John Lasseter kicked off Disney’s massive D23 Expo with a look at what is coming next in the world of Disney and Pixar animation. The packed arena presentation was easily the highlight of Day 1 and offered fans a first look at the company’s upcoming slate of animated offerings. Pixar’s highly anticipated roster included next year’s The Good Dinosaur and 2015’s Inside Out. However, it wasn’t all forward thinking taking place on Friday. Late in the afternoon, a handful of Pixar creatives took some time to look back.
Pixar: Doing Our Homework was a spirited refelction on the company’s well-documented research trips done in support of each film. Whether it’s a rousing trip to Scotland for Brave or a less-than-glamorous outing to a sewage treatment plant for Finding Nemo, these field trips have become more than just a necessary tradition. After a video highlighting a few of the more exciting trips, Producer Katherine Sarafian moderated the panel that consisted of Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Jonas Rivera and Lindsey Collins.
The discussion focused on inspiration – how and where it comes from. The research trips not only transport the teams of artists and creatives to a physical location but inspire them in new and unexpected ways. It’s not about going somewhere exotic, though that is sometimes the case, but rather witnessing and gathering the information you need. So if studying a mud puddle near the Pixar campus is what’s needed, then that’s where you go. Creating a sense of family among the team seems to also be a common side effect of, what can be, a very challenging assignment.
Here are a few highlights from the all-too-brief discussion…
- Andrew Stanton mentioned how he always thought Andy was the “real freak” of the first Toy Story film – not Sid. He remembers playing with his toys much like Sid while Director John Lasseter was much more affectionate toward his toys as a child
- Jonas Rivera said the team secretly filmed his grandfather just walking around the house, doing everyday tasks as reference for how Carl Fredricksen should move in Up.
- For WALL-E, the creative team studied Sea Lions to get a sense of how humans without bones might move for the pudgy humans.
- In response to an audience question about creative license, Stanton talked about a trip to the sewage treatment plant for Finding Nemo. The team discovered there was no way a fish could survive a trip through the system and end up in the ocean alive. Stanton said the solution to these types of questions is to make the audience NOT ask that question in the first place.
- The only research trip taken on the first Toy Story film was to the local Toys ‘R’ US.
- The team used each other to discuss mother-daughter relationships in order to make the Merida and Elinor relationship in Brave feel more authentic.
Many (if not all) of these trips are usually captured as Bonus Features on the DVD releases of each film. You can usually find at least one brief documentary for each of Pixar’s releases. Many of the stories told at the panel were familiar and yet it’s always nice to hear this group of talented filmmakers reflect on these classic films. I never tire of hearing these creative folks talk about their work. They have a passion for what they do and a sincerity when talking about it. The films of Pixar have become a part of our lives – whether that is from the excitement of watching a new Pixar film for the first time, or witnessing a child fall in love with Woody and Buzz. To be able to hear these stories first-hand from the creators is a treat that never gets old.