Monday, December 19, 2011

Animation Roundtable features Lasseter, 'Pooh' director, and a discussion on MoCap

Briefly: Watch the Hollywood Reporter's roundtable discussion with the Animation contenders this awards season. Those in the discussion include Stephen J. Anderson (Winnie the Pooh), Jamie Beard (Tintin), John Lasseter (Cars 2), Chris Miller (Puss in Boots), Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2), Carlos Saldanha (Rio) and Gore Verbinski (Rango).

Make sure to watch all three parts of the discussion, which covers a range of topics, including the controversial "motion capture vs. animation" debate.



My Tour of Pixar

Back in July, Brianna Galloway, Chris Wiggum, and the great folks at Pixar were all kind enough to give me a tour of the studio.

And, let me tell you, it is everything you expect, and more. When you first enter the grounds, it is quit pleasant. There is a lot of lush greenery and walkways and open space. Upon entering the main building, you are greeted by the iconic massive atrium, complete with 6-foot-tall LEGO Woody and Buzz, and full-sized Guido and Luigi figures.

The receptionist's desk is directly to the left, and a couch sits to the right. Behind the couch is a display case filled with Oscars, Annie Awards, Golden Globes, etc. Quite impressive.

The atrium also includes, of course, the cereal room (complete with any kind of milk you might desire), an exclusive "Studio Store" where I spent far more money than I could afford to, a small cafe, and tables for employees to relax and socialize.

The back wall of the atrium leads to a large screening room where the Pixarians watch dailies, host events, and just have fun. The night after my visit they planned on watching Jurassic Park, most likely spurred on by their upcoming dino-project.

The upper level contains production offices, and a massive gallery in the main hallway. The gallery was all about Cars 2 during my visit, since it changes based on the current project. There's anything from storyboards to character sheets and digital poster art. There are even TVs with headphones playing video interviews with the film's creators.

On the first level is the RenderFarm and over at the brand new building, Brooklyn, are the pre-production offices (and massive, wonderful Brave paintings and art). The final building houses the publicity department.

There is also a gym, basketball court (complete with Luxo's ball in center court), garden, and soccer field.

As you'd expect, nothing escapes the Pixar charm. The bathroom plaques are Bo Peep for Women and Woody for Men. (An interesting anecdote I was told is that Lasseter only wanted two restrooms on the whole grounds so that it would force employees to interact with each other, but apparently that wasn't realistic.) The Brooklyn building's marble floors have the occasional Pixar character's silhouette hidden among the abstract pattern if you look hard enough.

Oh, and every person had a glowing smile on their face.

Let it suffice to say that I plan on working at Pixar one day. Not just because they make the world's best movies. Not just because they are outside the world's most awesome city, San Francisco. Not just because Fenton's, as featured in Up, is a short drive away and had the best sundae I've ever had. Not just because I went broke at the Studio Store and need to make more money to support the habit. But for all of these reasons combined. It's just a great place to be.

If you ever get the chance to pass through that gate, take it. You'll never want to look back.


Friday, December 16, 2011

New 'Misson: Impossible' is action-packed, storyless

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is fun. It delivers everything you expect from a Mission: Impossible flick. Car chases, explosions, death-defying stunts, and more gadgets than you can shake a stick at—it's all there. Director Brad Bird definitely learned a thing or two when he made The Incredibles, because the action is superb. I won't give away much of the plot, but that's just because there isn't much of a plot to divulge. This movie is intense, action-packed eye candy. Don't look much further than that.

But actually, you really shouldn't have to. I'd venture to say that this particular film has some of the best action sequences I have ever seen. They developed some seriously fantastic set pieces. The opening prison escape set to Dean Martin's Ain't That a Kick in the Head? Genius. The insane acrobatics on the side of a skyscraper, hundreds of feet above Dubai? Terrifying. Once your heart is pumping faster than a metronome set to max, they up the intensity even more. The suspense is constantly stacked higher and higher, unbelievably so. And then they make it even crazier. Let it suffice to say that this movie creates such dynamic and well-paced action that it is tiring to watch. In a good way.

The intensity of the action is off-set by a subtle yet biting humor that rears its head at just the right moments, making you laugh out loud. (You'll do so to both relieve some of that action-induced tension, but also to engage with such well-written wit.)

Like I said, this movie is great for everything besides its story. The plot is obviously there to just serve the set pieces and imaginative gadgetry. Their attempts at emotion come off as cheesy and fall flat, and whatever twists they tried to infuse (which I think they did), didn't come across. But that's OK, because the attempt at a powerful story doesn't distract from the adrenaline rush you get from the action.

Giacchino's score, as always, is perfection. Brad Bird slipped in two tasteful Easter Eggs in the form of “A113” inscribed on the graduation ring of Josh Holloway's character, and Ethan requesting extraction from quadrant “Alpha One-One-Three.”

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol won't disappoint. Don't expect an emotional punch. But do expect mind-numbing, sweat-inducing, thousand-mile-per-hour intensity flying at you.

It is a fun movie.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Go See 'The Muppets'

Briefly: Go and see The Muppets as soon as you can.

I know it's old news since I haven't had much chance to do much of anything lately, but do yourself a favor and follow my advice.

It is the best comedy I've seen this year, and possibly the best film, too. Not only does it bring back that lovable Muppets charm we've been missing for a few decades, but it also has catchy music, impressive cameos, downright funny jokes, and a plot with as much charm as a Lasseter picture. The jokes are in the classic style of the Muppets: self-aware, clever, and always fresh.

It's been a long time since I laughed out loud during a movie that also packed an emotional punch, but it happened routinely during The Muppets. I've been waiting for years to see something new from The Muppets, and I was not let down.

The Muppets are back, and I could not be happier.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'Brave' trailer debuts

Above you'll find the brand new Brave trailer, released by Disney this morning. The film, produced by Pixar, will be coming out June 2012.

It is looking more and more like a formulaic fairytale--something very un-Pixar. Still, it is also looking very epic, very funny, and just plain awesome.

Stay tuned for more Brave info as its release nears . . .


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Lasseter gets star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

Yesterday, Mr. John Lasseter finally got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The ceremony took place on Hollywood Boulevard in front of Disney's historic El Capitan theater. Lasseter thanked many people over the course of the ceremony, but only got choked up once, when thanking the late and great Steve Jobs:

There is one last person I want to share this with, and that is my partner Steve Jobs... Without him, Pixar would not exist.
Among those at the ceremony were Owen Wilson, Don Rickles, and members of the Pixar Brain Trust, as well as voice talent-favorite John Ratzenberger. Mr. Ratzenberger insisted, as seriously as possible, that the reason he gets to voice a character in every Pixar film is an event that took place many years ago. Ratzenberger was a tap dancer at a carnival, at which he saved a child Lasseter from a tipped over funnel cake machine. Ratzenberger said, "He looked up at me and said, 'Mister, someday I'm gonna pay you back.'"

The ceremony was followed by a luncheon catered by Food Network's Guy Fieri (an individual whom I happen to find exceedingly annoying), of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.

The event was scheduled for next June, but was most likely bumped up to coincide with Cars 2's DVD release in a PR push.

You can now find Lasseter's name immortalized on a star at the heart of L.A. But we all knew, since Luxo Jr. first premiered all those decades ago, that his name would be immortalized not from a plaque in the ground, but from his passion and dedication to storytelling and the art-form of animation.

Congratulations, Mr. Lasseter.

Read more on the ceremony at TheWrap and LATimes.

Photo by Alex J. Berliner/ABImages


Monday, October 31, 2011

'Art of Pixar': Colorscript Awesomeness! (Plus a new 'Toy Story' book!)

Coming out later this week on November 2, The Art of Pixar is a complete collection of Pixar's colorscripts.

I got my hands on a copy, and, lemme tell you, this book will knock your socks off. The colorscript is a true artform in itself, and this book showcases just how detailed and important they can really be. The book, compiled and written by the oh-so-talented Amid Amidi includes colorscripts from every Pixar film thus far, in their entirety, from Luxo Jr. to Cars 2 and La Luna.

Only a fraction of the pages have text on them, but those that do are rich with information and descriptions about the process that Pixar has refined to a fine science.

I highly recommend the book. While it won't have as wide appeal as the typical "Art of" book, it is a very unique look into a process not many know about. It is just beautiful.

Check it out on Amazon here.
Also, Amazon has recently created an entry for a brand new Toy Story 'art of' book,' listed for release in late 2o12. The description reads:

"[The book] recounts the origin and growth of one of the most significant and successful franchises in Hollywood history. Readers... will discover interviews... artwork... and untold details of the trials, tribulations, and triumphs that the filmmakers experienced while creating such unforgettable characters."
The book, titled simply The Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey, is being written by the 'Art of TS3' author, animation historian Charles Solomon.


Friday, October 21, 2011

Mary Blair's 100th Birthday

Google's doodle today, seen above, is a tribute to the late and great Mary Blair. The incredibly talented artist behind It's a Small World, with contributions to classics like Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice in Wonderland, was born 100 years ago today.

She has been deemed a Disney legend in more ways than one, massively shaping the style many Disney films and theme park attractions have taken. Her unique touch is hard to miss, and is nothing short of spectacular. Just get your hands on a copy of this or this or this, and be astounded by the manner in which she treats shape and color and contrast and artistic minimalism. It is unlike any artist before her or since.

Today we remember Mary, her wonderful film contributions, her gorgeous murals (now lost to less successful renovations), and the creative spirit she brought to the Disney we all know and love.


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs and His Legacy

Today, the world lost a truly great man.

Steve Jobs, father of Apple Computers, passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Although he isn't with us anymore, we can rest assured that he won't soon be forgotten. He instilled in this generation and those past a love for technology. He turned something rigid and data-oriented into something beautiful and human. He made a small bunch of circuits the iPod, and proceeded to the change the world with it. Time and time again he'd shake the foundations of the computing industry with his devotion to simplicity and undying love of innovation.

But, not only did he pioneer the world of technology, but he singlehandedly assured the creation of Pixar Animation Studios at a time when nobody else would believe in them. In a press release from just moments ago, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull say:

Steve Jobs was an extraordinary visionary, our very dear friend and the guiding light of the Pixar family. He saw the potential of what Pixar could be before the rest of us, and beyond what anyone ever imagined. Steve took a chance on us and believed in our crazy dream of making computer animated films; the one thing he always said was to simply 'make it great.' He is why Pixar turned out the way we did and his strength, integrity and love of life has made us all better people. He will forever be a part of Pixar’s DNA. Our hearts go out to his wife Laurene and their children during this incredibly difficult time.
Steve was also heavily involved with Disney in the past decade or so, after all of his Pixar stock awarded him a seat on the Board once Disney acquired Pixar. Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, had this to say:
Steve Jobs was a great friend as well as a trusted advisor. His legacy will extend far beyond the products he created or the businesses he built. It will be the millions of people he inspired, the lives he changed, and the culture he defined. Steve was such an "original," with a thoroughly creative, imaginative mind that defined an era. Despite all he accomplished, it feels like he was just getting started. With his passing the world has lost a rare original, Disney has lost a member of our family, and I have lost a great friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Laurene and his children during this difficult time.
The world is certainly a little bit brighter thanks to Steve. He was a truly unique individual with a love for the minimal, a passion for technology and moving forward, and a thirst for life he shared with so many during his outstanding life.

Steve, you will be missed, but never forgotten.

Image: Courtesy of Disney/Pixar


Disney bringing back 'Nemo,' 'Mermaid,' and more in 3D

Hot on the heels of a stellar box office run for The Lion King's re-release in 3D, Disney has announced its plans to do the exact same thing with Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Monsters, Inc., releasing them over the next two years.

Rich Ross, chairman of Walt Disney Studios, says that:

Great stories and great characters are timeless, and at Disney we're fortunate to have a treasure trove of both. We are thrilled to be able to give audiences of all ages the chance to experience these beloved tales in an exciting new way with 3D - and in the case of younger generations, for the first time on the big screen.
Although you know how I feel about 3D, I'm very excited to see these four films in the theater once more. I saw Lion King twice and loved every single giant-screened, surround-sounded, vibrant-colored, popcorn-eating second of it.

But, then again, I saw the 2D version.

Regardless of your opinion on 3D, this is exciting news. It's apparent that Disney's chief goal here is to make money and not necessarily satisfy us diehard fans, but you can't rally blame them. After Simba roared in at $80 million almost two decades after he first bowed at the theater, you can't help but think about the potential there is in the re-release market.

Let the countdown to reliving the fond films of yesteryear begin!


Monday, September 26, 2011

John Musker on the Art of Animation, Part 1: Musker's Humble Beginnings (featuring John Lasseter, Brad Bird, and Tim Burton!)

A few months ago I attended an Animation Master Class with none other than John Musker, director of The Little Mermaid, Hercules, Aladdin, and Princess and the Frog.

It was quite the experience, since, as you might guess, Musker is a wealth of information and wonderful stories.

But, before I get into any of that, I want to talk a little bit about where I attended the Master Class. The Walt Disney Family Museum, situated in a corner of the quiet little Presidio right off of the Golden Gate Bride in San Francisco, is a dream for anyone who appreciates Disney. The museum begins with a simple room, filled with Walt's various awards, some photographs, and other random memorabilia to give you a taste of what's in store.

But that's just the beginning.

You walk into the first room and are presented with loads of information, interactive video, games, photographs, artifacts, etc. from Walt's childhood. You get narrated anecdotes from Walt himself about when he was growing up, complete with animation and photographs. The museum does an incredibly good job at letting you understand every facet of every stage of Walt's tremendous life. It moves gradually trough each stage, showing off examples of the works Walt created in that time, such as the Alice shorts, Oswald cartoons, etc. Each of the 10 roooms present you with more letters, stories, pictures, merchandise, and other mementos that let you know just what kinda guy Walt was.

Oh, and the Disneyland room is marvelous, with a massive diorama of the park as it was in 1955, complete with a bunch of video and attraction posters and other fascinating things.

The museum concludes with a small TV playing broadcasts from various different sources on the day of Walt's death, accompanied by a large wall of quotations, comics, and other art from that day commemorating Walt Disney. It is a tender send-off, and a perfectly bittersweet way to conclude a journey through that man's life.

As you can tell, the museum is not only comprehensive, but exhaustive on the elaborate life of the man behind it all. You can really appreciate the museum's dedication to not telling the story of the company, but the life of the man. It is apparent that those behind the museum really care about Walt's legacy, which is no surprise since his daughter, Diane Disney Miller, is one of the museum's co-founders.

Needless to say, I loved the Walt Disney Family Museum. It is fun, interesting, and an in-depth, tender look at the life of a legend.
Now, on to Mr. Musker. After walking through the museum (at a pace faster than I preferred since I had to make the class), I went to the small auditorium down below, which I estimate held about 50 of us.

John Musker stood at a podium at the bottom of the small room and simply talked to us about animation and his career so far.

Mr. Musker began with his education; he received a bachelor's degree in English, with the hopes that it would make him read the types of books he'd never get around to reading otherwise. He enjoyed literary studies, but his true passions lied in the worlds of drawing and film. In fact, he drew caricatures and comics for his high school paper, and made super 8 films with his friends growing up (although they never got incredibly focused on their main film--the actor was 14 when they started the movie and 17 when they finished, since they had to end it then or they'd lose their actor when he left for college).

After graduating from college he decided that he ought to pursue his true passions, and settled on applying for a position at Disney's animation division. To get hired he had to submit a portfolio of his work, and Disney was looking specifically for good life drawings of animals. It was in Chicago, the winter following his college graduation when young John Musker went with his sketchbook to the zoo in an attempt to sketch his way to glory. However, it was so cold that he could hardly even feel his hands, let alone draw something that would impress Disney. So, he compromised by going to the local museum and using their dioramas as models for his sketches. (He also got a little distracted and drew some caricatures of the museum's guard, who looked over John's shoulder to correct his drawing by stating, "My hat has eight points on it, young man!")

Disney rejected John Musker. They told him his portfolio didn't meet their standards, calling his life drawings "too stiff." (Ha!) Then, a few months later, he received another letter from Disney recommending that he attend CalArts, since his résumé and portfolio had a lot of potential.
So, he did.

And, wouldn't you know it, he was in the same now-legendary CalArts course with John Lasseter and Brad Bird. After learning that, it came as no surprise when Mr. Musker said he learned as much from his fellow students as he did from the teachers.

Although his pursuits lie in the field of animation, Musker's real gift shines when he indulges in the art of caricature. In fact, he told the majority of his presentation through various caricatures of people he projected on a screen at the front of the room. One of the first ones he showed us was of an enthusiastic, big-haired Brad Bird with thumbs high up in the air, accompanied by a bursting speech bubble which read "We can change the world, maaaan!" I can definitely picture Brad Bird acting like that, especially in college. Very funny stuff.

That led Musker to a short anecdote. Brad Bird loved Spielberg's work, so he, Musker, and some other CalArts students went to the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind when it first came out. Brad, being excitable at the premiere of such a Spielbergian movie, enthusiastically pointed out Richard Dreyfuss sitting at the front of the auditorium. He exploded from his seat, bursting with enthusiasm as he ran to greet Mr. Dreyfuss. Moments later he sheepishly walked up the aisle back to his friends, muttering "That wasn't Richard Dreyfuss." Apparently, Mr. Bird still denies that that ever happened.

So, after attending CalArts with all of those other talented individuals, John breathed more life into those animal drawings and got hired by Disney. Starting out as a straight animator, his first project was The Black Cauldron. He remarked that animators are type-cast just like actors are--some are better at animating comedy, some at drama, etc. For that reason, he was assigned the villain of the film, The Evil Horned King. After struggling for a memorable character design, John bounced around some ideas with his fellow CalArts alum John Lasseter. Lasseter asked Musker, "Have you seen Tim Burton's sketchbooks? He's still at CalArts, but there's a neat style there you might wanna incorporate with the Horned King."

So, Musker went to Tim, and the result was a slew of awesome drawings, which included gnarly horns, unique hands and eyes, and all other types of things that would have made the bad guy thoroughly more interesting. But, unfortunately, the ideas Musker pitched to the older, more traditional fellas leading the production were far too outlandish and weird--these guys were from the era of Bambi and Jungle Book and couldn't handle things as odd as hands for eyeballs or gnarly tree-horns that grew and shrunk according to the King's mood.
Part II coming soon! This will feature more lovely anecdotes, related to the productions of The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, and The Princess and the Frog, as well as what Mr. Musker plans for the future. Check back soon! You won't want to miss it.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

'Lion King' royally kicks box office's butt

The first of two weekends that The Lion King is seeing the big screen again, it made a killing at the box office. The most popular film of the weekend by far, it made almost $30 million at 2,330 theaters, beating out Contagion which didn't even make half that much.

This may seem surprising, until you realize that The Lion King is the highest-grossing hand-drawn animated film of all time, with a $600 million gross (after ticket inflation).

If you went and saw it this weekend, I commend you. If you didn't, go and see it. You only have one week left!

And, heck, if you already saw it, go ahead and see it again. You know you want to.


More on Pixar's 'La Luna'

Pixar's short film, La Luna, is getting more and more buzz by the second.

Maybe it's because the film will soon be released to all audiences in just half a year, attached to Brave. Perhaps it's because, unlike other Pixar shorts, La Luna has already premiered and been shown at numerous film festivals. But the most likely reason? It is getting rave reviews from all over the place.

Mike over at The Pixar Blog got to talk with the director, Enrico Casarosa, which you can read about here. They talk about everything from its arduous production to its unique premiere to its unparalleled sound design. Oh, and Michael Giacchino, who is "really a storyteller." It's a rather stimulating read, which makes me jealous that Mike got to see the short already. Psh. Anyways, he says the short is the "most artistic short to date, marked by simplicity, beautiful visuals and sound, and a boldly European feel".

Stitch Kingdom has a nice article summarizing the short and its inspirations, as well as a contest for a signed poster.

The Pixar Times gives us a look at the short via the concept art on the left, drawn by Enrico, as well as a 30-second clip below.

La Luna will be attached to Brave summer next year. And I cannot wait to see it. It looks just plain wonderful.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Making a Pizza Planet Truck

Remember that real-life Up house that got a bunch of attention a few months ago? Yeah, that was awesome. And awesome in more than one way, it turns out, since I'm guessing that project is what inspired these guys to make their very own Pizza Planet truck.

The project, a documentary entitled The Road to Pixar, is being produced by a group of young film students who have gathered inspiration from Pixar's many films, and want to pay the studio homage. Once the truck is complete, which will include every detail from the dirty yellow paint to the "YO" on the tailgate, it'll go on tour hitting up college campuses along its journey to Emeryville, CA, where they hope to show their hard work off to the folks at Pixar.

Being filmmakers, they intend to document the whole process of creating the truck. Not only that, but during their road trip they're going to "interview as many people as possible about how they have grown up with the Pixar film canon (The Toy Story trilogy especially) and how it has effected their lives."

To complete their project, however, they have gone to the World Wide Web for fundraising help. Their IndieGoGo page asks for donations ranging anywhere from $1 to $1,000, each price tier giving you a little something for your cash, including DVDs of the film, your name in the credits, and even replicas of parts form the car.

Help them out if you can. They're far from their $4,500 goal and only have a couple of weeks left. I think it's a very worthwhile endeavor.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

BREAKING: Pixar's next two features announced! (And the next Toy Story Toon.)

Ba-reaking news! At D23, Pixar has just announced its two next features, which will come out after Brave and Monsters University.

The first is the long-rumored feature all about dinosaurs. It's slated for November 2013, and will be directed by Pixar veteran Bob Peterson, who co-directed and was a writer on Up (and voiced Doug). It'll be co-directed by Peter Sohn of Partly Cloudy, and produced by John Walker who was a producer on The Incredibles.

Pixar explains the feature:

What if that life-changing asteroid missed Earth? Director Bob Peterson’s hilarious tale depicts a world where dinosaurs never went extinct.
The feature will show what would have happened if the dinosaurs hadn't become extinct and kept evolving and populating the planet. Very interesting premise, although there isn't that ironic hook like a rat that cooks or a lonely robot. Still, I'm excited to see Pixar tackle the prehistoric (yet modern?) frontier.
The second feature, coming May 30, 2014, sounds very, very strange. Helmed by Docter, director of Monsters, Inc. and Up, the film sounds very experimental:
From director Pete Docter comes an inventive new film that explores a world that everyone knows, but no one has seen: inside the human mind.
Ronnie del Carmen will co-direct with Jonas Rivera producing. IndieWIRE claims that TS3 penman Arndt is taking on this unique script, said to be "about the formation of ideas."

Ideas? The mind? Strange . . . Very un-Pixar, since I can't imagine children enjoying a film that sounds so odd. It also sounds especially off for Docter, whose films thus far have been immensely character-driven. Still, I'm very excited to see a film so inventive from one of the most inventive studios of all-time.

Also announced is the next Toy Story Toon, titled Small Fry. DIrected by BURN-E's Angus MacLane, it'll be attached to The Muppets this November. Here's the short premise from The Pixar Times:
"Looks like Buzz Lightyear is left behind at a fast-food restaurant and must find his way back home. In doing so he encounters some less popular, happy meal-like toys. One of those toys, a Mermaid of sorts, will be voiced by Glee's Jane Lynch."
It'll feature, as you can see, new toys and will be centered around Buzz. Should be really funny and clever!
Very exciting stuff. I can't wait to see all of this awesome stuff from such a great studio! (Oh, and my tour of the studio will soon be chronicled right here, for your reading enjoyment . . . )

More D23 news to come!


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Billy Crystal talks 'Monsters University'

The LA Times recently chatted with Billy Crystal about the upcoming Pixar film, Monsters University. As you most likely know, he voices the rib-tickling, cyclopean Mike Wazowski.

Crystal had this to say of the film:
That’s why I’m a little hoarse. I spent five-and-a-half hours today for our fourth session on ‘Monsters Inc. 2.’ And I have to tell you something, it is hilarious. The Pixar people are geniuses. It’s 10 years since the first movie. Yeah, it’s crazy. And it’s a prequel. They’re in college. It’s how they met, it’s how Michael and Sulley meet, and plan to become scarers at Monsters Inc. — so this movie ends where the other one starts . . . It’s college pranks with monsters. And I wear a retainer. Mike has a retainer.
I can't wait to see it! Monsters, Inc. is my favorite Pixar film, and I'm very excited to see the prequel. I'll have to wait a few more years, though, since Monsters University doesn't come out until June 21, 2013.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Iger says Disney wants to acquire more characters, states the obvious

The Disney Blog and Blue Sky, among some other blogs, have been posting on a recent quote by Iger, in which he expresses that Disney wants to acquire more characters.

Pixar and Marvel was its first step. Disney's purchase of Pixar gives it access to dozens of popular characters that it can do whatever it wants with--make spin-off films, theme park rides, product lines . . . The possibilities of wealth to be had in such high profile characters are almost endless. Similarly, Marvel's 4,000+ character bank opens up Disney's empire into a whole new dimension.

But don't be disheartened that Disney isn't creating tons of their own characters. After all, as many seem to forget, Walt based his features on fairytales, classic literature, legends, and the like, and those stories turned out great.

So my question is, why wouldn't Disney want to acquire more characters? Sure, it'd probably be better if they created their own characters from the ground up, like Pixar does, but they don't necessarily have to. Bolt was an original story and that was wonderful, but so was Tangled, which, as you know, is based on the fairytale of Rapunzel. Disney's theme parks are filled with Indiana Jones and Star Wars, and people love it. You don't need original content for a good story. In fact, the majority of people are more likely to see and connect with a film based around a character they're already familiar with than a completely foreign one.

I think, as with everything it seems, a good balance is key. Some original content, some based on established franchises and existing characters. And that is what Disney seems to be doing now. Its Pixar branch is creating original content, its Marvel branch is breathing new life into characters we already know, and its animation division just released the well-known Winnie-the-Pooh and is developing Mort, a film based on a Terry Pratchett novel, while also working on King of the Elves and The Snow Queen, both of which are loosely based on existing stories, but will act as if they were original since those stories are rather obscure.

And it's good that Disney wants to stretch its horizons. After all, it is an entertainment company, so it wants to get its hand on anything entertaining. Even if they buy up something like Shrek (which would never happen), they could always just stick it on a shelf indefinitely so that no other studio could have access to something so great. Disney is, first and foremost, in the business of making money. I hate to admit it, since they should be in the business of telling good stories, but it's true.

However, good stories make money. At least that's how it should work. So is it bad that Disney wants to acquire more characters? No, since it will keep the slate of Disney films (as well as the theme parks) interesting and new--a good story can come from anywhere. (And, as you may know, Disney has a rather fat wallet, so it can afford a character from anywhere.) Is it bad that Disney plans to keep creating original content, too? Of course not; original content is where we get some of the most beloved characters we know and love.

Is it bloody obvious that Disney longs to get more characters under its banner?

Yes. Yes it is.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Disney exec: 'You don't need a good story.'

Lasseter, and all of the other creatives we fans prize the most, are always telling us how important story is. Story, story, story . . . "No amount of great animation will save a bad story," says Lasseter. That is a credo that I'm consistently reaffirming through Disney, etc. and is something I believe strongly in. It's why Pixar and Disney are as successful as they are today, and why so many people love Disneyland.

However, Walt Disney Animation Studios' Chief Technical Officer, Andy Hendrickson, disagrees. Earlier this week at SIGGRAPH, Andy decidedly stated that if you're producing a tentpole film like one by Pixar, or a film in the Pirates franchise, story is massively overrated:

People say ‘It’s all about the story.’ When you’re making tentpole films, bullshit.
Pointing to one of Disney's larger successes in recent box office history, Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Hendrickson said “The story isn’t very good, but visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn’t hurt.” It's really sad to hear someone say it, probably because it's true, but box office numbers don't always come from a good story. But, as pointed out by our friend here, they always come from lots of pretty pictures and famous actors.

Nothing will ever replace a good, solid story--even if it doesn't make the studio a billion dollars, it makes a great movie, and isn't that the top priority? If it isn't, it should be. Perhaps that's what's wrong with Hollywood nowadays. They want fatter wallets and couldn't care less about the story. Very sad, but, I concede begrudgingly, is probably true . . .

Source: Cartoon Brew


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Disney (kind of) announces new slate

Briefly: Disney has sort of announced a slew of upcoming pictures. I say "sort of" because the films themselves are mysteries, with just minor details and the release dates known.

  • An untitled project from Henry Selick is slated for October 4, 2013
  • The first untitled Marvel movie under the Disney banner is set for release on May 16, 2014, with the second just over a month later on June 27, 2014
  • Pixar has a mystery project set to come out on May 30, 2014--perhaps Toy Story 4?
These projects, along with the previously rumored Pixar flick coming in 2013, should be officially announced, with proper titles, at D23 next week.


Gettin' Excited for the D23 Expo

Although I'm in California, I won't be able to go to D23. It is torturous to be so close yet so far . . . And even more torturous after writing this post to see what I'll be missing out on. This year's expo looks great.

The first day, Friday August 19 includes:
  • a talk by Imagineers about the making of the new DCA attraction based on The Little Mermaid
  • the latest Disney Legends ceremony which includes the induction of the more contemporary Disney princesses (among others)
  • a screening of every Pixar short back-to-back in honor of the studios' 25th anniversary
  • a discussion all about the history, art, and music behind it's a small world for the attraction's 45th anniversary
  • the Ultimate Disney Trivia Tournament
  • a short talk by the folks who provide voices for the Disney theme parks
  • and lots more!
The second day brings even more awesome stuff. Here's the events I'd look forward to most (if I could go, that is):
  • a discussion by Michael Giacchino on the "Music of Pixar"
  • a conversation with the Pixar Creative Team, which includes the likes of John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton, Bob Peterson, Lee Unkrich, Dan Scanlon, Mark Andrews, and Jim Morris. (Yeah. Holy crap, right? That's almost the whole Pixar Brain Trust in one room right there. No doubt they'll announce future Pixar films there.)
  • a talk with the legends of Disney Imagineering
  • character designers of Monsters University discussing the long-anticipated Pixar flick
  • Disney Imagineers discussing how story and innovation dictate what they do
Sunday includes:
  • the Art of Pixar's Brave
  • the evolution of Marvel characters
  • a sneak peek of Cars Land
  • the making of Star Tours
And that only scrapes the surface of what this year's D23 Expo has to offer. There's also the massive Disney Store, the floor filled with booths, tons more talks I didn't even mention . . . Basically, go to the D23 Expo if you can manage it.

The event will take place August 19-21 at the Anaheim Convention Center. And guess what? Tickets aren't even sold out yet! One-day admission is $47 for adults and $37 for children ages 3-12. Three-day passes are $136 for adults, $106 for the kids.

More news about the expo to come as it nears.



Starting last Monday through the end of this week is SIGGRAPH 2011, a conference/exhibition in Vancouver concentrated on the latest and greatest computer graphics technology.

Pixar made some exciting announcements about its RenderMan platform, including a release later this fall of RenderMan for Maya 5.0. And, as always, the RenderMan team showed off their annual RenderMan Walking Teapot, seen above. This year's theme is racing, in honor of Cars 2 (last year's was Mr. Potato Head for TS3). Titled "The Road to Point Reyes," the background for the official image of the teapot is a rendering from Pixar made in 1983, at which time that was state-of-the-art graphics. Attendees of the conference could stop by the Pixar booth to pick up their very own walking teapot, too. Oh, and La Luna got a screening at SIGGRAPH last night. I want to see it so badly . . . lucky SIGGRAPHers.

Some talks at the conference include Pixar discussing the difficult ocean sequence in Cars 2, Disney talking about the difficulties involved with Rapunzel's hair in Tangled, technicians from the Mouse showing off the tech used to convert traditional 2D films to 3D, Pixar's Mitchell Kopelman chatting about lighting Tokyo in Cars 2, among lots of other interesting things from the talented technicians behind Disney, Pixar, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rio, Rango, and others.

Although the talks usually don't get recorded or uploaded, let's hope some of these see the light of day outside the walls of SIGGRAPH; they sound very interesting.

Many people focus on the more "creative" sides of filmmaking and animation, but the technical aspect is just as important--although Story is king, without the tech to tell the story, we wouldn't have all of the great films we do now.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Brief Note

Hello, all of you lovely readers, you.

I know you've missed me, and I've missed you. I have been in California on vacation for a while, and haven't been able to post anything. (Although, I've been keeping up with the news on my phone and things and haven't seen much that's worthy of a post.)

Anywho, one of the things I've done out here in The Golden State is gotten a private tour of Pixar Animation Studios!! It was exhilarating. I didn't take a ton of pictures, but have some remarks I'll share with you once I have the time to construct a nice little post about it. Look for that by the end of this month.

Also, I'll be heading over to Disneyland next week, so keep an eye out for some talkback about all the new changes at DCA.

I'll try and keep you updated with the latest news, especially with SIGGRAPH and D23 coming up soon, but I'm not promising anything.

Sorry, my beloved readers, for the recent hiatus in posts. At least you have some fun stuff to look forward to, right!?

Talk to you soon . . .


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lasseter doesn't disconfirm 'Toy Story 4'

Since Cars 2 is set to be released this Friday in Britain, Lasseter did a brief talk on BBC Breakfast. The beginning of the conversation is nothing out of the ordinary, as he discusses the filmmaking process at Pixar that most of us are familiar with.

However, his interviewers bring up Tom Hanks' discussion of a Toy Story 4 and try to pry John for answers. He dances around the question and quickly changes the subject, never actually denying that a Toy Story 4 is in the works.

What does this mean?! Will we get yet another installment of Woody and Buzz' adventures with Bonnie's toys? Or is it all just a big conspiracy? . . . Seeing as an IMDb page for Toy Story 4, listing its release as 2015, recently popped up, it's looking more and more like we might see another Toy Story.

I'm still against another Toy Story. Sure, I trust Pixar and know that I would probably love the film they came up with, even if it was another Toy Story. But, to me, Toy Story seems to be all about companionship and "being there" for people you care about. That's why the ending of Toy Story 3 was so tear-jerking, and also a perfect place to leave the toys--they just said goodbye to Andy. They had to let him go. I think that making another Toy Story would undermine the powerful message and superb, poetic ending of the current trilogy.

But who knows? I might take it all back come 2015 . . .


Monday, July 18, 2011

Final 'Potter' is brilliant, a gold mine

If you haven't heard of
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, you have most likely been on a 24-month long sail in the middle of nowhere. The final installment of Potter is really great and very important, and in more ways than one.

Hallows Part 2 is definitely one of my favorites from the entire series. I have read through the series numerous times and have listened to the spectacular audiobooks over and over again, too, so believe me when I tell you that this final film is an excellent way to leave Harry and his friends. Everything necessary from the book was included, and no extraneous information was added--I think this might have been one of my favorite films because they had such a little amount of book to put up on the screen. (OK, OK, not little, but not as much as Order or Half-Blood Prince.)

The acting was perfect, as usual, and the timing of everything was excellently executed. You'll most certainly cry during Snape's pensive scene and get your heart-racing every step of the way as Harry gets closer and closer to finally facing his fate. As the credits start rolling, you'll feel that bittersweet tinge of satisfaction at the ending, yet sorrow that the adventure with Harry is all over. (Although, as mentioned by Brandon in the comments, the epilogue wasn't very well done . . . it looked like Daniel and Rupert and Emma were playing dress-up.) This series really is the
Star Wars and Lord of the Rings of this generation, and for good reason. It is an absolutely genius story full of whimsy, humor, courage, suspense, friendship, philosophical dilemmas, and, of course, heart. After reading the six books or seeing the 7 films leading up to the finale, you cannot help but root for Harry and his friends. The universe created by Rowling is so special and unique and just . . . wonderful.

Perhaps it is for all of those reasons that
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is on its way to becoming the biggest movie ever. With $168.55 million on its opening weekend alone, Potter dethroned The Dark Knight as the biggest opening in box office history. It also set a record for midnight showings at north of $40 million, and an opening day gross of $92.1 million.

Potter franchise has grossed $2.177 billion so far, which means that it most certainly has a chance at surpassing Star Wars' record $2.218 billion.

But will Part 2 be able to surpass Avatar as the biggest box office winner of all-time at $2.782 billion? I don't think so. After all, anyone who's into Harry Potter is going to most likely see it opening weekend. Word of mouth won't do much, since you aren't going to see the last movie of an eight-part series without having seen the first seven, which is the same reason that random moviegoers won't decide to see Potter on a whim. A year ago you knew whether or not you were gonna see Part 2, and you knew you were going to see it at the midnight showing, or at least opening day.

Potter just doesn't have that much staying power at the box office. The numbers from Part 1 speak for themselves:

Week 1: $169,969,028
Week 2:
Week 3: $21,687,764
Week 4: $11,512,852

As you can see, opening weekend was the biggest by far, so don't expect Deathly Hallows Part 2 to break anymore records . . .

Still, Harry Potter is a lasting franchise in both the literary and cinematic worlds. The universe that blossomed from J.K. Rowling's writing is one that will last for centuries--I'm sure of that. It is just too perfect and wonderful not to.


Some thoughts on 'Pooh'

Winnie-the-Pooh just came out, and if you come over to the Etc. often, you'll know that I was super excited to see it. Some of my favorite moments from any film anywhere reside in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh--it just has so much heart and wonderful animation and is just plain great entertainment.

The new Winnie-the-Pooh, on the other hand, was . . . enjoyable.

Let me start with the biggest positive: the animation. The character acting was superb--watching the reactions and exaggerated movements of the animals in the Hundred Acre Wood was remarkable. I especially appreciated the expressions on Owl and Rabbit and the bouncing of Tigger. But there isn't really any surprise here, seeing as Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg, and numerous other animation greats were involved. The backgrounds were equally beautiful, too.

The story elements of this Pooh, however, were somewhat lacking. While Many Adventures is also in an episodic format, each "episode" has its own arc and layers of conflict and levels of intrigue. The episodes of the new Pooh were too simple and felt like they were playing straight to the littlest of kids. There was just nothing as an audience member to get lost in or focused on; I feel like they had such a great opportunity to put these beloved characters into interesting and entertaining situations, but instead they put them into the barest possible scenarios. Many Adventures has the audience laughing and crying and scared and in suspense, whereas Winnie-the-Pooh is almost impossible to get lost in due to its mind-numbing simplicity.

That being said, there were several times when I found myself laughing uncontrollably. Such as the scene when Piglet is above the hole that all of the characters have fallen into--the dialogue is genius, and I could not stop laughing. It was brilliant. Similarly, Owl was very fun to watch and had some great lines that I really appreciated.

The music was an aspect of this film I was looking forward to, since I'm a huge She & Him fan. The opening Winnie-the-Pooh song was what I had expected, so I loved it. The final song, So Long, was also really, really great--I listen to it almost daily. However, there weren't enough She & Him songs to make me satisfied, but I guess that's probably just because I'm such a big fan of theirs. The musical score was light-hearted and gratifying and makes for great background music, but I still prefer the more melodic score of Many Adventures . . .

Winnie-the-Pooh was a solid movie. It had great character animation, hilarious dialogue, and good music. The story was mildly enjoyable, but crumbles to pieces when you compare it to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. I suppose I have my very high expectations to blame . . .

I'll most certainly see Winnie-the-Pooh again, and I'll definitely laugh and enjoy myself while watching it, but I won't be able to stop and think about what could have been.

6 out of 10.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Pooh's Note' Clip

Briefly: There you have a clip just released by Disney, showing off even more humor from their upcoming film, Winnie-the-Pooh.

This movie is looking funnier and funnier . . . I cannot wait for this Friday when it comes out. Songs by She & Him, classic animation by Andreas Deja and other greats, and of course some of the greatest characters of all-time!

Just a few more days . . . few more days . . . few more . . .


A Day in the Life of John Lasseter

Above you'll find a 25-minute documentary released by Disney entitled A Day in the Life of John Lasseter. The video was shot several months ago in March, as production of Cars 2 was winding down.

In the short featurette, you'll get to see secret passageways in John's house that lead to his train library, take a look at his private movie theater and wine cellar, and also get to witness the unique process he goes through to direct an animated film. It's definitely worth watching--you'll learn lots of new and interesting things, and will probably become even more jealous of Lasseter . . .


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

'Mission: Impossible 4' trailer debuts

Above you'll find the first trailer for Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol. It's being directed by someone you're most likely familiar with, Brad Bird, the Oscar-winning guy who brought you Iron Giant, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles. M:I4 marks his foray into the world of live-action filmmaking.

The movie is being produced by J.J. Abrams, the awesome dude behind LOST (speaking of which, did you see Sawyer in the trailer? Jump to 1:03 and watch closely...awesome!), Mission: Impossible 3, Super 8, Fringe . . . a lot of stuff. It stars Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, and, as I said before, Josh Holloway.

I cannot wait!! It looks spectacular.

Unfortunately, though, I'm gonna have to wait until December 16 later this year, when it's released into theaters (and IMAX!).


Monday, June 27, 2011

Hanks says 'Toy Story 4'?

Tom Hanks, whom you may know as Sheriff Woody, recently sat down with the BBC to promote his upcoming film, Larry Crowne.

During the interview, however, his granddaughter comes up which prompts interviewer Tim Muffett to pry Hanks about the possibility of a Toy Story 4. (Video, around 2:26.)

Hanks replies: "I think there will be, yeah. Yeah, yeah. I think they're working on it now. There you go."

Although, it is entirely possible that Tom is just referring to some future Toy Story Toons, which we already expect to come out of the studio. Let's just hope this is the case, especially after the poetic, bittersweet ending of Toy Story 3. It's the perfect place to leave the toys, and it's impossible to top that film's finale.

Or, perhaps we will see another feature with everyone's favorite Cowboy and Space Ranger. If we do, it won't be until 2015 at the earliest.

Developing . . .


'Cars 2' rules weekend Box Office

Although Cars 2 may not be that great, people are definitely packing into theaters to see it. Box Office Mojo reports a take of $66.1 million at the domestic box office.

That puts the flick's opening numbers at the fifth best for a Pixar movie--it's almost tied with Up which opened at $68.1 million.

It's playing in 4,115 theaters, and is expected to remain strong throughout the next couple of weeks, although the new Transformers this weekend and the final installment of Harry Potter next month very well might lure audiences from unloading their wallets into Emeryville, especially after how the critics received Cars 2.

However, Cars 2's revenue stream is really gonna come from merchandising, seeing how Cars is the current merch champ among any other Pixar film, at over $5 billion in sales (and that's as of April 2009).


'Brave' teaser

Below you'll find the long-awaited teaser trailer for Pixar's Brave, attached to all digital copies of Cars 2. The animation is spectacular, and the narration/title tie-in is very clever. Enjoy.

Brave will be released in just under a year, on June 22, 2012.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

My 'Cars 2' Review

Most of the things you've heard about Cars 2 are true. It's fast-paced. Action-packed. Full of Mater-in-a-foreign-country-making-a-fool-of-himself gags. It feels like a James Bond movie. However, it is missing one very important component we've learned to expect from Pixar films: heart.

The opening scene is by far the most spectacular, in which Finn McMissile makes a daring escape from an oil rig, complete with explosions, zip lines, and a roaring soundtrack.

Then, the film slowly goes downhill. Several scenes in, at the Wheel Well Hotel when Mater calls in to a talk show to defend Lightning McQueen's reputation, you find yourself asking yourself, "When is this going to end? C'mon, get to the point already!" I felt this numerous times during the movie, which not only took me out of the story, but made me rather annoyed. Very un-Pixar and poor storytelling.

But the movie's not all bad. Although you lose interest during some scenes, the plot keeps you intrigued for most of the film. You want to see Mater succeed, and you also empathize with his plight of always being the fool. It gives audience members a good message, which is to always be yourself (although the message could be taken a bit too far, for Lightning tells Mater to be himself even if he'll, say, ruin an important party or destroy a city). Also, when Lightning talks with Guido's uncle in Italy, the message gets to be very heavy-handed and obvious. In Ratatouille the message was artfully implied. WALL-E's basic moral had to be read between the lines of a robot love story. Toy Story 3's message was irreversibly intertwined with the story and plight of the characters. Cars 2's message was apparent, blatantly preached to the audience, and less impacting than that of any other Pixar film.

The score is wonderfully subtle with a different motif for each city, the animation is spectacular and hypnotizing, and the whole film was strewn with clever, city-specific jokes and gags. However, it was just missing that extra umph we've come to expect from Pixar--the heart. It felt more like a good DreamWorks movie than something under Lasseter's name. The main characters were interesting and intriguing, but every other character (including even Finn McMissile) were very flat and boring. The twist at the end is dry and predictable. I really, really wanted to like it, but I found myself wanting more. Perhaps I'm just comparing it with other Pixar films--after all, it's not that bad of a movie. Just a bad Pixar movie.

I give it a 6.5 out of 10.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

'Hawaiian Vacation' still, interview, and toys

Pixar released the above photo from the upcoming short Toy Story: Hawaiian Vacation. You'll be able to see it before Cars 2 starting tomorrow! If you don't know yet, the basic premise is that Barbie and Ken stowaway in Bonnie's backpack, thinking they are going to Hawaii. When they wind up in her bedroom, however, Woody and the gang try to bring Hawaii to the plastic couple.

Read a short talk with the director, Gary Rydstrom, at AWN here. He discussed how they "wanted to give all the characters their moments, and this seemed like a good story to hang all the characters on."

I can't wait to see it!

Earlier today, while walking through the toy store to see if I could find any new Cars 2 toys, I stumbled upon the below toys--Woody and Buzz dressed in their luau attire. They are made, of course, by Thinkway Toys.

At $49.95 each, I couldn't get myself to pick them up just yet. However, Buzz in a grass skirt with a glow stick and Woody in a Lasseter-esque shirt, as you surely know, was incredibly hard to pass up. These puppies are Toys R Us exclusives, but you can check them out at the online store here and here. (Also check out the ones I didn't see, including Jessie, Ken and Barbie.)

See the short in theaters tomorrow, before every showing of Cars 2!!