Friday, August 29, 2008

BURN-E director: Angus MacLane

Briefly: In an item publicizing the Cartoon Art Museum benefit event that Pixar will be holding this October (the fifth annual), the Animation World Network (AWN) makes mention that BURN-E, the special short film to be included on the DVD and Blu-ray release of WALL-E (expected Nov. 18), has as its director none other than WALL-E directing animator Angus MacLane, a fact not previously known.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Steve Jobs obit accidentally published

Only picking this up 'cause real news has been hard to come by lately...

Financial news and data services company Bloomberg accidentally published through its wire service yesterday afternoon a 17-page (!) obituary for Pixar co-founder and current Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

The error apparently occurred while Bloomberg was updating some of the information contained in the obit, one of many pre-written by news organizations. Jobs thus joins the elite club of people who's "death has been greatly exaggerated" –to quote Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain, the most famous victim of a premature obituary. Naturally, the obit has since been retracted and removed by Bloomberg, but not before media gossip blog Gawker.com made a copy. Very, very disconcerting to read.

Anyhow, to start a conspiracy theory here, I'd like to know who exactly pressed the send button "accidentally" and do they, their spouse, or any associates have connections to some shady hedge fund manager looking to get an after-hours deal on Apple stock?...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Michael Keaton cast in Toy Story 3

IESB.net has learned from actress Jodi Benson (who voiced 'Tour Guide' Barbie in Toy Story 2 and will be voicing Barbie once again in Toy Story 3) that actor Michael Keaton has been cast by Pixar to provide the voice of a "Ken doll" in Toy Story 3. Keaton has worked with Pixar before, having voiced Chick Hicks in Cars.

TS3 will, of course, be arriving in theatres in June 2010.

Catmull talks Pixar creativity in HBR piece

The September 2008 issue of the influential management journal the Harvard Business Review presents as its cover story a 5450-word piece written by Pixar co-founder and current president Ed Catmull, where he expounds Pixar's legendary creativity as an integral part of its unmatached corporate culture.

Catmull zeros in the following points:
  • What Is Creativity?
  • The Roots of Our Culture
  • Power to the Creatives
  • A Peer Culture (the Brain Trust/the "dailies")
  • Technology + Art = Magic (freedom to communicate, offer ideas; staying close to the latest innovations, sharing ideas academically)
  • Staying on the Rails ("postmortems", "fresh blood")

Additionally, there are four excellent short sidebars attached to the main article:

  • Taking Risks
  • Getting Real Help
  • Overcoming Inhibitions
  • Pixar’s Operating Principles

If you're knowledgeable when it comes to Pixar's history and such, you may find that you already know many of the stories recounted (such as the development of Toy Story 2, to name one), but the article is really an intelligent read nonetheless –especially if you're in management. And if you're not knowledgeable, well, then, learn something!

Read it online here (and take a listen to a conversation with Catmull here).

Thanks to the commenter who pointed to this, who's comment I accidentally erased.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Outrage! Eisner on Disney Legends list [UPDATE]

The slow news month continues...

Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media reports that former Walt Disney Company CEO and Pixar nemesis Michael Eisner is on the list to be one of this year's recipients of the prestigious Disney Legends award, which recognizes persons who have made an extraordinary contribution to the company. The awards will be handed out in the Fall.

As Hill points out, Eisner did do a lot of good during the early part of his tenure at Disney, starting in the mid '80s, when he helped turn the company around from the very poor financial state it was in at the time. But all's not well that doesn't end well.

The latter part of Eisner's employment was marked by extremely bad decisions that deeply threatened the company —the suit-produced movies, the sequels mill atmosphere. Eisner endangered Disney and its shareholders by letting his great personal dislike of then Pixar CEO Steve Jobs cloud his business sense, putting the relationship with Pixar into serious jeopardy.

Had Disney shareholders not revolted, the Disney/Pixar partnership would almost definitely have been history, leaving Disney in a very tough situation. Fortunately they did, being led by Roy E. Disney, —who coincidentally now chairs the Disney Legends committee— and, natch, the rest is history.

To go totally op-ed here, Eisner shouldn't get the award, and certainly not now. I mean, well-known Disney archivist Dave Smith, who's still at the company after nearly 40 years, was inducted only last year, leaving me scratching my head as to why anyone (and who) at Disney would want Eisner to be inducted so soon after his largely ungraceful exit.
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Update: Not so.

(Updated Oct. 14)

Friday, August 15, 2008

WALL-E DVD/Blu-ray coming Nov. 18

Blu-ray.com is reporting that Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment has revealed that Pixar's WALL-E will be released on DVD and Blu-ray formats on November 18 (North America).

Few particulars are currently available, except that the Blu-ray release (cover pictured) will be a two-disc set and will feature an internet-based interactive component.

November 18 will also mark the release of another one of Pixar's previous films on Blu-ray –which film it'll be is not yet known, since the Finding Nemo Blu-ray got pushed back to 2009 (check out my thoughts on the topic from back in March).

(via Upcoming Pixar)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Andrew Gordon talks animation

An original Q&A with Pixar animator Andrew Gordon is now online at the website of Digital Arts magazine.

In the 9-question long interview, Gordon talks about his start in animation, his advice for folks starting out in the industry, and his general dislike of motion capture technology.

And he mentions that he's currently working on scenes for Toy Story 3. "The story is amazing," he says, "so it really is a pleasure to work on the film."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fresh details on 'Incredibles' comics

The MTV Splash Page blog has some new info regarding the upcoming comic book series based on The Incredibles, to be published by BOOM! Studios in association with Pixar and Disney Publishing Worldwide as part of a wider line of comics based on many of Pixar's classic films.

As previously reported, the first of the 'Incredibles' series (the first issue of which will be out in April) will tell the story of Mr. Incredible "slowly losing his powers", all the while trying to keep the secret from his family; or, as Splash Page puts it, Mr. Incredibles' "impotence". (laughing)

On that point, says series writer Mark Waid, the story will be like an "Incredibles 1.5". The storyline will thus begin shortly after the events of the movie; the characters won't be any older. The comics would therefore not restrict any possible sequel to The Incredibles.

The original characters will be pretty much the same as in the film, personality wise, though Mr. Incredible will be rather depressed, having been "relegated to house husband status". There will be new characters, we learn today, including a 'supers doctor'.

No word yet on whether Edna Mode (aka "E", possibly my favourite Pixar character ever) will make an appearance in any of the issues.

Read the full story here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Pixar announces RenderMan 14.0

Pixar has announced the imminent release of RenderMan Pro Server 14.0, the latest version of the award-winning, professional rendering software, widely used in the production of computer-generated effects for both animated and live-action films.

RenderMan Pro Server 14.0 will be sold starting this fall and will introduce several "significant performance enhancements", as well as support for 64-bit Windows Vista desktops and servers, among a variety of new features.

Pixar is celebrating RenderMan's 20th anniversary this year. Marking the occasion, Star Wars creator George Lucas, who famously sold what would become Pixar to Steve Jobs, said "20 years after putting its first pixels on the screen, RenderMan remains the benchmark for all rendering technology." (The Hollywood Reporter, in fact, has an article up regarding the software's ubiquity in the CGI visual effects trade.)

Congratulations Pixar!

(via AWN)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Catmull at SIGGRAPH; says No to Pixar becoming effects studio

Speaking today at this year’s SIGGRAPH computer graphics industry conference, Pixar co-founder and president Dr. Ed Catmull, who is also president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, talked about the future of both studios, emphasizing that Pixar will continue to focus primarily on animation.

As part of the day’s events, Catmull also announced an exciting research and development venture being undertaken by The Walt Disney Company in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) in an effort to develop "the next generation of sophisticated technologies" with applications across all of Disney's many units, including Pixar. The project will include the founding of two Disney Research Labs at the above mentioned educational institutions.

About Pixar’s foray into live-action effect creation, first for Brad Bird’s 2009 flick 1906 (a co-production with Warner Bros.) and then for Andrew Stanton’s next project, John Carter of Mars, the Animation World Network (AWN) quotes Catmull as saying:

"We've got two projects coming where there's a live action element. But our view is not that we're trying to diversify; it's more that we've got a creative vision to try something different, and we want to support that vision. Whether or not it goes beyond that we don't know, but we don't want to turn Pixar into a live action studio. In fact, the intent is that the special effects will not be done at Pixar… We are not trying to become a special effects company."

Saturday, August 9, 2008

'Up' retro poster

Upcoming Pixar has found this image (the first we've seen) of a retro-styled poster for Up.

The poster is designed by artist Eric Tan, who is known for his previous work with Pixar, having designed the special classic-looking posters for WALL-E, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles.

Interestingly, the creases in the poster are part of design, making it look like it's been folded, like a travel map would be.

Friday, August 8, 2008

New version of RenderMan expected

Briefly: Variety has learned that a new version of Pixar's revolutionary RenderMan image rendering software, RenderMan version 14.0, should be announced by Pixar president Ed Catmull as part of his keynote speech on Monday at the SIGGRAPH 2008 conference.

Luxo Jr. animated desk toy

Fellow Pixar geek Peter Sciretta of /Film posted this morning a video of a lovely motorized Luxo Jr. desk toy (pictured above) he bought at the employees-and-visitors-only company store inside Pixar's Emeryville campus. Not too many details are available on the item, except that it cost $40 and is manufactured by Thinkway Toys, Pixar's favourite toy maker.

Sciretta wonders whether the toy might become available for sale at one of the gift shops open to the public at the "Pixar Studios" area of Disney's Hollywood Studios theme park in Florida, or perhaps even at regular, run-of-the-mill Disney Stores.

None of the above is likely to happen. Nearly all stuff emblazoned with the Pixar logo (such as shirts, hats, whatever) is not sold anywhere but the company store, which is, as previously mentioned, solely for employees and folks fortunate enough to visit the studios. Also, as cool as this toy is, it doesn't appear to be a newly-released product; the materials and colors used don't seem like what would be used these days.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Docters building dream home [2 UPDATES]

It's good to be a Pixarian. The San Jose Mercury News reports on Pete Docter's (and his wife Amanda's) plans for a 15-acre residential property in the city of Lafayette, California, located about 25 minutes from Pixar's Emeryville, California studios.

According to the proposal submitted to the city's Planning Commission (which will be considering it tonight), the property, located on "secluded" land, would feature a giant "60-foot-tall artificial oak tree", designed by an architect who's done work for Disney parks. The "tree" would hold three treehouses, one of the treehouses being a bedroom, the second having two separate bedrooms, and the third purposed as "a common room".

But here's where it gets really cool: The treehouses would be connected via a suspension bridge to a new home that would be built on an "adjacent hill". The house, in turn, would have an elevator to connect it to a garage located "25 feet below, burrowed 80 feet into the hillside". As for the driveway, the plan is for it to be over 500 feet long.

Wow. All that's missing is some balloons and an old guy in a flying house :)
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Update: Did a little bit of digging and found some images associated with the project at the website of the City of Lafayette; I've spread them throughout the post. (I'd include a link to the images but they're in a very large PDF file that took a very long time to download.)

First up, we have an artist's conception of the tree and treehouses, as submitted to the city. The bridge can be seen on the right hand side of the drawing. The second picture is an aerial photograph of the property and surrounding area. Lastly, we have a blueprint of the bridge between the main house and the treehouses.

(Updated at 4:30 PM)
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Update: InsideBayArea.com has details regarding Thursday's meeting of the Lafayette Planning Commission.

Pete Docter was at the meeting, where he is quoted as saying: "I had a dream to live in a treehouse when I was a kid, and that dream never quite went away".

The commissioners are said to have been reasonably receptive to the building plans, although there was some concern expressed about possible "gawkers" coming into the neighborhood to try and take a look at the gigantinormous tree. Some residents also expressed similar concerns, but most are said to have been supportive, with one resident expressing that they'd "be thrilled if it was in our neighborhood".

In response, the Commission will be holding another hearing about the issue next month.

After the meeting ended, Docter was "hesitant" to talk to local reporters, implying that he doesn't want to draw too much attention to the ambitious (and very neat) project.

(Updated June 9)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

First 'Up' still surfaces

Finally, some news! (I hate a slow news week...)

Upcoming Pixar is pointing today to the grainy image from Pixar's Up shown above (cropped and enhanced, original version is here), which was found at an Italian-language film website. The image appears to be a scan from an Italian print magazine.

The image is quite noteworthy in that, although logoed and of poor quality, it's the first time an actual still from the film (featuring characters Carl and Russell) has made its way online. Everything we've seen previously has been basically rendered images of just the characters.