The bus was a mixture of those still sleeping against windows while we drove through morning rush hour and those who had been up since 5 and were excited to get on with it already (mostly east coast reporters and any new parents).
The 12 hours between visits has done nothing to quell my excitement while riding through the Pixar gates again. My giddiness is soon greeted by yet another feast (they eat really, really well at Pixar y’all), this time of the breakfast nature including homemade strawberry preserves that were so enchanting I now think that Beatles were actually serenading a real strawberry field and it’s the one on the Pixar campus. But when the nature of your work is to create magic for the masses, it makes sense that the food would follow suit. Today would be spent finding out how the magic got made in several workshops focusing on animation action sequences, characters, and costumes.
I. The Building of an Animation Action Sequence
AKA: Things I didn’t know that I didn’t know about animation
Story Supervisor Ted Mathot took the group through the progression of a scene from concept to screen. Sitting around a conference table people record, some take notes, I am reminded how little I knew about animation before coming here. All films at Pixar start in the Story Department, with story reels and storyboards (i.e. drawn versions of the scenes and scripts). Within the boards are drawn and written temp music, effect sounds, and dialogue – how the story artists or Brad Bird have communicated their vision for the final product. These details can include the most minute details including angles, character acting, mood, and tone – anything that can aid in the blueprint of the film. From these boards, the layout department takes all of the drawings, thoughts, and emotions expressed in the story and translates it into the 3D space.
While explaining this as simply as possible, Mathot begins to play a scene in which Elastigirl is chasing a runaway monorail train. To make the action animation as “realistic” as possible the animation department had to focus on designing a chase between the 100 mph train and the Elasticycle. They had to create the concept that was the most exciting, yet practical design of the Elasticycle – including deciding when and how to reveal all of its features and which stunts to best show off. But in keeping in with the true charm of the “Incredibles”, although they’re supers, they’re not infallible. Adding in wobbles and teeters to the bike shows that though Elastigirl is the best of the best, stopping a speeding train is still no easy feat! The difficulty of this task is actually the perfect opportunity to let her do what moms do best, figure out off the cuff solutions. Also tapping into her mom role is a call she receives from Dash in search of his lost shoes:
“In an Incredibles movie, we always have to have a mundane element in there to contrast against all the superhero stuff. So Brad never wants to be super for too long, without something mundane intervening. He never wants to be mundane for too long without something super. So again, when we looked at the first pass of this, it was super all the way through,” explained Mathot, “So we thought, let’s have something from home interject into this. And where can we put it that would be the worst possible time? As she is swerving through oncoming traffic, she gets a call from Dash, ‘I can’t find my high-tops.’ Perfect. So we set that, and that adds another layer on top. So now we have multiple things going on in the scene.”
Along with the character and story tweaks come “supporting effects” such as the perfect combination of smoke, fire, sparks and sound effects to really “feel” the impact on the screen. After all of the research, additions, and outright changes…they’ve completed one scene.
II. Character Creation
AKA: Our heads were on overload after the Action workshop so they let us have craft time.
After getting only a taste of what action animators are up to every day, we headed to character creation where we got reacquainted with some things that I’m sure more people haven’t used for decades: Gluesticks and safety scissors. When it comes to creating new characters for the super universe animators start with basics. The shapes. By experimenting with different designs they see which shapes lend themselves to which powers. They inspire themselves with concept art and try to familiarize with each character’s essence before turning them into a model. And like everything else in the movie, director Brad Bird has incredibly specific opinions on characters as well. The animators giggle and pass knowing looks around the room as they attempt to describe Bird’s work style. “Great design sensibility” and “he’s a character designer at heart” are the way they pinpoint his exactness.
After giving us some tips and tricks of the trade they let us loose to create our own Supers. Not to brag, but I think my character “Curl Girl” might one day be seen on a Pixar screen near you! (slightly autobiographical…)
III. The World of Fashion in ‘Incredibles 2’
AKA: I learn that everything I’ve previously thought about animation costuming is wrong…so so wrong.
Disclaimer: I’m a HUGE costume nerd. Halloween is my favorite holiday and I originally got into acting because I love playing dress up, so often the costuming department is my favorite place to chat up. That being said, before this meeting I thought that costuming in animated movies consists of drawing the characters, only with different outfits on their bodies…no no no.
The impeccably dressed team lets us know off the back that costuming in animation is remarkably similar to doing it in live action films…only harder. Remember, nothing in animation is free, so any choice made, the fabric texture, shading, fit, flow, and pattern must all be designed for realism and made from scratch and in the correct world of the movie (a sweater from Up! would be very out of place in The Incredibles) They go into each character and discuss and plan what makes them, them. For example, the iconic Edna mode is bold, powerful, with absolutely NO capes! Out of the 15+ possible outfits designed for Edna, 2 were chosen ( I won’t ruin which ones).
And it’s not just the lead characters that need attention. Each man, woman, and child that fill the background of Municiberg need to be clothed in the film’s midcentury style, without drawing focus from the action occurring around them, plus hair, grooming, and accessories. Within the vintage clothing inspiration, the team wanted to make sure that the fashion the created was clever and efficient, as well as stylish. Most importantly, it had to work with all of the super’s powers – for example when Elastigirl is stretching the fabric needs to go with her realistically while not stretching out, ruining her emblem, and looking cheap. Just a few of the millions of things I had no idea was on the minds of animation costumers.
Check out all of the action, characters, and costumes in Incredibles 2 showing nationwide starting on June 15!