If you paid attention in art class you could have ended up like these guys! Wall-E week continues with a look into the animators room!
Next up on our WALL-E week we bring you a trip to the heart of Pixar itself, the animation room. Here we spoke with Alan Barillaro (Supervising Animator) ,Steve Hunter (Supervising Animator) and Angus MacLane (Directing Animator).
All three have been at Pixar since 1997. Angus has the most credits to his name, after working on one of Pixar’s most infamous shorts ‘Geri’s Game’ he supervised the Oscar winning short ‘One Man Band’ and later won an Annie award for Outstanding Achievement in Character Animation for his work on ‘The Incredibles’.
Q: Where does an animator start on a project as big as Wall-E?
Alan : We started this movie looking at the physics side and the mechanics side, and also approaching the acting because in this film both were very difficult. We had Buster Keaton in the silent film type of acting, pantomime and then on the other side a purely technical, robot mechanics, getting a good understanding of both, was kind of like two sides of our brain, so…
Steve : Yeah we’re used to exploring the physics of rats, or fish and things like that, where you have to get how does he move, how do they look, and we have to say how do we fit acting into all of that. The same was true of the robots, we kind of had to beat ourselves out of characterising humans too much, and try to find his language.
Angus : Pretty much we wanted to avoid the guy in the suit approach to acting, and try and solve all of our acting ideas by using the limitations of the mechanics of the robot. So in cases where, for example a character might go “Oh! There’s a cup of coffee, I’m going to drink that cup of coffee! It’s a good cup of coffee” where in reality the robot would go *beep whrrr boink robot noises* which would take ten minutes, so we wanted to compromise those two things to make a more natural robot. It’s combining both of the ideas, sort of, the clear acting idea of human acting, and then what is the mechanical function of how would you pick that up with a robot.
We looked at past silent actors, we have a tremendous respect for Buster Keaton movies where the timing had to be really well paced, and more so in this film. Of course we looked at R2D2 and what’s amazing about him is how simple his mechanics are; the body can tilt, his head can turn, his little light can change colour, and that’s about it.
Steve : Andrew (director) was very adamant about us playing up to limitations and not going down a human route or taking an easy route, its Wall-E was a trash compactor and see what you can do to get him to act.
Alan : Early on we wanted elbows, and things like this because we just couldn’t get the gestures we needed and that was our biggest challenge, as actors. Normally as animators, we always want pantomime, we don’t want a lot of lines, let us act and we’ll sell the scene and this called our bluff. We didn’t have any dialogue to hang our hats on, without just doing the most obvious gesture with pantomime.
Q: I seem to remember Matt Groenig talking about ‘Futurama’ and ‘The Simpsons’ saying that the more simple a silhouette and the simpler a character, the more iconic it becomes, and the easier it is to drawn emotions. Do you find that true that minimalism is easier to, or is it easier to have characters with hundred of facial muscles, that can do more?
Alan: When you get it right, it’s easier to read. But trying to get it to read right, is really, really hard. Eve has, like four body parts, two arms, a head and a body. And she was the hardest character I’ve ever animated. I think its that everything had to fit just right and wether the arm was rotated just a little bit, or a different amount, just destroyed it.
So the simplicity was really difficult on this one.
Angus : You’re kind of exposed I think when you’re doing stuff this simple, there’s not a lot of bells and whistles to hang up the bag of tricks. You really have to take the time posing each individual shape to communicate that idea. Whereas if you get a scene that’s just a shot of a character saying something, you know how their head is turned, doesn’t matter nearly as much as if you have character with no eyes or no mouth and they’re just making a little “woooooo”.
Q: I How involved were you with the look of Wall-E? Were you able to contribute or was it presented to you after they said that this works?
Angus: There was a lot of back and forth. It had to be a functional robot and it can’t just be artistically pleasing to the eye. I mean for instance if you look at Eve’s arms, we needed it sometimes to act as an elbow, or a shoulder. It seems really simple but it was groundbreaking for us, to have an area where her shoulder can slide back and forth. So once in a while you could treat it as a shoulder position and carry a piece of paper, but also you could treat it like an elbow to grab something. We were looking up magnetic technology and we were always trying to give it sense a certain amount of logic. It’s much more to me akin to a car design, where you had actually a function as well. So then you decide something, and we see if it’s functional and go back.
Steve: We just had to get the design right, before we went into animation. And that was like six or seven iterations of Eve, and so we frontloaded the design problems. And once we had that solved, then we worked with the limitations we had with the designs we settled on.
Alan : There used to be some really ugly versions. There were nine versions of Eve. We wanted the simple idea of a bearclaw. The thumb was a huge problem and the gun was another.