. “There had never been anything like it,” recalled Ed Catmull. Loren was beaming.

“There was strategy in this,” said Loren, “because I knew that Ed and Alvy were going to be in the front row of the room when I was giving this talk.” Everyone at Siggraph knew about Ed and Alvy and the aggregation at Lucasfilm. They were already rock stars. Ed and Alvy walked up to Loren Carpenter after the film and asked if he could start in October.

Carpenter’s fractal technique was used by the computer graphics department at ILM (a subsidiary of Lucasfilm) for their first feature film sequence and the first film sequence to be completely computer generated: the Genesis effect in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The sequence was intended to act as a commerical of sorts for the computer graphics group, aimed at an audience outside the company and for George Lucas himself. Lucas, it seems, wasn’t up to speed on what the ILM CG people were capable of. Again, from Droidmaker:

It was important to Alvy that the effects support the story, and not eclipse it. “No gratuitous 3-D graphics,” he told the team in their first production meeting. “This is our chance to tell George Lucas what it is we do.”

The commercial worked on Lucas but a few years later, the computer graphics group at ILM was sold by Lucas to Steve Jobs for $5 million and became Pixar. Loren Carpenter is still at Pixar today; he’s the company’s Chief Scientist. (via binary bonsai)

Wall-E end credits

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 22, 2009

The Art of the Title Sequence takes a look at the excellent ending credits for Wall-E and interviews the gentlemen responsible.

Jim Capobianco’s end credits to Andrew Stanton’s “WALL-E” are essential; they are the actual ending of the film, a perfect and fantastically optimistic conclusion to a grand, if imperfect idea. Humanity’s past and future evolution viewed through unspooling schools of art. Frame after frame sinks in as you smile self-consciously. It isn’t supposed to be this good but there it is. This is art in its own right. Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman’s song, “Down to Earth” indulges you with some incredibly thoughtful lyrics and, from the Stone Age to the Impressionists to the wonderful 8-bit pixel sprites, you are in the midst of something special.

(via quipsologies)

Pixar’s princess

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 10, 2009

Two movies from now, after Toy Story 3 and Newt, Pixar is *finally* releasing a movie with a female main character. The only problem? She’s a princess.

I have nothing against princesses. I have nothing against movies with princesses. But don’t the Disney princesses pretty much have us covered? If we had to wait for your thirteenth movie for you to make one with a girl at the center, couldn’t you have chosen something — something — for her to be that could compete with plucky robots and adventurous space toys?

Disney’s princesses do have us covered.

Pixar short: Partly Cloudy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2009

Quick, before it gets taken down: Partly Cloudy, the Pixar short preceding Up is available on YouTube.

Toy Story 3 teaser trailer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2009

Opens June 2010.

Pixar doesn’t care about Disney’s investors

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2009

Disney investors are getting a little antsy with Pixar and their irritating need to make movies that are good without worrying about their commercial success or how many action figures of the main characters can be sold. Says Disney’s CEO:

We seek to make great films first. If a great film gives birth to a franchise, we are the first company to leverage such success. A check-the-boxes approach to creativity is more likely to result in blandness and failure.

Invest in Dreamworks for that check-the-boxes creativity, why don’t you. (thx, kabir)

Pixar: no chicks allowed

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2009

We’ve been over this before, but with Wall-E’s recent win at the Oscars, it’s worth mentioning again: Pixar movies don’t have any good women characters.

Ratatouille: Male rat (Remy) dreams of becoming chef and achieves his goal even though movie sidetracks to cover ludicrous and unnecessary romance between humans part way through. This is the kind of shit that bothers me: Why is it important that the rat have a penis? Couldn’t Remy have been written for a female lead? Why not? Collette’s right — the restaurant business is tough for women, especially when even the fictional rat-as-chef barrier can only be broken by a male character. Female characters: Colette, that old lady with the gun, um… maybe some patrons?

More than a Token score: 1/10. ZOMG, we have one female character. We’d better make her fall inexplicably in love with the bumbling Linguini, stat!

Andrew Stanton interview

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2009

Video interview with Pixar’s Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Among other things, he talks about two things that enabled the success of Pixar: the creative egalitarian dictatorship of John Lasseter and the ability of Steve Jobs to protect everyone from any outside business pressures and just create.

How Pixar hires

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2009

In a 10-minute video, Randy Nelson, the Dean of Pixar University, talks about how Pixar hires. One thing they look for is people who are interested rather than interesting.

Pixar spoof video

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2008

Now that Luxo Jr. is 22 years old, he’s interested in more than just chasing beach balls around. NSFW if videos of animated masturbating household furnishings aren’t safe to view in your workplace. There are a bunch of other Pixar spoof videos featuring variations on the Pixar lamp…from “state of the art” in 1986 to “anyone with some 3-D animation software can upload to YouTube” in 2008.

Pixar’s Burn-E

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2008

Pixar presents the adventures of Burn-E, a robot contemporary of Wall-E.

The events in Burn-E’s short film take place concurrent with those in the feature film.

Update: YouTube just took the video down at Pixar’s request. If you missed it, check it out here. (thx, jose)

Trailer for Pixar’s Up

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2008

New trailer for Pixar’s Up. I hope I’m wrong, but this seems like the first Pixar movie that won’t appeal to adults and kids at the same time.

Presto, short film before Wall-E

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 28, 2008

HD version of Presto, the short film shown before Pixar’s Wall-E. The shorts shown before Pixar films seemingly have something to do with the next film in the company’s pipeline. Boundin’ preceded Cars (both were set in the desert Southwest), One Man Band came out before Ratatouille (the former set in Italy, the later in France, but with similar “set” design), and Lifted preceded Wall-E (both featured outer space and spaceships), but I can’t figure out what Presto has to do with Up (the teaser’s no help).