Research Paper (Major Paper 3)
Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios has grown to be one of the most predominant animation cooperations in the world and is known for their movies such as Toy Story and Cars, but few know its roots and its background story. Pixar has grown from almost nothing and has made its way from short stories/films to full-length movies that have impacted our generation and generations to come. With the break down of the character formation and the general knowledge of how to create something lifelike, artists have the ability to bring something so surreal into something that has purpose.
Every story typically has a beginning and an end with numerous main characters in the mix and Pixar’s story is no different. The story of Pixar begins with one of the most iconic persons in the history of technology, Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs is known for his work with Apple, but few know his life with relation to the creation of Pixar. Jobs was a very ambitious man that did not like taking no for an answer and that characteristic about him would help him land a job with Pixar and then Disney in the near future. In the birth of the computer age, Steve Jobs was looking for a different way to compete with the Apple computer in which he helped develop and in 1980s and he found just what he was looking for in Lucas Films. Many know Lucas films as being the prime time creator of the very famous Star Wars movies, but what many have failed to realize is that Lucas Films also had a huge part in the development of Pixar.
Steve Jobs found himself timing the purchase perfectly, due to the fact that George Lucas was going through some personal issues at the time. In the settlement stages of the purchase, Jobs only met once with George Lucas and they discussed the issues that Steve may have with Pixar. Lucas expressed the main focus of his company to be creating animation and not a high interest in creating new computer software. “Even with this knowledge, Jobs jumped right on the opportunity of Pixar and bought a huge 10 million dollar share in the company from George Lucas, who at the time was seeking funds for his divorce” (Finkle).
Jobs saw that there was a very promising industry in the marketing of Pixar and had high hopes for its up and coming styles of short, animated films. The computer animation world was just beginning and was never really seen before, which created a huge buzz towards the technology and the short stories that this new graphic design created. The way that this graphic imaging set itself apart from all the other imageries out there was that Pixar created short stories that people were never before accustom to. These films blended musical and visual features to tell a story that touched the imagination of the audience. The world enjoyed the short stories created by this new form of technology that Pixar presented and it really jumped from there; it even received an Academy Award for best Short Film in 1988, Tin Toy (Finkle). This short film, a story of a toy and a child, which can be seen as the precursor of the famous films to come, put the company name out there, but Pixar was still facing the trouble of finding the right ways to market their animation. Pixar unceasingly searched for ways to narrow down the focus of what they wanted to do with the animation and fortunately came across Disney.
“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible,” said Walt Disney, a motto Jobs immediately fell in love with” (Isaacson). Pixar caught a huge break with Disney, which allowed the company to produce the first of many full-length movies to go along with the short stories that they were able to master. Disney gave Jobs and Pixar a very tight and strict budget allowing only a three-film agreement, which would give Jobs the ability to produce three full-length films. Disney was hesitant because they lacked knowledge about the future of the company, but Pixar came through with the full-length film that sparked a huge interest in the animation. With the creation of the well-known animated film, Toy Story, Disney grew increasingly comfortable with Pixar and they struck a deal giving Pixar the ability to create more and more animated full-length films, many still famous today such as: A Bug’s Life, Cars, and The Incredibles. Toy Story alone brought in enough revenue to give Disney the confidence to invest more into Pixar and their films.
Much of the success of the movies came from the ability to make the characters seem lifelike. Pixar’s and Disney’s ability to blend the perfect formula of motion and visual aspects to create a character made their characters seem to be like us, human. The audience was able to relate to these fictional characters as if they were real. Not only did the animation have a different appearance, it had this type of language that many say is unique only to the creations of Disney. The question remains how has Disney found a way to make a place in almost every home? Disney accomplishes this in a very unique way, combining all the key aspects of communication: verbal and non-verbal.
The animations that they create allow people to relate to a character in many different ways, whether the connection is an emotional appeal to the way the character acts in the movie, or an understanding and appreciation of how the character moves in relation with its’ scenery. Regardless of how one relates with the piece both Pixar and Disney have used the advancement in technology to their advantage creating characters that are so lifelike and so believable, yet they still manage to tell a story. The real question is how do they do this? The answer is that there is more to a character than movement alone. A quality Disney has been able to master is creating a character that takes every visual aspect and even some emotional aspects into consideration when trying to tell the story of the character.
As human beings we seek to “integrate language with non-language “stuff,” such as different tools, symbols, thinking, acting, and at the right time so as to enact and recognize different identities and activities, give the material world certain meaning” (Joao). One of the things that Disney and Pixar are able to do in their movies is create a sense of realism in a materialistic world of animation. In the movie Toy Story,the way that Pixar uses the graphic imagery to place certain items in certain places gives a feeling of humanism in the appearance of the characters. When the animator wants you to see a dirty toy, the animator creates a dirty toy by using certain shadings and hues in the detail. It takes the right amount of realism and the right amount of shading in the artistic approaches to create something with life that, to the audience it is not real. Pixar understands that, as an audience, the viewers will understand through human logic that the character, a talking/functioning, toy does not exist in real life but by creating what they think it would look like and act like gives it the realism the audience can appreciate and understand.
We can’t forget where all characters start, the mind of the artist. Many forget the idea starts with a pen and paper. Pixar spends days, even months, not to mention countless cross outs of what they feel is a suitable character for the part. They try to create and develop something as lifelike as possible that still comes across as animation to the audience. There are numerous ideas that are drawn up and it is up to the director and producer to decide the true identity of the star role. Everything that the animation world does is relatable to the real world. Just as we look for the perfect actor to play a certain role in a movie, animation directors seek to find the same in rough drafts of the character. The skin texture, the eyes, the tone of the skin all have to be exactly right for believability to exist in the audiences mind. “Some of the artists (in the recorded interviews) talk about understanding the personality of individual characters before developing the look of the character” (Markham). The artist’s creativity is so unique that the audience loses itself in the character.
The ability to fashion a personality to a character helps give realism to the animation. If the artist understands how the character acts, it is easier for the artist to integrate and infinite element into something finite. The humanism in the way the character appears in relation to how it acts allows the audience to believe the animation is real. Just as the animator wants to give the perception of a dirty toy, the artist tries to relate a character to something in the real world. For example, the tractors in the movie Cars, act and function as if they were a cow, yet they appear to the audience as tractors- but how? The artist starts with a layout of the cow and the car, then blends the two together, but it is all in the eyes once again. The eye is the feature of a human being that will generally stay the same throughout the aging life cycle. If the artist can nail the eyes the rest will fall into place when blending the qualities of the cow and the tractor together. This creativity that artist have come up with helps give life and believability to the characters they create. The artist is breathing life into the animation, giving it qualities of the real world.
Movement is one of the pivotal points that the animators want to focus on after the original design of the character is settled. They figure out ways to make the character will move in relation to their appearance. If the character is fun and energetic, then the range of motion will differ from that of a gloomy, dull character. The characters being, computer generated, possess no human features, such as bones or ligaments, or any other crucial elements that humans have that generate movement. Therefore, skilled animators use the Human-Run Library, which is a place that allows them to limit certain motions on specific body parts of the animation. If the animator wants to move the left leg of the character while leaving the right knee stable this is the place to go. The other aspects that people rarely focus on are texture or surface of the surrounding area.
If the texture is smooth, the range of motion and placement of each footstep may vary, but the same range of motion will be different on a rough or bumpy texture. “For example, an animator might want to reposition footprints or simply specify that a movement should be more energetic. Alternatively, the animator might want to impose a movement, or change a character’s behavior by specifying the walking surface be significantly more slippery” (Popovic). This means that the animators want to find the perfect way to blend the surfaces of the character and surface to give the animation the realism in order to maximize the audience’s believability.
The technology Pixar used, “Had a dual processor 195Mhz-to-300Mhz SGI Ocatanes, with 600 MB-1G of memory on each desktop machine, along with a 1,400-processor Sun renderfarm, (Porter),” which gives them the ability to create more lifelike appearances on the computer. The image would come out in a more detailed fashion and give Pixar the ability to show smooth physical textures both in facial appearances of the character and in the scenery that is displayed. Everything about the appearance looks as if it would in the real world, yet the consistency is still animated. The technology allows the image detail to be so fine creating the smoothness in the skin and the texture in the clothing. All the elements in the scene seem to have the correct placement and the right appearance. All the aspects of art are taken into effect when creating a specific scene. How does the light hit the object? Where is the light coming from? How does shading and selection of color enhance the art work? All these elements and more are filtered through the technology in order to come off as lifelike to the audience. However, movement and shading are the first, but not the last step to exhibit realism in the animation.
“Lifelike does not mean “have movement,” lifelike means, “has a brain” (Porter). The animators wanted to give the character a sense of thought and a sense of life in the most important aspect, the eyes, but still give it the effect of animation. When animators want to show an emotion they combine all the visual elements, facial features, body language, and setting. Creating the sense of emotion, whether in animation or in real life, can be a very tough obstacle to tackle, but it is seen through the eyes and the actions of the person, or in this case the toy. To show a specific emotion such as sadness they lock in on the facial features making sure the details are on point from the droop of the eyes to the lowering of the brow line. They set the character in an area of solitude, so that the audience’s perception is the feeling of loneliness. Just as human beings want to be left alone when something is wrong, the animators integrate this sense of humanism in their characters. The artists spend countless hours perfecting ways to display human features and actions in their characters. If they can master combining the elements of movement with emotional aspects, the character will come to life in ways we as an audience may never be able to imagine.
The realism in the storyline starts with the conception in the mind of the artist is displayed through the motions of the character, felt in the emotions of the character, but there is even more to the story than that. The realism in the animation is what grabbed audiences all over the world to remain true to their roots of watching Disney’s Pixar animation, but the hidden messages and storylines are what kept them coming back for years to come, spreading its fame through the generations. Pixar relates with children, teens, young adults, and even adults. Many believe that the movies are just for kids, but the story is much deeper than anything we have ever seen before and Pixar does this intentionally. Yes, there are some child appealing tactics that Disney uses, but there is a much deeper sense of poetry in what they write. In the 2008 movie Wall-e, a story of a robot’s quest to save Earth from what humans have done to it, the character spends most of the time seeking a way to redeem human beings.
The movie appeals differently to each generation of viewer. Where the children only may only comprehend the fun, playful side of the animation they fail to see the deep meaning behind the animation. “All art is sometimes considered play” (Power). As we grow older in understanding we can see that there is a whole other story being told in the animation. “This little robot has a desire to understand what living is all about while the people who truly have the gift of being alive have lost it. I love the poetry in that” (Baker). This ability to tell a story is what keeps the older generations coming back. The audience in some way or another can relate with the character’s life, whether through the struggles or the success, or even the way the character acts the audience can take something away from the character. There is almost a character for every taste out there and Disney knows that there are different personalities in the world and it has the ability to create characters that touch the heart of each individual in their audience. There is always an intended audience that Disney looks to attach itself to in order to maximize the market. Disney understands that as its audience grows older the logical processing grows, meaning that they comprehend more than they did as children.
Disney is tricky with the way they present certain aspects in their film. “If physical labor is depicted, it must be shown to be pleasant, enjoyable, and highly rewarding as an activity in its own right” (Booker). The audience will react differently depending on the demographic and the age of the audience. Where children see the labor as fun and exciting, the older generations through personal experience understand that the work being shown is tedious and stressful, yet the characters don’t show the same amount of stress. The audience may wonder why that is, but Disney has a way of taking our mind off the labor. Disney’s integration of music in its films takes away the stress of work being shown. The older generations, subconsciously focus on the excitement of the scenery and the other elements of the scene. We understand in one way that the work is time consuming, but the characters facial expressions and the background music ease the audience’s minds, while creating a sense of play for them. Disney somehow creates a sense of play in the things we know to be unbearable in the real world such as work and the audience appreciates that, but what else has Pixar been able to do for us as a society.
Pixar has opened the door for the animation world to grow. Thanks to the technology improvement that Pixar displays, the three dimensional world has established itself in our world. “Despite its appearance of born-again novelty, 3D has quickly established a highly codified stylistic repertoire” (Kilnger). Pixar was an unbelievable technology at its time and people never thought that it could be done, that is creating something so lifelike through a computer. This same thought process is what has sparked the three dimensional world. Artist and animators are always looking for ways to push the boundaries of what they can and can’t do. If it wasn’t for the technology that Pixar created, the world of animation might not be what it is today.
The main idea behind Disney’s Pixar Animation Studio is not creating something that appears real; the true test is creating an animation that the audience believes to be real even though logic denies the possibility of it. Something that is created in the mind of the audience can possibly come to life and be real to them. Pixar understands the things they create may never be real, but the idea can exist in the imagination of the audience. Pixar can make it easy on the audience by creating something with meticulously detailed, life-like qualities of life to take the focus off of the idea of plausibility; Disney wants to create something that is fun for all ages. Just as Walt Disney himself said, “That’s the problem with the world today, too many people grow up!”