OUT THERE: PRODUCTION DESIGNER RALPH EGGLESTON'S FANTASTIC VISIONS OF EARTH AND SPACE
The production design for "WALLE" required a unique cinematic vision of the future that ran the gamut -- from an abandoned trash-covered Earth to an enormous floating cruise ship in space perched on the edge of a nebula that is home to thousands of humans. Overseeing the production design on the film was Ralph Eggleston ("Finding Nemo"), a Pixar veteran with art director credits on "Toy Story" and "The Incredibles," and who directed the Oscar®-winning short, "For the Birds." Working closely with him to achieve his artistic goals were three top art directors: Anthony Christov (sets art director), Bert Berry (shading art director), and Jason Deamer (character art director).
"We find our own sense of world and create it from scratch."
~ Ralph Eggleston, Production Designer
According to producer Morris, "The biggest overall challenge on this film from my point of view was the production design and locking down the look of our sets and environments. We knew going into it that we needed to have a future incarnation of Earth in its abandoned state, but it was enormously complicated to get all the detailed nooks and crannies figured out. The design of the Axiom and the space environments were also tricky, but we had a larger body of material for those elements to research and learn from. Ralph and his team did an amazing job creating entertaining and intriguing worlds that became characters in their own right and helped Andrew tell the story he wanted to tell."
"One of the great things about what Pixar does," explains Eggleston, "is that we create animated films that also have elements of special effects films and live-action films. We find our own sense of world and create it from scratch. With 'WALLE,' it was essential that the audience believe in this world or they would have a hard time believing that our main character is really the last robot on Earth. So we set out to make our Earth setting very realistic with a great level of detail. We created nearly six miles of cityscape so that everywhere WALLE goes, we know exactly where it is and that world really exists. We ended up stylizing it quite a bit for animation, but these are the most realistic settings we've ever created here at Pixar. This was also our toughest assignment from an artistic standpoint.
"Another one of our goals on this film was to use color and lighting to highlight WALLE's emotions and help the audience connect with them," he adds. "Act one is all about romantic and emotional lighting, and act two is very much about sterility, order and cleanliness. The second act is the direct antithesis of the first. As the film progresses, we slowly but surely introduce a little bit more romantic lighting. A big part of my job is wrangling all of these disparate ideas from the art department all the way through the production pipeline."
For inspiration in creating the look of outer space for "WALLE," Eggleston and his team turned to idealized views of the future from NASA scientists of the 50s and 60s, and the concept art for Disneyland's Tomorrowland.
"One of the biggest influences for me and everyone on the film in terms of creating our vision of the future was the art created for Tomorrowland," explains Eggleston. "It wasn't about the specifics, but rather the notion of 'Where's my jet pack?' You look at a lot of the space program paintings of the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and you see fantastic imagery of buildings on Mars. Somewhere around 1978, they stopped doing that because they wouldn't fund anything that they knew they couldn't do. We were interested in showing what the future could be like and won't it be great when we get there. That's what we wanted to impart with a lot of the design of this film."
Inspiration for the Axiom design came from researching luxury cruise ships, including those operated by Disney. Field trips to Vegas also helped to suggest practical lighting for an artificial luxury setting.
"The original concept for the Axiom came from a cruise line," says Eggleston. "We designed a massive space ship that is as big as a city, several miles long, and capable of holding hundreds of thousands of residents. We knew that the audience would need some kind of visual grounding, so we put it next to a nebula. When we first see the nebula, it reminds you of a mountain with something on top, and then it reveals the Axiom."
ADVANCING THE ART OF COMPUTER ANIMATION: ACCLAIMED CINEMATOGRAPHER ROGER DEAKINS AND VISUAL EFFECTS PIONEER DENNIS MUREN CONSULT ON "WALLE"
"One of the things that Andrew wanted to do with 'WALLE' was to create a different look than we're used to seeing in animated films," recalls producer Morris. "Very often animated films feel like they're recorded in some kind of computer space. We wanted this film to feel like cinematographers with real cameras had gone to these places and filmed what we were seeing. We wanted it to have artifacts of photography and to seem real and much more gritty than animated films tend to be. During my many years working at ILM, I had met several people that I thought could be helpful with that."
Morris invited two of the top filmmakers in their respective fields to visit Pixar and to serve as consultants on the film. Cinematographer Roger Deakins ("No Country for Old Men," "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Outlaw Robert Ford," "Fargo," "O Brother Where Art Thou?"), a seven-time Oscar® nominee best known for his frequent work with the acclaimed Coen Brothers lent his expertise on lighting and camera issues. Renowned visual effects wizard and six-time Oscar winner Dennis Muren ("Star Wars," "Indiana Jones," "Terminator 2," "Jurassic Park," "The Abyss," "Twister") offered his expertise on visual effects and creating the right atmospheric imagery.
"There's a bit of imperfection in the look of the final film that adds to its believability."
~ Jim Morris, Producer
"Both Roger and Dennis spent periods of time on the film bringing their perspectives to it and giving us a lot of ideas about how things would look and feel," says Morris. "We actually brought in some vintage 1970s Panavision cameras, similar to the ones used to shoot the original 'Star Wars,' and shot some imagery to get a sense of the kind of artifacts those lenses created. We observed technical things like chromatic aberration, barrel distortion and other imperfections, and took what we learned and applied it to our computer graphics photography. Dennis and Roger were pivotal in helping us get those looks. For example, their advice on cinematography, lighting, and composition helped us create the austere, glaring and harsh Earth landscape in the first act."
Morris' background in live-action and visual effects filmmaking also helped the filmmakers achieve their desire to have the movie feel like it was filmed and not recorded. "I explained to the technical team that in the real world, when you're shooting, the lens is usually about three feet in front of the film plane and you're getting perspective shift when you pan and tilt. They took this information and came back with imagery that looked fifty percent more like a photographed image. The result feels like there was a cameraman present, as opposed to being in some sort of virtual space where everything is pristine. There's a bit of imperfection in the look of the final film that adds to its believability.
As director of photography for camera, Jeremy Lasky helped take the film to an even higher level. "We advanced our camera and lighting technology to give the film a feel like there was a camera and lens shooting the action. We used a widescreen aspect ratio and a very shallow depth of field to give a real richness to the cinematography. You'll notice backgrounds out of focus, and more textured layers of focus in some shots to create almost watercolor compositions. We also used a lot of handheld and steady-cam shots, especially in space, to make the audience feel that could really happen, and that this is a real robot moving through a real world. You feel like you're witnessing this scene really unfold. One of the great innovations for us on this film, and a first for Pixar, was that we were able to previsualize the key lights prior to shooting so that we would have a much better idea of what the final film frame would look like. In the past, we had no lighting information at all at this stage of the production."
Danielle Feinberg was the director of photography for lighting. Acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins ("No Country for Old Men," "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford") and Oscar®-winning visual effects legend Dennis Muren served as consultants.
"When I saw the finished film, I had one of those moments where I thought, 'I've never seen a movie quite like this before!,'" concludes Morris. "I felt like I was seeing it through fresh eyes."
DOWN TO EARTH MUSIC:THOMAS NEWMAN & PETER GABRIEL CREATE COSMIC COMPOSITIONS
Andrew Stanton and composer Thomas Newman got along swimmingly on their first collaboration, "Finding Nemo," so it seemed a natural that the two would come together for an encore on "WALLE." With its emphasis on visual storytelling and less dialogue, music plays an even greater role than usual in helping the filmmakers create moods and communicate their story. Newman collaborated with rock-and-roll legend Peter Gabriel on a song called "Down to Earth," providing an entertaining musical epilogue to the film.
Stanton observes, "Working with Tom has always been a dream for me. I've been a fan of his music for a long time because he is such an original. I remember first telling him about this new project on the night of the Academy Awards® in 2004 when we were there for 'Nemo.' I said that I have this idea for a film and it involves 'Hello Dolly' and science fiction. I was wondering if he would still speak to me after that. It turns out that the score for 'Hello Dolly' was composed by Tom's legendary uncle, Lionel Newman, so in a sense, we were keeping it all in the family."
"The one thing that's guaranteed when you work with Tom is that you're going to get something that isn't conventional," adds Stanton. "When you request something that comes from a conventional place, like a sci-fi genre, you know you're going to get something with a slight left turn to it. His score always gives the film its own special stamp of identity and it doesn't feel like anything you've ever heard before. For 'WALLE,' he really found a whole new level of beauty and majesty and scale that was beyond anything I could have imagined."
"In animation, mood happens in smaller increments of time, seconds sometimes."
~ Thomas Newman, Composer
One of the things that Stanton most admired about Newman's work on "WALLE" was its ability to capture the big sweeping outer space themes as well as all of the intimacies of the relationship between the two lead robots.
"Tom was able to communicate a sense of the world we were creating with his score," notes Stanton. "There's a scene in the first act where we see WALLE going about his daily routine and there's a mechanical clockwork aspect to it. The score has a factory-like rhythm to it with almost a faint whistle, almost like whistling while you work. Tom is always able to find the truth of these moments. And with his unique style of overdubs and mixing after he's recorded with the orchestra, he comes up with a fresh palette of sounds. He has a real natural ability to find the intimate emotion in a scene. I think that's why we fit together so well, because my natural inclination is to emphasize the emotional aspect of storytelling."
Newman adds, "Writing music for an animated film is very different than working in live-action. In animation, mood happens in smaller increments of time, seconds sometimes. Here's a mood, and then 'boom,' an action takes place. I learned with 'Nemo' that you couldn't just create a prevailing mood and let it sit very long. Working in animation requires making transitions, and it's about how the music moves from one feeling to another.
"My music tends to be patterned or repeating, so I like to get together with a percussionist or a guitarist who can take these patterns and add to them to make them sonically interesting," says Newman. "If you have repeating phrases oftentimes it allows the ear to hear colors that widen your perception of sound and music. What interests me about music is the depth of it."
"Tom went to London to jam with Peter and it was like this whirlwind romance."
~ Andrew Stanton, Director/Co-Writer
For the song "Down to Earth," which is heard at the end of the film, Stanton had the opportunity to collaborate with another of his musical heroes - Peter Gabriel. A huge fan of the rock-and-roll legend since he was 12 years old, Stanton contacted Gabriel about writing a song that would be integral to the conclusion of the story.
Stanton recalls, "Working with Peter has been one of the biggest highlights of my professional career. When it came to the ending for our film, I knew that we needed to add some additional story points and create something with a global feel to it. And it suddenly dawned on me that Peter is the father of world music to much of the Western world. I got completely seduced with the idea of putting him and Tom in a room together and seeing what they could come up with. Tom went to London to jam with Peter and it was like this whirlwind romance. Suddenly, there was this amazing Thomas Newman/Peter Gabriel song called 'Down to Earth,' that is just beyond my wildest dreams. Peter's lyrics are so deceivingly simple, but they're spot-on. I was so moved when I heard the lyrics because they were so clever and fit so well. They felt completely indicative of Peter Gabriel, and knowing that it was based on the story I had written and that I had any association whatsoever with -- it really blew my mind."
"It feels very much like a Peter Gabriel song, but it has a connectivity and sensitivity that is Tom's," adds Stanton. "Tom was so inspired by the song that he went back into the movie and rescored some key moments to include some of the same themes. It really feels completely organic and integral to the film."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS:
ANDREW STANTON (Director/Screenwriter/Vice President, Creative, Pixar Animation Studios) has been a major creative force at Pixar Animation Studios since 1990, when he became the second animator and ninth employee to join the company's elite group of computer animation pioneers. As Vice President, Creative, he currently leads the initiatives of and oversees all features and shorts development of the Studio.
Stanton made his directorial debut with the record-shattering "Finding Nemo," an original story of his that he also co-wrote. The film garnered Stanton two Academy Award® nominations (Best Original Screenplay & Best Animated Film), and "Finding Nemo" was awarded an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film of 2003, the first such honor Pixar Animation Studios has received for a full-length feature.
Stanton was one of the four screenwriters to receive an Oscar® nomination in 1996 for his contribution to "Toy Story" and went on to receive credit as a screenwriter on every subsequent Pixar film - "A Bug's Life," "Toy Story 2," "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo." Additionally, he served as co-director on "A Bug's Life," and was the executive producer of "Monsters, Inc." and the 2006 Academy Award-winning "Ratatouille."
A native of Rockport, Mass., Stanton earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Character Animation from California Institute of the Arts (Cal Arts), where he completed two student films. In the 1980s, he launched his professional career in Los Angeles animating for Bill Kroyer's Kroyer Films studio, and writing for Ralph Bakshi's production of "Mighty Mouse, The New Adventures."
JIM MORRIS (Producer/Executive Vice President, Production, Pixar Animation Studios) joined Pixar Animation Studios in 2005. Morris is responsible for managing the production of the Studio's features, shorts, DVD content and theme park activities. He also oversees various production departments at Pixar, including Story, Art, Editorial, Animation, Shading, Lighting and Technical Direction.
Prior to joining Pixar, Morris held a range of key positions in various divisions of Lucasfilm Ltd. He served as President of Lucas Digital Ltd., and managed its two divisions, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Skywalker Sound. As ILM's General Manager for more than ten years, he supervised a staff of over 1400 artists and technicians, and guided the largest visual effects facility in the entertainment industry.
During Morris' tenure, ILM created the groundbreaking, Academy Award®-winning visual effects in "Jurassic Park," "Death Becomes Her," and "Forrest Gump." Other notable projects completed under his management include "Mission: Impossible," "Twister," "Saving Private Ryan," "Star Wars: Episode I and II," "The Perfect Storm," "Pearl Harbor," "Minority Report," "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Master and Commander," and the first three "Harry Potter" films.
Morris joined ILM in 1987 as a producer of visual effects for films and commercials. He was subsequently promoted to ILM's executive in charge of production, where he supervised all of the company's production. "The Abyss," which earned an Oscar® for Best Achievement in Visual Effects, and "Always," are among his producing credits.
Before joining ILM, Morris was executive producer at Arnold & Associates, where he oversaw the company's three offices and produced national commercials for clients such as Atari and Chevron. Prior to that, Morris was executive producer at One Pass, where he headed the commercial production department. He also served in the production departments at J. Walter Thompson, and Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco. Morris worked as a producer and director for PBS affiliate WCNY-TV, and began his career as a cameraman and editor at NBC affiliate WSYR-TV.
Morris is the recipient of both the Producers Guild of America Digital 50 Award and the Visual Effects Society Board of Directors Award. He currently serves as president of the San Francisco Film Commission. Morris earned a Bachelor of Science degree in film and a Master of Science degree in television and radio from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.