Pixar

Has Pixar Jumped The Shark With The Posters For Cars 2?

Via: The Animation Blog

Some say the bigger question is whether Pixar will jump the shark with Cars 2 itself, but it is still too early to tell. However, when it comes to the promotional posters, I think they’ve already done it.

The reason is simple, the posters are rather lackluster in overall design. Don’t get me wrong, they look nice, but if you’re going to ape classic Grand Prix posters, you might as well do it right.

As far as I know, Cars 2 involves a world-wide race of some sort, so it would seem like a great idea to release a few posters featuring the characters in famous cities around the world, right? Yes, of course. Pixar has been here before with the Wall-E and UP teaser posters (created by Eric Tan) that it released before those films hit the cinemas. Personally, I think they’re a great idea to drum up support from the fans and to promote the film in a slightly different and off-beat manner.

So far they has succeeded. The posters for Wall-E had a kind of quirky, Googie-like charm to them and the UP posters relied heavily on the old travel ads of the past to make light of the film’s plot.

However, when it comes to Cars 2, I think they’ve missed the mark only slightly. The main elements are certainly there. The car at the forefront, the background definitely waaay in the back. There’s no chance of mistaking where the action is or what is going on.

The main problem that I can see, though, is the character themselves. It’s just them! Sure there are a few cars in the background racing along, but for the most part, it is just a single character with a few speed lines drawn in to show that they are supposed to be moving.

How does that compare with a real Grand Prix poster? Check out the samples below.

Via: Wikipedia

Via: AllPosters.com

A race to the finish line? A duel to the death? I certainly think so. There is so much more action portrayed, so much more excitement! I want to see that Grand Prix! Just be thankful I can’t find the poster where the car literally has flames coming out the back of it!

So you see why I think the Cars 2 posters are a bit tame. They allude to the great posters of the past, but they are, at best, a timid recreation with none of the excitement and drama of the real thing. Cars 2, by the sounds of things, could certainly have benefited from a harder edge but perhaps that was vetoed by someone along the line.

So how far off are they? Check out this poster for the antique Monaco Grand Prix held last year. A thoroughly modern poster but with all the classic elements of the genuine article. It can be done.

What If Disney Had Produced Pixar Sequels Instead?

Via: Bob & Rob

The answer may be found over on the blog of Bob & Rob, otherwise known as Bob Hilgenburg and Rob Muir, screenwriting duo.The image above is from their version of Toy Story 3.

They’re recently been posting some of their work from what was known as Circle 7 over on their blog. Don’t know what that is? Never mind, I didn’t either until recently. Basically, Circle 7 was set up by Disney after their relationship with Pixar began to go south with the goal of producing sequels to the five Pixar films released under the original agreement of which Disney owned he rights to. Circle 7 was shuttered when Disney bought Pixar and was quickly swept under the rug as if it had never happened.

It is only now that we are starting to see some fragments of what could have been. While there are only stills and a short animatic-esque sequence to be had, you can piece together the jigsaw puzzle to come up with a rough idea of what things could have looked like.

Having said that, it is impossible to tell how these films would have turned out like. It’s quite possible they could have been good, like the recent Tinkerbell films, or they could have gone the other direction, as in the many, many sequels to Aladdin.

Either way, it seems that Pixar has been handed the reigns for producing the sequels now, as if to give them a sheen of authenticity and pedigree. I remain to be convinced however.

The Seven Creative Principles of Pixar

A short post today, and that’s because you’ll want to head on over to the downright fantastic Scribble Junkies blog, which, in case you didn’t know, is the collaborative spawn of indie king Bill Plympton and Patrick Smith, who happens to be a man of many, many hats within the animation community.

Long story short, on Friday, Patrick posted the aforementioned 7 principles and they are well worth reading, understanding and learning as they represent the driving force behind the most successful animation studio of the last 20 years. They’re a good lesson for anyone really, as they can apply to any project your working on, not just an animated film.

It’s absolutely true, so head on over to see what John says about it and the rest of the principles, you will not regret it.

For me, the pick of the bunch is number 3:

Quality is a great business plan. Period.

He’s bang on the button with that one and it’s paid off handsomely for him thus far.

What if Pixar Made the Next Fantastia?

The other day, I had a bit of a back and forth conversation on Twitter with Mr Sam Levine about Fantasia, in which he mentioned pitching a sequence featuring Gustav Holst’s suite “The Planets”. Afterwards it got me thinking about the whole concept of Fantasia and why it remains so popular even after all these years.

My personal opinion is that it epitomises the best of animation as an expressive artform. Now I don’t meant to say it has the best animation, that’s a statement that requires some serious research and evidence to back up, which I don’t have the time for today. What I mean is that the music forms the basis on which the animation is based, not the other way around, which is the way most films are scored these days. The result is a wonderfully complex series of sequences in which the animator is allowed a fair amount of creative license that is used to great effect. Does dialogue distract from the animation? Watch any animated show/film/etc with the sound off. Do you pay more attention to the character’s movements? I bet you do.

With the thought of seeing the film for the first time in a few years (since it’s coming out on DVD) as well as seeing Fantasia 2000 for the first time, it got me thinking: What if Pixar made the next Fantasia?

We all know that Pixar makes good movies (I know it too, in difference to my recent comments over on Cartoon Brew) and while their writing team has been given a ton of credit for their slate of films, the animation crew seems to be in their shadow to a certain extent. A film like Fantasia would be a wonderful opportunity to give them a chance to flex their creative muscles.

In comparison, Disney was at a similar stage when he made the original. Here he was, an established animation studio that had won critical and commercial success who was looking for a vehicle to showcase the latest in technology, which at the time included stereo sound and technicolour (yes, that had been around for almost a decade but I dare you to name more than a few, colour, World War II films).

Does Pixar need a film to showcase all their creative skills? No, not really, they already do that in almost every film they release. Would I still like to see them do it? Absolutely! CGI is in desperate need of something to show of the animation itself and not just the design or the backgrounds.

The realities of the movie business today mean that a Pixar Fantastia is unlikely to happen, which is a wee bit of a shame really, since the original is still immensely popular. I would not, however, rule it out altogether.

Better Late Than Never: Steve Jobs and Cars 2

Yes, I am pretty late with today’s post and I offer my humblest apologies.

I read on Lineboil today that Steve Jobs, erstwhile boss at Apple Computer, has instructed John Lasseter to get his hands dirty and stick his nose into the engine bay of Cars 2.

While none of this is confirmed as of yet, if it is true, it could delay the sequel to a film that has absolutely raked in the merchandising dough for Disney/Pixar over the years and clearly has done quite well thus far with various TV specials and psuedo spin-offs.

The important lesson to learn is that either the story guys aren’t firing on all cylinders, or the race marshall thinks they’re running on illegal tyres and won’t let them leave the pit lane. Either way the instruction from Jobs represents a significant event in the Pixar assembly line production of movies. Is it a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. However, it is the type of top-down management style typical of Jobs but somewhat foreign in a creator-orientated company like Pixar.

Since we’re unlikely to find out the truth for a while yet, I’m not going to take it at full face value. However, I hope that it does not signal the start of a worrying trend at the most successful CGI studio to date.

Toy Story 3's Record-Breaking Box Office Haul

It hit the news over the weekend that Toy Story 3 is now the highest-grossing film of all time, with $920 million overall in the bank. While it is commendable that it has achieved this level of success, all is not what it appears to be.

There is a fairly comprehensive article over on Forbes.com that establishes how TS3, as successful as it is, has not quite broken the ultimate record for an animated film. That belongs to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which, when adjusted for inflation, raked in over $800 million at the US box office alone!

Of course there are a number of factors at play besides inflation. For one, ticket prices for 3-D movies have resulted in higher gross figures from smaller audiences. The latest Shrek film was blatantly pulling off this trick by having a higher gross than its predecessor with only half the audience.

Besides that, studios these days make more money from the likes of DVDs, broadcast rights, merchandise, etc. than back in the 30s, when a film had to make all its profit at the box office if its financiers stood any chance of keeping their shirt.

The best part of all this hubbub, is that the focus will once again be on animated films and their usual success. This can only be good for the artform as a whole and will hopefully encourage others to take a risk on an animated feature.

Anomaly Appraisal: Toy Story 3, The Bittersweet Finale

 

You know, I’d planned to write an epic, three-part review of the entire trilogy, but the more I reflect on it, it becomes clear that it would not be practical. Comparing a movie made 15 years ago with one from today is kinda cruel in more ways than one, not least on the quality of the animation.

No, this is a straight-up, honest account of how I hated about 95% of Toy Story 3 and how it all worked out in the end, sort of. If you want an animator’s perspective, I highly recommend reading Michael Sporn’s thoughts on the film. I agree with most of his points, which is why I’m linking to it.

Starting with the animation, it is superb. The fact that just the textures on the characters can be seen is proof how far CGI has come in 15 years. The levels of detail that can be created nowadays makes the original film more akin to a student thesis! It is the little things like these details that has set Pixar apart from other studios, they really do take the time to focus on things that affect the movie in ways that may not easily be perceived at first glance.

As for the directing, I would say that Wall-E is easily superior in that it was more in tune with the character. In TS3, the opening sequence is over-dramatic despite its content. Plenty of shots in the films seemed to be set up as if trying to prove something. None detract from the viewing experience, but they are grossly over-wrought in the context of what Toy Story is. That being said, there are no real pointless shots in the film, save for maybe Mrs. Potato Head’s eye.

This films is perhaps one of the most realistic that Pixar has released. Compared even to UP, the level of detail is stunning, from the largest detail (entire rooms) to the smallest (Ken’s wardrobe). One can’t help but feel that the charm of the original and sequel has been lost in the meantime. Compared to The Incredibles, which seemed realistic despite trying not to be, TS3 seems unrealistic because it tries to be too much like the real world and in the process overreaches its goal. Again, it ain’t the end of the world, but it may be connected to my thoughts further down.

The story itself was OK. It was certainly of a much higher standard than what Hollywood is known to put out. It is clearly the completion of the toy’s time with Andy. He’s grown up and heading to college, the toys are neglected in their chest, although they do acknowledge that Andy could have binned them many years ago and did not. The writing as usual was absolutely superb with jokes-a-plenty for adults and kids. The theatrics of Buzz Lightyear manages to steal the show were certainly enjoyed by the audience.

Do I agree with all aspects of the plot? Well, not quite. The villain lacks motivation. Sure he has some, the flashback sequence certainly indicates that but what ran through my mind while watching it was that Jessie went through much worse and was not nearly as resentful. Lots-O-Huggin Bear is also the first villain in the series to get his cumuppance. Why is that? Sure, Al got his in TS2, but he clearly was not a toy, even Stinky Pete got sent off to live with a little girl, not, well, I won’t spoil the surprise.

The characters in the film are the same we know and love. They are all here, but as we’ve seen before, they change subtly between films. In other words, Woody from Toy Story is still the same Woody in Toy Story 3, but he is ever so different. Perhaps in this movie, it is the situations that he is in differentiate him from the first two films. I couldn’t help but feel that the presence of an evil segment of toys soured things for everyone. One could argue that the first two films were too devoid of such characters, but here, I felt they went a wee bit over the top (secret, late-night gambling session anyone?).

Sigh, I guess my issue is that Toy Story is not near as innocent as Toy Story, or even Toy Story 2. Whereas the latter contained only a few grandstanding scenes, this latest film is pretty much one big sign begging for the audiences sympathy. It plays on our fondness for the characters, who don’t feel they need to prove anything any more. There is no soft treading, characters are shown as-is, no justification given. The simplicity of the first two films is also missing. In the first, Woody and Buzz get lost and need to find Andy, in the second, Woody gets stolen and his friends try to get him back. In this film, the whole gang gets tossed about all over the place and we’ve no idea what it supposed to happen to them by the end of the film, their ultimate goal does not become obvious until the very end.

Which leads me to another sticking point. The toys themselves. Did you notice that in the first film, they were extremely careful not to let anything they do make things appear out of place? That meant they tiptoed around and were careful to be just as they were left. In Toy Story 2, the rules were loosened a bit and the toys began to interact with their surroundings, especially Woody, who moved around frequently. This does not include the scene where the toys cross the road, that is simply the what happens when they do move about.

However, in this film, all of that is lost as the toys haphazardly move around as they please, moving things about and turning things upside down. can they really be considered toys any more if they are altering their environment in a way that would clearly be noticeable by a human? Methinks not. It is as if the humans in this film are oblivious to what’s going on right under their nose. That seems a bit of a stretch and somewhat spoiled the film for me. The first film made me believe that my toys were doing stuff when my back was turned. Toy Story 3 makes me wonder if they were doing anything at all.

Perhaps I am too harsh on Toy Story 3, it is after all (hopefully) the conclusion to the story that the writers intended. In that respect, it does commendably. How it gets there is a different matter entirely, but that should not putting you off seeing one of the year’s best films thus far.

The Economist on Pixar's Long Term Plans

I subscribe to The Economist, yes that one, the same "adult magazine" that Homer Simpson subscribes to. In last week’s issue, the regular column Schumpter discussed Pixar and the different way that Ed Catmull and John Lasseter had set the company up so as to ensure it would live on after they had left. I highly encourage you to read the article first, I’ll wait :).

Back? Great. The article is pretty straightforward in its analysis and the point it makes is an important one. Both Catmull and Lasseter have been the guiding force behind the studio for a long time and to an extent so has Steve Jobs, although that is not surprising seeing as he owned it for a long time.

There are many similarities between Apple and Pixar beside Mr. Jobs. Both companies are extremely product focused. Both believe that if they put enough effort in the will be rewarded with consumer acceptance. This is true to some extent but I can’t help but feel that right now, both companies are running on flywheel inertia: Pixar with its slate of upcoming sequels and Apple with the slight upgrade to the IPhone software. Dreamworks has proven that they too can make solid, entertaining films and other mobile phone companies have upped the ante recently with the latest group of Android powered phones.

What worries me though is how well the setup at Pixar will last. The article mentions the collaborative environment in Emeryville and how a lot of effort is put into fostering projects from the ground up rather than the top down. I’m sure Pixar is in Emeryville for a reason, being a tad less than arms reach from Burbank. However, physical separation does not mean a lot if the people calling the shots are not from there. Sure right now Lasseter is, but once he retires, where will his replacement come from? I doubt it is from Pixar.

All this effort to set up a different system may be for nought if Pixar continues with sequels. I am not sure whether the plan is to increase the size of the studio or keep it as it is, putting out one film a year or so. Dreamworks have upped their rate to three films a year, which may be more sustainable for what Jeffrey Katzenburg wants.

I have similar worries about Google. Sure right now, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are keeping an eye on the privacy aspects of the business (albeit somewhat unevenly) but once they are gone, what will happen then once the people running the show no longer have a personal interest in the company or its users?

We’ll see how things play out. I don’t want to do too much crystal ball gazing. Both John Lasseter and Ed Catmull deserve a lot of credit for building Pixar into a strong studio with a solid brand of work ethic that has ensured that every single film they have put out has been a success, not just in box office numbers, but on the story and visual side of things too.

Pixar and Sequels: A Mixed Bag

I admire Pixar and all they’ve done over the last 15 years or so. They really do deserve all the success they’ve earned. They practically revived the animation artform and movies in general with their unique (and oft-copied) form of film that’s universally acceptable for kids with enough adult humour thrown in there to keep adults entertained.

However, I find it somewhat deplorable that their resolve is gradually weakening in relation to sequels. Toy Story 2 was a bit of a one-off, where the Pixar guys became disheartened at the prospect of what was to be a straight-to-video cheapquel and decided to redo the entire thing properly.

Since then however, we have heard announcements of a “Monsters Inc. 2” and “Cars 2” and, God help us all, an Incredibles 2 (although my faith in Brad Bird remains strong until I see something concrete). I particularly hate sequels. Not only do they stifle creativity (in fairness though, Hollywood, for the most part hasn’t put out something really creative in a long, long time) and inevitably ruin the spirit of the original. The only exception I make is if the film is part of a trilogy and such a trilogy is outlined before the first movie is released.

Pixar has a proven track record of releasing hit after hit. Why do they feel the need to go back and revisit old stuff? They employ perhaps the most talented and creative team ever assembled and I find it very hard to believe they are running out of steam after 15 years.

The vast majority of sequels are made with an eye on the bottom line. Sequels already have market recognition, and, if the original did well, the sequel likely will too (Evan Almighty is an exception, but then that was also just a bad movie). That’s why studios love them, they remove the fear of the unknown. Yet it is that unknown quantity that make movies so successful in the first place!

I’m sure that when the above mentioned movies come out they will do fantastically well and all, but I just can’t help but feel that with each one, Pixar dies a little on the inside.