My Day at Pixar

IMG_0997I spent an amazing day at Pixar on Tuesday.  I was doing a Character Map session with some of their writers, artists, directors and others.  What an interesting creative bunch of people and what a tremendous corporate culture of openness, willingness to try new things, desire to always improve and be challenged.

It’s easy to spot people coming to Pixar for the first time.  They’re the ones, like me, walking around trying to soak in all the wonderful visuals in the building and snapping pictures like mad.  Here are some of mine–

As you walk toward the main building on the open green Pixar campus the first thing you notice is a giant Luxo Lamp standing at attention to welcome you.

Loxo is an Anglepoise desk lamps.  The character was inspired by one of the lamps on John Lasseter’s desk.  The lamp and a smaller version Luxo Jr, starred in the first film produced by Pixar Animation Studios in 1996.
Luxo Jr. is playing with a small red, yellow and blue rubber ball.  The smaller lamp chases and jumps on it.  The larger lamp watches and reacts to the playful antics. After the colorful ball deflates, because of exhaustion, Luxo scolds his younger companion.  Luxo Jr. then finds and plays with an even larger ball to Luxo’s head-shaking amazement.
“Luxo Jr. sent shock waves through the entire industry – to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist’s kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early ’80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr. … reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community.” –Edwin Catmull, Computer Animation: A Whole New World, 1998.
Luxo has become a “good luck charm” and an iconic symbol for the company much like Mickey is for Disney.

IMG_0998Loxo is an Anglepoise desk lamp.  The character was inspired by one of the lamps on John Lasseter’s desk.  The lamp and a smaller version, Luxo Jr, starred in the first film produced by Pixar in 1986.

In the film, Luxo Jr. plays with a small red, yellow and blue rubber ball.  The smaller lamp chases and jumps on it.  The larger lamp watches and reacts to the playful antics. After the colorful ball deflates, because of exhaustion, Luxo scolds his younger companion.  Luxo Jr. then finds and plays with an even larger ball to Luxo’s head-shaking amazement.

“Luxo Jr. sent shock waves through the entire industry – to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist’s kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early ’80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr. … reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community.” –Edwin Catmull, Computer Animation: A Whole New World, 1998.

Luxo has become a “good luck charm” and an iconic symbol for the company much like Mickey is for Disney.

IMG_0986As you walk past Luxo and in the door at Pixar, a giant atrium “town square” spreads out before you inside the building.  The Pixar Cafe is located here in the open with tables, chairs and benches all over.  My terrific tour guide and the person who invited me to Pixar, Adrienne Ranft, explained that this area of the building was designed to provide opportunities for everyone in the company to meet causually, have a chat on the go and generally mingle and cross-pollinate ideas.

The whole collection of Oscars and other Awards are on display here as well.  A reminder of the level of excellence expected of everyone.  And everyone’s “ownership” of the awards.

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This open area is filled with visual fun.  When I visited there were larger-than-life Lego versions of Woody and Buzz Lightyear standing in immediate greeting to all who enter.  Woody and Buzz continue to have adventures in Lego toys.  These were really beautiful versions of the characters.  The reception desk had a statue of Ratatouille munching on gourmet cheese, as I signed in.

Behind me as I walked in were life-sized replicas of Luigi and Guido from Cars.  Luigi is a proud 1959 Fiat 500. He is a big Ferrari fan, and has followed European Grand Prix racing his entire life. His license plate reads 445-108, which is the latitude and longitude for the main Ferrari factory in Modena, Italy.

IMG_0983In Cars, Luigi owns a tire shop, Casa Della Tires in Radiator Springs, which is famous for its “Leaning Tower of Tires.” This advertising sign is a stack of tires modeled on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. His assistant is an Italian forklift named Guido. Guido only fully understands Italian and is Luigi’s best friend. His name is a homonym for the Italian verb “I drive.”  His dream is be on a pit crew for a real racing car, which Lightening McQueen helps him realize in Cars.

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IMG_0987And further back, in the corner, were the group of green, three-eyed rubber aliens. They figure in all three Toy Story movies.  They first appear in Toy Story when Buzz discovers a giant claw game in Pizza Planet.  Mr. Potato Head saves them from flying out a Pizza Planet delivery truck in Toy Story 2.  The aliens are eternally grateful, to Mr. Potato Head’s unending dismay.  They figure in the toys’ salvation in Toy Story 3 due to their karmic relationship with “The Claw.”

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Nearer the door was a life-sized Sulley and Mike from Monsters, Inc.   The mild-mannered , Sulley, is the best monster in Monsteroplis at scaring kids.  Monster’s Inc., the company Sulley works for, extracts energy from children’s screams.  Mike is his faithful sidekick and publicity hound.  The two foil an evil plot against children to “extract” their screams with a machine, as a more efficient way to power Monsteropolis.  Sulley takes over Monsters, Inc. and changes the monsters’ task to make children scream with laughter and delight instead of scream with fear.

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Huge murals adorn the walls of the “village square” and upstairs is a art gallery for visiting collections and art created by Pixar employees.  The exhibition up during my visit was of show of Chuck Jones’ artwork.

IMG_0988I happened to have the privilege of interviewing Chuck before he died.  I talked to him and a number of surviving members of “Termite Terrace”  during a job for Warner Bros. to codify and establish style and character guides for all the classic Warner Bros cartoon characters.  Over the years and through all the licensing deals, relaunches and ancillary uses of the character a wide variety of inconsistencies threatened to blur their personality and uniqueness.  I helped work out what the key characteristics needed to be and how to communicate that clearly across multiple platforms and uses.

In the upper gallery, there was also a huge exhibition of Toy Story 3 artwork, models, story boards and boards that help create mood and tone solely through shape and color.  The exhibition will be traveling to several places to showcase the work in this wonderful film.  The attention to detail is amazing.

IMG_0996For example, I never realized that in Toy Story 3 blue is a “safe” color indicating security or possible salvation.  I am taking another look at the movie to see all the ways in which the color blue is used in that way.

Adrienne said that EVERYTHING used in the visuals, the music, the modeling is designed to support the story and clarify the characters.  If something doesn’t do that it is dumped– no matter how clever or inventive or interesting it is.  That’s a great note to end on.  Everything in a script you write should be subject to that same rigor.

4 Comments

  1. Reply Caroline Lawrence 9th February 2011

    Thanks for a brilliant glimpse behind the scenes at these great storytellers, Laurie. I really believe they are the Shakespeare of our day.

  2. Reply Laurie Hutzler 9th February 2011

    I would have to agree. Heart, Soul, Thrilling, Funny all in one package defines most of their films.

  3. Reply Rebecca 10th February 2011

    I love Pixar! Toy Story 3 is on my list of movies to see. That’s interesting about the use of the color blue throughout the movie; it’s a popular color for websites. People associate ‘blue’ with trustworthiness, competency, security, and honesty.

  4. Reply Laurie Hutzler 10th February 2011

    @Rebecca– Didn’t know that about websites and the associations in general. Thanks for noting that!

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