Pixar's box of wonders

Pixar's box of wonders

At the world's most successful animation studio, making magic is a communal effort

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Archivist Christine Freeman shows off Toy Story figurines.
Archivist Christine Freeman shows off Toy Story figurines.
Photo: David Wong
Technology and art go hand in hand in productions by Pixar Animation Studio.

Both will be on display at the Pixar: 25 Years of Animation exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, between March 28 and July 11.

Project manager Kimberly Donovan told Young Post about the way Pixar animations are born.

The making of a feature-length film takes Pixar about five years from coming up with an original story idea to perfecting it for the screen.

A script goes through several rewrites before it ends up on storyboards for visual representation. Then comes the hard work of animation, which has to be done very carefully to ensure a smooth flow of story. The process is aided by temporary dialogues, mood music and sound effects. This leads to a rough version of what the movie will actually look like.

"Colourscripts are used to tell the entire film from beginning to end," Donovan said. "Expressing the film through colours keeps [it] in the same path creatively."

She added that at Pixar every staff member can contribute to the plotting of a story - from kitchen staff to animators. Creativity at the company thrives on a healthy team spirit. It's also a way to ensure that all employees will be happy with the final product and can take pride in it.

Another laborious process involves working out what each character in a movie will look like. Great attention is paid to details, from hair to eyebrows and from fingers to toes.

There is even a team whose job it is to fine-tune the fur of an animal character to make it look realistic in movement and under various lighting conditions, Donovan said.

That's where art comes in. While animators work out the movements of characters, sculptors make maquettes to see what the characters will look like in 3D. It is important because animated characters that look pretty on a computer screen may not come alive well in 3D.

"We go through many versions of characters before the final decision is made," Donovan said.

Pixar even has its own school that offers classes and workshops for all of its staff on different stages of production, from drawing to acting - and even yoga.

"Even an accountant can take an art class. Every one's part of the family," Donovan noted.

As for the real secret behind Pixar's phenomenal productions, she insisted it was not just technical wizardry. Rather, it was the love of an age-old craft: good old storytelling.

That is what makes Pixar the most successful animation studio. Its 11 films boasts such masterpieces as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Cars. The studio's films have grossed around HK$350 million in Hong Kong. Toy Story 3 alone earned HK$90 million at the Hong Kong box office, which places it just behind Titanic and Avatar.

The museum exhibition in Hong Kong will feature maquettes that were used during the production of these films. Visitors can also watch early short films made by Pixar. In all, more than 400 items will be on display, about 300 of which have never been shown outside the studio. Many items have not even been seen by Pixar staff, including items from the studio's latest film, Cars 2.

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