info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  

traditional animation, the computer finish

angela ndalianis is seduced by acmi’s pixar exhibition


from the storyboard of Toy Story, artist Joe Ranft from the storyboard of Toy Story, artist Joe Ranft
DIVIDED INTO THREE SECTIONS, PIXAR: 20 YEARS OF ANIMATION AT THE AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR THE MOVING IMAGE (ACMI) IS DEDICATED TO CHARACTER, NARRATIVE AND WORLDS. THE EXHIBITION INCLUDES OVER 500 PAINTINGS, DRAWINGS AND SCULPTURES. IN MELBOURNE, THE ADDED ADVANTAGE HAS BEEN THE INCLUSION OF ART WORK FOR THE NEW PIXAR FILM, RATATOUILLE (2007), ONLY RECENTLY RELEASED HERE, AS WELL AS THREE CROWD PLEASERS. THERE’S THE GIANT LUXOR JR SCULPTURE AND BALL THAT STARRED IN PIXAR’S FIRST ANIMATION, WELCOMING VISITORS AT ACMI’S ENTRANCE; THE ‘REAL’ CAR-SIZED SALLY CARRERA FROM CARS which OCCUPIES THE GROUND FLOOR LOBBY; AND MY PERSONAL FAVOURITE THE GIANT, STUFFED SULLEY (AND PLASTIC MIKE) FROM MONSTERS INC— IT TOOK GREAT WILL POWER ON MY PART NOT TO IGNORE THE BARRIER THAT SEPARATES THEM FROM THE CROWD IN ORDER TO GET JUST ONE, BIG HUG FROM THE BLUE GUY. UNFORTUNATELY, SUCH DISPLAYs OF LOVE have taken their toll ON SULLEY FROM EARLY ON IN THE EXHIBITION AND NOW, WHILE VISITORS CAN LOOK, THEY CAN’T TOUCH.

The exhibition is exclusive in Australia to ACMI, but has also shown at the Ghibli Museum in Mikata, Tokyo, the New York Museum of Modern Art, the London Science Museum and the National Museum of Scotland. Curated by Elyse Klaidman, Dean of Art and Film at Pixar University, this exhibition is very much a celebration of the more traditional creative processes at work behind the scenes that give eventual life to the digitally animated films that are the more familiar trademark of Pixar.

Beginning as an independent company in 1986, Pixar Animation is still a young studio, yet its success has been nothing short of phenomenal. It has consistently won awards for its short films—including Luxo Jr (1986), Tin Toy (1988), Red’s Dream (1987) and For the Birds (2000)—and the animated features Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 2 (1999), A Bug’s Life (1998), Monsters Inc (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004) and Cars (2006). It has also been at the forefront of developing its own in-house software programmes (including RenderMan), which have gone on to advance the art of computer generated filmmaking and animation. Add to this the fact that Pixar has also broken record after record (including its own) on box office receipts—with total gross coming to just under $4 billion—and we have a force to be reckoned with.

John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Disney Studios (who recently bought Pixar) and Pixar Animation Studios explains on the Pixar website that “the computer is where we finish our stories.” This exhibition takes the audience on a delightful journey that’s about the lead up to that final stage. The artwork that confronts the viewer appears seemingly endless and displays the complex artistic process that’s required to produce the final animations with which we’re most familiar. Wall after wall and cabinet after cabinet display works such as Dan Lee’s dynamic movement studies of Boo from Monsters Inc; Ricky Nierva, Dan Lee, Geefwee Boedoe and Tia Kratter’s pastel, marker and pen and pencil drawings of Monsters Inc characters in various stages of creation; and the wonderful minimalist drawings by Teddy Newton that include studies of Frozone and Newton’s early digital concept for the title sequence of The Incredibles. There’s also the deceptively simple and experimental collages of A Miscellaneous Superhero and Edna Mode (aka ‘E’) by Newton that capture the viewer’s imagination with their combination of coloured paper cut-outs and richly textured fabrics; the cast urethane resin and polymer clay models that would make Rodin proud; the retro colourscripts of Lou Romano that abstract and condense the characters and storylines of The Incredibles into richly coloured, atmospheric worlds that are reminiscent of Mary Blair’s artwork for the Disney Studios in the 1950s and 60s; the dark and evocative underwater worlds portraying the loveable (and not so loveable) characters from Finding Nemo by Simón Varela; and the totally cheeky acrylic painting of Flik from A Bug’s Life whom Tia Kratter compositionally arranges in a homage to Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man—an ant supplants man in the grand scheme of things.

Dominating the exhibition is a discourse on the symbiotic relationship between technology and art, and this is found not only in the traditional art as early stage processes of the digital animations, but in digital installations on show. Artscape (2005) is an 11-minute widescreen film on a 12 metre screen that links four projectors to achieve its hypnotic effect. The film was created for the Museum of Modern Art exhibition by the director and digital artist Andrew Jimenez (who also worked as digital artist on The Incredibles, Monsters Inc and Finding Nemo) and sound designer Gary Rydstrom. It takes the viewer across the surface of a gigantic display board and into a three-dimensional journey of many of the drawings, paintings and other art works on display in two-dimensional form in the exhibition. The camera pans across work after work in pastels, crayons, painting and gouache. Relying on a device that can be traced back to the 17th and 18th century perspective boxes (examples of which had been on display at ACMI’s 2006 exhibition, Eyes, Lies and Illusions, RT77, p21), but which now uses alternative tools such as Photoshop, images are scanned and layered in space to produce the illusion of depth as the camera explores their terrain. At one point we travel into the world of A Bug’s Life and, as the camera tracks into a crayon drawing, we experience a true sense of its minute scale. The strangely alien-like noises and sound effects that vibrate amidst the thousands upon thousands of blades of grass eventually reveal the thousands upon thousands of ant-faces that hide in their midst.

The Toy Story zoetrope, created by the Pixar animator J Warren Trezevant is, in many respects, the exhibition scene stealer. Influenced by its bigger cousin, the My Neighbour Totoro zoetrope at the Ghibli Museum in Japan, this one is a homage to the history of animation. Updating old zoetrope technology for the early 21st century, the device uses computers to orchestrate the perfectly timed movement of the multiple and slightly varied versions of the sculptured characters of Woody, Jess, Buzz, Wheezy the Penguin and others who occupy a circular disk that spins like a merry-go-round. Strobe lights are introduced and, timed to perfection, the trickery of persistence of vision kicks in: the static images transform and we suddenly see Woody on his horse, riding around the circle; Jess twirling her lasso above her head and down over her body; Buzz Lightyear bouncing on a ball; Wheezy the Penguin jumping into and out of holes in the ground; and the little green alien who stands at the circle perimeter, waving at the viewer experiencing this wondrous technological feat, utterly mesmerized.

It took me over five viewings of the spin cycle before I could tear myself away to take in the crowd sharing the room. Every face—and there were over 30 packed into the space—from 2-year olds to over-60s and appeared as if frozen in time, with enormous smiles plastered across their faces. It was as if every zoetrope performance was being performed for them personally. And as I waved to the little green alien, I could hear many promises being made to the little ones by parents trying to extract them from this very special room and the wondrous toy it housed.

Throughout, a story is told about the way traditional and new media art can and do interact to produce evocative stories. In the words of John Lassiter, “The art challenges technology and the technology inspires art.”

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 27

© Angela Ndalianis; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top