Pixar Animation Studios

My first encounter with Pixar was Toy Story (1995, dir. John Lasseter). I absolutely hated it. Then came the era of Monsters Inc. (2001, dir. Pete Docter, David Silverman & Lee Unkrich) and Finding Nemo (2003, dir. Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich). I was spellbound. Monsters Inc was funny to the core, without a doubt. However, Finding Nemo presented the most extraordinary underwater environments I had ever seen. I think this film really influenced my artistic style, with its use of vibrant colours and appealing plants. Not to mention, started my fascination for jellyfish.

Image source. Finding Nemo (2008).

Image source. Finding Nemo (2008).

Still, no film of theirs has ever caught my attention as much as Wall-E (2008, dir. Andrew Stanton). Apparently the director was so fascinated by R2-D2 (Star Wars, dir. George Lucas, 1977), that he wanted to make a whole film as a character tribute. The concept was pure and simple: what if humanity had to leave Earth, and somebody forgot to switch off the last robot (Hauser, 2008)?

What I loved about the film was the lack of dialogue, because it opened up for a deeper, more emotional performance than I think any CGI film has ever accomplished, even till this day. The clip below shows the characters through a range of emotions, without the necessity of a single sentence. In a way, it brings back the techniques of the past, before the audio-visual media was created.

With Inside Out (2015, dir. Pete Docter & Renaldo Del Carmen) their 15th feature film coming out in June, my expectations are pretty high. The film is said to be a massive emotion picture, presenting the characters Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. I think the concept is quite intriguing. There’s been few truly original animated films lately, and I’m quite curious about how Pixar will reflect this massive weight on emotion in their production design. How will sources of light be presented, how does the ultimate emotional darkness look?


The Pixar production process goes as follows (Pixar):

  1. Concept pitch. Goal: make your audience see your concept’s potential and believe in your idea.
  2. Text treatment: a summary of your story’s main idea. Sometimes many treatments are developed from the same idea, in order to find the perfect balance.
  3. Script.
  4. Storyboard: each storyboard artist receives a script and/or beat outline (a map of the characters’ emotional changes which must be visualized). The finished storyboard suggestions are then pitched to the director(s).
  5. Sound recordings: first, temporary voices are recorded by the artists themselves. As dialogue is developed further, professional voice actors are brought in. If the scratch voices are liked, they keep them.
  6. Animatic.
  7. Concept art: based on the original text treatment, storyboards and own ideas, the art department develops the world and characters through inspirational illustrations. The feel of the film is developed through a colour script, in which the color palette is plotted into the storyboard or the beat board (summary of storyboard).
  8. Models: three-dimensional characters are modeled in wireframe along an X-, Y- and Z-axis. These models describe the objects’ shapes and motion controls. The characters are then given avars (hinges). A character can normally have about 100 avars in its face alone.
  9. Sets: environments created for the film’s story. After being built as three-dimensional models, the sets are dressed with props (pretty much like virtual set dressing).
  10. Character blocking: characters are placed within the sets to check the functionality of animation key frames and camera angles. This ensures perfected cinematography.
  11. Shooting: the layout crew choreographs the virtual characters within the sets. Action is filmed through a virtual camera. The layout department often produces several versions of a shot to provide post-production with different choices of angles, for a maximum storytelling effect. -Again, pretty similar to live-action filming.
  12. Animation: after a scene is choreographed in shooting, the Pixar animators function as puppeteers for the characters. They control the motion controls and avars of the characters to form the key poses. Pixar’s computer program then automatically fill in the in-between poses. Key poses often have to be re-done before the director approves them.
  13. Shade: texture, colour and various finishes are added to each individual object. Characters are dressed with textures that simulate natural wrinkles and skin flow, and hair that is affected by virtual breeze.
  14. Lighting: takes inspiration from the color scripts.
  15. Rendering: translates all the file information (sets, colours, animation) into a single film clip. One second of animation consists of 24 frames, where each second on average takes six hours to render!
  16. Music and sound added.


Image source. Brave concept art.

Image source. Brave (2010, dir. Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman & Steve Purcell) concept art.

Progression reel of Monsters Inc.: