A scene from the Pixar animation “Wall-E”
By Lee Hyo-won
Adventuring with living toys (``Toy Story''), chasing a talking fish (``Finding Nemo'') and savoring a rodent's epicurean palate (``Ratatouille''), Disney-Pixar Animation Studios has given birth to contemporary classics of 3D animation.
Two artists who partake in of dreaming up such zany ideas found their way to Korea, where Pixar's latest franchise ``Wall-E'' is steadily holding the top five spot in the box office. Production director Ralph Eggleston, 42, and technical director Andrew Pienaar, 29, were in town to give lectures about animation over the weekend. The Korea Times met the two at Seoul Arts Center, which is currently hosting Pixar's 20th anniversary exhibition.
While cutting edge computer technology gives way to the impressive visuals of animations, it really boils down to individuals working together. ``It's the people,'' said Eggleston without hesitation when asked about what was most important in the creative process. While overlooking the general look and design of films like ``Finding Nemo'' and ``Wall-E,'' he said it was about teamwork. ``It's like finding the right vegetables, spices and right amount of water for making soup. It's about finding the right people.''
It's not a surprising answer considering the nature of Pixar films, that happy people make happy movies. Pienaar, who transfers the artistic visions of directors like Eggleston onto the computer, agreed. ``While it's hard to define one thing that makes Pixar what it is, I always go back to the people, how the hard work, talent and passion come together and we collaborate. It's always the people who make the movie.''
What Pixar's chief creative officer John Lasseter said seems to hold true: ``Computers don't create computer animation any more than a pencil creates pencil animation. What creates computer animation is the artist.'' Rendering each film frame by frame over extended periods of time can be challenging. Yet the artists brimmed with affection as they discussed their work.
While there is a lot of pressure to work in the studio, it's mostly self-imposed. ``There have been occasions where we had to tell people to go home,'' said Eggleston. Having worked at other studios, he said Pixar's family-like atmosphere remains unique despite its ever-expanding size. ``We always want to keep the fun part and not have people feel like they're just a cog in the wheel. I don't think anyone at Pixar wants to lose that, and I don't think we're going to lose that. At other places I've worked, it's very difficult to do,'' he said.
With ``Toy Story,'' for example, Eggleston worked 10-12 hours a day under very difficult situations, where the studio lacked a proper screening room. It is likewise for Pienaar, who often watches each frame hundreds of times and often forgets the humor of the actual scene. But it is wildly exciting to see the final product, they said, to see the bits of their work pieced together. Eggleston, in particular, likes to sit in the theater with the audience and share their reaction.
Inspiring smiles, or even strong hatred, he said, is thoroughly enjoyable. Pienaar agreed, and said that a good animation connects with the audience. While he pours his heart and soul into crafting the lighting and shading of scenes, he said it's all about pitching a great story.
But in translating the narrative, it is important to create a world that is convincing, but not necessarily realistic. ``There is the fine line between making something look real and believable,'' said Pienaar. Eggleston quoted the ``uncanny valley'' theory ― ``the more realistic you try to make something look, the more you fail.''
What lies ahead for Pixar? ``3D animation is still in its infancy and there's so much room to grow, so it's really exciting to be in this industry,'' said Pienaar. Eggleston said that each new endeavor gives way to an endless array of new ideas. Pixar's upcoming film ``Up,'' about the ``growing pains'' of a 70-something-year-old, is radically different from the robot love story ``Wall-E,'' he said. ``Up'' is slated for release next summer -- ``We're about to get our feet wet,'' said Pienaar with a smile.
The Pixar exhibition at Seoul Arts Center runs through Sept. 7. It is located near Nambu Bus Terminal station on subway line 3. For more information visit www.pixar2008.com or call (02) 561-4963.