Montag, 15. Dezember 2008

BURN-E Virtual Roundtable with PIXAR-Director Angus MacLane

Last week we did our first virtual roundtable, that means several guys all around Europe logged in a special website and then were able to see the new pixar short Burn-E. After that we were allowed to type questions to Angus McLane, the director of the short. From INDAC Harald Siepermann (Hamburg), In-Ah Roediger (London) and myself took the oppurtunity to ask a few things about the short.

As an Animator, ANGUS MacLANE has contributed significantly to Pixar Animation Studios’ short and feature length films since his arrival at the studio in 1997. Most recently, he was the directing animator on Disney•Pixar’s latest release WALL•E and directed the original short film, BURN•E, produced exclusively for the DVD and Blu-ray releases of WALL•E.

MacLane has worked on various award-winning Pixar films, such as Geri’s Game, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, For The Birds, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo. For his work on The Incredibles, he was awarded the Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Character Animation. MacLane also supervised the animation on the Academy Award-nominated animated short film, One Man Band.

Angus received a bachelor of fine arts from Rhode Island School of Design in 1997. He grew up in Portland, Oregon, and currently resides in San Francisco

Greetings everyone! Welcome to the BURN-E Roundtable. We are receiving your questions, please continue to send them. Thanks!

Q: Was Burn-E conceived parallel to Wall-E or was it an afterthought?

A.M.: In the middle of production, I animated the scene from the feature with BURN•E. I had such a good time working with him that I wanted to know what happened after BURN•E was locked out of the Axiom. I had a few ideas of places in the feature we could insert BURN•E and pitched them to Andrew. He thought the jokes were funny but felt that they would slow the pace of the film down. Instead he suggested that I board these ideas into a short for the DVD. The only thing we changed in the feature to make the short work was the addition of the light that BURN•E was welding. Other than that we were able to squeeze BURN•E into the feature seamlessly.

Q: WALL-E means "Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class". What does mean BURN-E ?

A.M.: BURN•E stands for Basic Utility Repair Nano Engineer. It has been pointed out that the E should stand for "Earth-Class" as it does in WALL•E's name. This is an intentional discontinuity intended to invite heated internet debate.

Q: Did you need to build additional assets or could you use models, textures, etc., already created for WALL*E?

A.M.: We used a lot of the recognizable assets from the feature. The Axiom hallway set was actually a unused set from the feature that we built new set dressing for. It was our intention to give it a unique "dirty tech" sci-fi look that would contrast well with the streamlined Axiom look. Some assets needed to be created especially for the short such as BURN•E's boss, SUPPLY•R.

Q: There is one scene in "Burn-E" reminiscent of "2001". Was that intentional?

A.M.: Well, the whole short in reminiscent of 1960's, 1970's sci-fi. Since the hyperspace jump in the feature happens mostly off camera, we were free to explore it's look without disrupting the continuity. I wanted hyperspace to emulated an old school optical effect. Additionally the close-up was a way to have BURN•E contemplate his own existence.

Q: Are you doing anything for Pixar's next project UP?

A.M.: I was able to do a little bit of animation on UP for a short while after BURN•E. I like to work on all of the films if possible, so it was a real treat to get to work with Pete Docter again. Even though I only got to do a few scenes, I am proud to have worked on such an amazing an original film.

Q: Was there any real-life model to BURN-E's look?

A.M.: All of the robots in the world of WALL•E are designed to be function first and character second. Since BURN•E is a welding robot, he is designed wiht all of the familiar welding accesories in mind. He has a welding helmet for a head, a clamp and a torch/welding arm, an gas tank backpack.

Q: Does the technical advancement make your job harder or easier?

A.M.: Technical advancements make some things faster and some new things possible. For some reason though, the appetite for cool stuff is equal to the technological advancements. For example, ten years ago on Geri's Game, clothing was difficult and time consuming to produce. Geri had one outfit and it took a lot work to get it to look right. The features at the time wouldn't have clothing. Computers could make hard surface things like insects look good so we made "A Bug's Life". Now we can do clothing more efficiently, we make films that have a lot more clothing in them. The clothing is easier to do, but now there is more work to be done.

Q: Did you have a separate production team for BURN*E?

A.M.: The production team was made up of people who had worked on the feature. In most cases they would wrap off of WALL•E and after (or in some cases before) vacation they would work on BURN•E. I was very fortunate to have the crew that I did. Not only did they make the short look like it belonged in the feature, but they were able to use all they had learned form there experience on WALL•E as well.

Q: any plans for another short film?

A.M.: I would love to do another short film for Pixar. I'm not sure if or when it will happen though. There are plenty of capable and talented directors who have terrific ideas.

Q: What was the biggest technical challenge in the making?

A.M.: Without a doubt it was the shot in the beginning with the space pebble that WALL•E touches that eventually destroys the light spire. The shot of WALL•E touching Saturn's rings was so difficult to do in the feature, that adjusting it and adding to it was a tall order, thankfully Effects Lead Bill Watral and his team made it look seamless.

Q: What do you like most in animation? By whom did you got influenced artistically?

A.M.: I enjoy animation that is honest and does what it sets out to do. I prefer movement that is appropriate to the story and doesn't draw attention to itself needlessly. Animation serves story, not the other way around. As far as my influences, I like a pretty big range of styles from Chuck Jones to Bill Plympton. I'm less interested in CG animation mainly because I get a lot of that at work, but the most exciting CG animation I've seen in a while is the stuff from Gobelins in France or the work on the TV show Pocoyo.

Q: It feels like Pixar shortfilms (in front of the feature film) usually test out new stuff. What is new about Burn.E?

A.M.: We're really not supposed to mention this because the patent is still pending, but I'm so proud of this technological advance that I have to share it with you. BURN•E is presented in a revolutionary new format that (internally) we call BURNAVISION. Film is usually presented in 24 frames per second. BURN•E we were able to get the number up to 26 frames per second. This slightly speed up the film and actually makes ordinary jokes just a bit more hilarious. We looked at old silent films and noticed because the film was hand-cranked movement that gave the characters a slightly sped up performance. In our unscientific clinical tests, that speed increase lead to a 31% improvement in audience enjoyment. Wit some very hard work we were able to fit in 2 extra frames per second. It took a bit more work in animation, but the results are worth it. I hope that in the future we are able to utilize BURNAVISION in a feature, but nobody is sure if a modern audience can handle those 2 extra frames for 90 minutes.

Q: You worked on both short and feature films. Do you have a preference for one or the other?

A.M.: Shorts and features are different animals. Shorts are good because they are a short production cycles. Features are exciting, because the long format stories can be much more rewarding from a performance and story standpoint. Shorts you have to introduce the world, make a joke, and then get out neatly. Feature stories are more challenging but can be more memorable. Foe me I like to work on both. Alternating keeps things interesting.

Q: Are you a fan of Blu-ray and High Definition?

A.M.: I am a fan of High Definition and Blu-Ray, mainly for 2 reasons. First it allows the audience to see the movie that we made in a presentation that we prefer and secondly the space alloted on the discs allows for more making of content that as a filmmaker and film fan I love to see. Plus Blu-Ray sounds like a cool sci-fi weapon much more than BetaMax which sounded like a second-gen robotic schnauzer.

Q: In the first part of Wall-E there's no dialogue at all, so the animation is the main "character" for the first 40 minutes. Was it the most challenging and difficult movie in your career?

A.M.: WALL•E was very challenging, but it was more challenging form a story standpoint. I worked as a story artist for 9 months and that was way more challenging than anything in animation. The animation in WALL•E and BURN•E is terrific, but it's success is dependent on the context that the story provides. If you look at the scene in the short where SUPPLY•R drops the light spire on the ground, you understand how BURN•E is feeling based on the context of the story. Communicating that story in storyboards without dialogue was the biggest challenge.

Q: Being from Germany, I would like to know, why you choosed Beethoven´s Ode to Joy, Freude schöner Götterfunken? I like it very much!

A.M.: I chose Beethoven for 2 reasons. First it is a familiar piece that evokes a known emotional response that was appropriate for the moment. Secondly If your going to have a robot humming a tune, the tune has to be Beethoven.

Q: Since this was your first major project for Pixar what was your biggest lesson you learned in directing a project like this?

A.M.: I learned a ton about the nuts and bolts of directing a team of specialists to execute a cohesive vision. Specifically the biggest thing that I learned from Andrew Stanton was how to gage where the audience is emotionally during the story and adjust the pacing of the short accordingly. If the audience doesn't understand or care what is happening then you've lost their attention and the short fails. One of Andrew's many gifts as a director is understanding how the information presented is being interpreted by the audience. You may have a good story, but the story has to be told well.

Q: You've worked at Pixar since 1997 and you were part of animation teams in all Pixar movies (except, if i'm not wrong, Toy Story). What do you think about Pixar's growth and escalation over these years?

A.M.: I have been fortunate to be at Pixar during it's unprecedented success. It is easy to look back and think that our successes we predestined. Each film is a struggle, and we do the best we can to make the movies as good as they can be. WALL•E is thankfully a hit film, but is important to reflect what a risk it was to undertake and support. WALL•E is a film that is able to be made after the string of hits we have had.

Q: How was Andrew Stanton involved in this short ?

A.M.: Andrew was the Executive Producer on BURN•E and as such he acted mainly as the story editor. I would pitch him the story board and he would give notes and suggestions on how to streamline and clarify the narrative. By the time the short came around Andrew and I had worked together for about 3 years and so we were very comfortable bouncing ideas off one another. After he approved the storyboard for production, I would show him the film again whenever I would reach a milestone (Layout final, animation final, etc.) He did an amazing job of both mentoring me, and giving me the freedom to make the film that I wanted. The film would not be what it is would his guiding hand.

Q: Do you plan to direct a full animated feature next?

A.M.: I would love to direct a feature next, but there are a lot of films to be made first. I have been doing a bit of work on UP in animation and then I will be moving on to help out on the pre-production of Toy Story 3. I can't really say much about those two projects except for they will be very good.

Thank you everyone! This concludes our virtual roundtable for today. I will send a transcript of the chat soon. Take care!

Thank you everyone! This concludes our virtual roundtable for today. Take care!

Thanks everyone for the great questions. By the way, all that BURNAVISION was nonsense. Although we used no "new" technology for BURN•E, we did the best we could to make it honest and enjoyable. Thank you for watching.

Dienstag, 2. Dezember 2008

Interview mit Ben Stiller und Chris Rock zu Madagascar II

Heute erschien im Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger mein Interview mit Ben Stiller und Chris Rock

Hier gehts zum Interview!