Whether or not you are a fan of computer graphics, there is no doubt that you have heard of Pixar. Now, thanks to the Californian company, every animated film is made using the gimmicks, solutions and simplifications of 3D graphics.
The origin of its success can be traced back to the very early 1990s, when, under the wing and financial support of a technological revolutionary like Steve Jobs, Pixar managed to wrest from Disney a contract for the first animated film, ToyStory, entirely reproduced using computer graphics. It is perhaps one of the most important milestones in the history of computer graphics, as it represented the first example of how an entire project, if developed with the aid of computers, could be both more cost-effective and more meticulous in its realisation.
What was not yet known was the eventual impact on the public, especially the younger ones. How would the children have reacted? Would they be disturbed or pleasantly impressed?
As a child who saw ToyStory at the age of five, I can say that I was deeply impressed, but not so much by the CGI itself, which for the eyes of a child of that age was little removed from my conception of drawing, as I could not yet feel the differences, but by the story, the music and the characters. As of course should happen with any film.
Like me, many other childs probably reacted just like I did, which in fact decreed the film’s success in the annals of film history.
From this milestone, Pixar has fuelled a lot of experience, technique and above all success. Almost every film in the history of Pixar has been a blockbuster and an unparalleled technological milestone.
Today we look back to those early days. When computer graphics were still shrouded in mystery and what could be done with computers still ‘technical magic’.
In this rare interview with two of the most important members of Pixar, John Lasseter and a very young Peter Docter, director of such hits as Monster and Co. (the appearance of Sullivan, the purple monster is of course inspired by his), Up and Inside Out, we discover some of the technical behind-the-scenes tidbits of a very early and rather archaic (compared to today’s) method of digital animation, as well as the reasoning behind an animator’s choices!
In the light of what can be seen, it is interesting to note how the technology behind the CG animation process has evolved considerably, bringing what was a series of small numbers entered in a sort of Excel spreadsheet to the certainly more user-friendly interfaces of animation software such as Autodesk Maya or Blender.
In the midst of this technical evolution, it is also important to consider how the principles, reasoning and artistic process behind the conception and definition of an animation have not changed at all in 30 years of evolution.
This is because while the tools change and improve, what underlies the art of animation itself is unchanged.
The reasoning for animating in 2D is the same behind 3D animation and beyond the tools and technical minutiae that have appeared and may appear, it is what dictates the success of a story. Its narrative and the thought behind it. And today, Peter Docter has given us important advice in this regard, making us all, a little more animators!