Awards and accolades aren’t always the benchmark for something great but let’s be honest: 15 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globes and 11 Grammy’s can’t be wrong. Such is the genius of animation studio Pixar, which has been responsible for some of the most loved films of all time: Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo are favourites of children and adults alike, cementing the true reach of their heart-warming characters, soul-stirring narratives and unmistakable glints of humanity in even the most surprising places (who didn’t want to hug dialogue-less Wall-E?). But these films don’t come easy – just ask their teams of dedicated creatives who spends years at a stretch on creating the complex characters that come to life on our screens. There’s a lot of trust, a lot of (helpful) mistakes and an enormous amount of talent. To celebrate the release of their latest, highly-anticipated creation, Finding Dory, we asked their best and brightest for the most important creative lessons they’ve learnt during their time at Pixar.
DO YOUR RESEARCH. “The first thing you do is a massive amount of research… go to the real thing first because it’s always more interesting than anything you could make up. And starting with the real thing makes the final thing so much more believable in the end,” character designer Jason Deamer explains. “To give you an example, I worked on a movie a long, long time ago, and I would draw the characters. And I would keep drawing the foliage in the background just throwing in trees and stuff. And we actually went to Pennsylvania to check out the location where the film was going to be, and I realised I had been drawing California trees without really thinking.”
BE WILLING TO GO THROUGH TRIAL AND ERROR. “If you create anything, you know that it goes through changes all the time,” production designer Steve Pilcher explains. “And you’ve got to be willing, if you want to get it to a place that you envision that’s really great, be willing to throw out parts of it. Say, that’s not really working. You have to invest emotionally to create anything, but you have to be a little indifferent to the changes. Very flexible to that. I mean, it will end, and it will find its place, so you don’t have to like get bogged down with those changes. Just sort of go, alright. Let’s move onto the next one. It’s like, I make a mistake, I’m going to fix and correct it. Or that’s not the right choice. Let’s try this. And I just keep that attitude, and it carries us all the way through… it’s just how you psychologically approach it.”
(AND TAKE THOSE ERRORS ON THE CHIN). “When you play your work and it doesn’t play, that’s all the clarity you need,” animator Alan Barillaro explains. “And it’s hard sometimes. You go, ‘wow, I thought that was going to be hilarious [laughs] and you’re back to the drawing board. [But] you can also play to each other’s strengths and support each other and lean on each other for performances.”
EACH TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT FROM THE LAST. “If you asked a Beatle, like how long does it take Paul McCartney to write a brilliant song, he would not have an answer for you,” Jason says. “You always hear stories like sometimes a song came out in five minutes, and sometimes it took him ten years to write a song. And I’d say the same is true of just creativity in general. Be willing to let yourself suck at it a little bit. It’s okay to be bad. Everyone kind of secretly is, and anyone that shows all good stuff is hiding the bad stuff from you.”
LOOK FOR INSPIRATION IN OTHER ARTFORMS. Alan, who also directed the short film “Piper” that will be screened prior to “Finding Dory”, often looks to 20th century painter Norman Rockwell for answers on character development. “Not just for his skill,” says Barillaro. “But because much of the constraints are the same as in film. You’re trying to tell a story visually as quickly as possible so it’s easy for the audience to get.” In creating new characters, Deamer maintains that nothing beats researching the real thing – in his case animals in the wild. “It’s always more interesting than anything you could make up,” he says. “And starting with the real thing makes the final thing so much more believable in the end.”