Friday, November 28, 2008

Cars Toons recording session/wrap party pics

Victor Navone (read his blog), co-director of Pixar's Cars Toons series of made-for-TV shorts, took these behind-the-scenes pictures a while back at the music recording session for Cars Toons (photos 1-3) held at Skywalker Ranch, and later at the wrap party. He uploaded them to Flickr just a couple of days ago and was nice enough to give me permission to share them with readers here.

Group photo with John Lasseter (third from left)

Navone (left) with Lasseter

Audio recording/mixing at Skywalker Ranch

Lasseter with DJ at wrap party

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Disney's deal with IMAX

Last week, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (Pixar's parent group within The Walt Disney Company) and IMAX publicized a new five-picture deal to bring Disney films to the giant-screen format in 3-D starting in 2009. The arrangement, Disney's first with IMAX in a several years, came about as a result of IMAX's adoption of digital 3-D technology (IMAX Digital 3D).

The deal is expected to cover mostly 3-D live-action films but, according to an IMAX spokesperson I talked with yesterday, it will basically be up to Disney to decide what movies would be released in IMAX.

This, at least in my mind, raises ever so slightly the wonderful possibility of one of Pixar's future projects being presented in IMAX alongside a traditional and regular digital 3-D release. Ever so slightly because as recently as this past September, Pixar general manager Jim Morris said that Pixar is not "talking about an IMAX release at this point in time".

New TS3 character: Chuckles the Clown

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is listing a previously unheard of character as appearing in Toy Story 3, out June 18, 2010. Chuckles the Clown will be voiced by actor James Anthony Cotton and will appear alongside Woody, Buzz, and the gang.

No supplementary details on the character are provided. Theories?

(via Upcoming Pixar)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pre-order 'The Art of Up'

Amazon.com is now taking pre-orders for The Art of Up, scheduled to be published in May 2009 by Chronicle Books.

As with previous Pixar art books, The Art of Up will display concept art, sketches, and such from the film, and feature a foreword written by the director, in this case Pete Docter. As with The Art of WALL-E, author Tim Hauser was tasked with overseeing the compiling of the publication.

No cover for the book is yet available, hence the above still from the latest trailer.

WALL-E #1 movie on iTunes

Briefly: WALL-E is currently the most popular film for sale on Apple's iTunes Store (U.S. and Canadian stores), having arrived there last Tuesday at the same time as its home video debut.

Link [requires iTunes]

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This can't be true. No, it just can't. Part II.

Disney's Bolt grossed only an estimated $27 million since opening on Friday. This is shocking. It's less than half what Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa earned the week before last (the reason for "This can't be true. No, it just can't. Part I.")

While, again, not Pixar-perfect, Bolt was a lot of fun and it should have done better at the theatres, as I thought it would.

Hopefully word of mouth will improve next weekend's gross...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Lasseter at Disney

John Lasseter speaks on camera to Colider from his office at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank on the occasion of the release of Bolt.

In the videos, Lasseter gives a quick tour of the office, showing off his prized art from Disney's animation library and some of the other cool stuff that adorns the room. He also talks about Bolt, and his role in the making of the film, and why he loves the story so much.

The absolutely coolest thing shown in both the videos, however, is the Studio's letterhead stationary (starts at minute 2:35 in Video #1). Incredible. The back of each sheet of paper has a quality reproduction of classic Disney artwork. Dude, I have got to get my hands on a sheet or two...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Special coverage | Disney's 'Bolt'

Bolt, the latest animated feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios, hits theatre screens across North America tomorrow.

Not being a Pixar production, the choice not to cover the film every step of the way was easy to make. Still, Bolt does boast strong connections to ‘Emeryville’. In his ex officio role as chief creative officer of WDAS, Pixar creative chief John Lasseter was exceptionally engaged in his role as executive producer of the film, guiding the production (including talented directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard) right from the start —a first since the Disney-Pixar merger.

Bolt marks the first time in nearly two years that WDAS has put out a picture. Having seen the film, Bolt more importantly appears to mark the beginning of the revitalization of Walt Disney Animation.

Story

Bolt (left) with Mittens and Rhino

The movie follows its star, a na├»ve canine actor who's been led at all costs to believe that he’s a "superdog", scientifically engineered to have amazing powers —the plot of his TV show.

After the filming of a cliffhanger episode (a first for the series) where Penny his human co-star and owner is abducted by the nasty character Dr. Calico, aka "the Green-eyed Man", Bolt escapes to "save" her and is accidentally shipped from the studio lot in Hollywood to New York City.

Once in New York, Bolt finds that he's "lost" all his powers. Thoroughly delusional, Bolt teams up (or, more precisely, holds hostage) Mittens, a sarcastic, abandoned, pigeon-victimizing cat who he believes is in cahoots with Calico due to her being a cat —Calico's big on cats.

On route to California, Bolt and Mittens encounter Rhino, an excitable, neurotic hamster who offers to be of assistance to Bolt in saving Penny, he too believing that what happens on the show is real.

Needless to say, adventure ensues...

History

'American Dog' concept art

As is widely known, Bolt’s origins lie in a project titled "American Dog". In the director’s seat was Chris Sanders, who helmed Disney’s Lilo & Stitch. After the merger with Pixar brought Lasseter to the lead oversight position he now occupies at WDAS, ‘Dog’ —Sanders’ project— came up for review.

After Sanders reportedly clashed with Lasseter, rejecting his suggestions and those of the Pixar "Brain Trust" members brought in to help improve the story, Lasseter relived him of his duties. Sanders thereafter defected to Disney/Pixar archrival DreamWorks Animation SKG stating that he believes that they are taking the art of animation to "new places".

Only the very basic core ideas of the original plot stayed; Bolt is essentially a completely different movie than ‘Dog’ would have been. To quote Pixar/WDAS president Ed Catmull: "The roughest concept was kept, but the look was different, the characters were different." In fact, the official Bolt press kit makes no mention of American Dog or Chris Sanders.

Cast

Several well-known names add their talent to Bolt's voice cast. First up is actor John Travolta who voices the lead role —a first for him.

"I had never done an animated feature [before] but when I got the call from [Walt Disney Studios chairman] Dick Cook and he told me that this character really suited my personality, I decided that it was a territory worth investigating," Travolta is quoted as saying in the press kit for the film.

Joining Travolta for the main roles are Disney sensation Miley Cyrus (voices Penny), actress Susie Essman (Mittens), Disney storyman/visual development artist Mark Walton (Rhino), actor Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Calico), and Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton (the director).

Production

Directors Chris Williams (left) and Byron Howard

Facts:
  • The animation team was given only a year and a half to complete the movie, much less than the usual for a CG animated picture.

  • One of the biggest animation challenges was Rhino, due to the problems presented by the translucency of his hamster ball. Says supervising animator Clay Kaytis: "Every shot required calculating which way the ball would move if he shifted his weight."
  • The film's backgrounds feature an original, unique hand-painted look. This was acheived using new technology developed and patented by Disney.

Presentation

In addition to its traditional presentation in regular theatres, Bolt is also being screened in stereoscopic Disney Digital 3-D (Disney’s branding of Real D Cinema) in selected theatres equipped for 3-D digital projection.

Unlike Disney's previous movies released in digital 3-D —Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons— which were converted into the format by an outside company (ILM) using a post-production process, Bolt is Disney’s first feature to be made with 3-D specifically in mind, all 3-D effects being created in-house.

"As a result", says producer Clark Spencer, "we can actually influence the storytelling through the 3-D process in terms of what’s happening emotionally in the film. Rather than over-using the technique, we’re able to do something much more subtle and satisfying to the audience."

My Review

Let’s me start this way: I liked Bolt. It’s an enjoyable movie and it’s definitely better than anything from Walt Disney Animation in about the last decade. The story and characters are entertaining, the character design is very well done (very Pixaresque), and, to my surprise, the voice acting really fit. An hour and a half well spent. That said, I did have a couple of problems with the movie that I want to discuss here.

My main problem with Bolt is that the last animated picture I saw in the theatre was Pixar's WALL-E. WALL-E is one tough act to follow. Possibly because of this, at least in part, Bolt's storyline seemed too simple and un-complex, at least for my taste, and predictable at times. No philosophical overtones like in WALL-E or Toy Story.

Another issue is Bolt himself (the dog). Even though he’s supposed to be the main character, he doesn’t drive the story at all. After the really moving opening scene where he's adopted from the puppy shelter by Penny, nearly everything else in the movie overpowers his role. For instance, Rhino is the real (hilarious) star of the show, right from the moment he appears on screen —to great benefit.

In the end, though, my biggest issue with the movie isn't really about the movie. I tend to believe that WDAS should focus on traditional animation, rather than the 3D, computer generated variety pioneered by Pixar. Makes sense: Two feature animation studios at Disney; one focusing on the traditional form of the art, the other on computer animation. Bolt would certainly have been just as good if traditionally animated. And that would certainly help ease the confusion that now exists. (I’ve read in no less than half-a-dozen places Bolt described as being from Pixar.)

Putting it simply, there's a lot of good things about Bolt, but also some room for improvement. As I wrote: "Bolt ...appears to mark the beginning of the revitalization of Walt Disney Animation." That's exactly it.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'Up' website updated

Briefly: The official Up website got a new look overnight. The site now includes both trailers released to date, as well as a synopsis, and a couple of basic interactive elements.

(via Upcoming Pixar)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

New voice for Doc Hudson?

MTV has spoken to John Lasseter about the challenge Pixar is facing due to the recent death of actor Paul Newman who lent his voice Doc Hudson in Cars and was supposed to return to the role for the upcoming Cars 2.

Lasseter revealed that Newman had not recorded any dialogue prior to his death and that it is now "unclear" whether the character will be part of the film. Previously, Lasseter said that the character would be back in Cars 2, but this was before Newman died.

Pixar might recast the role; they're doing the same for Slinky Dog in Toy Story 3. The character was voiced in the previous two films by actor Jim Varney, who died in 2000. "We found actually an old friend of [Varney's] who sounds an awful lot like him," mentioned Lasseter.

With Doc it's different, though, Lasseter says: "It'll be hard to replace Paul Newman, but we don't know yet."

Friday, November 14, 2008

WALL-E Blu-ray gets rave reviews

The Blu-ray editions of WALL-E are getting overwhelmingly positive reviews from high definition audio/video aficionados.

Writes Ben Williams, independent professional disc reviewer for Blu-ray.com about the 3-disc edition:

"The movie’s video presentation [Specifications: Video codec, MPEG-4 AVC; video resolution, 1080p; aspect ratio, 2.40:1] is truly reference grade and will remain a standard as demonstration material for years to come. The audio presentation [DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1] is equally exceptional and creates a palpable sense of atmosphere and immersion ...Wall-E is a must-own title on Blu-ray... In fact, this is a film that is destined to sell more than a few Blu-ray players. Wall-E easily earns my highest recommendation."

Three words: I. Want. Blu-ray.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Angus MacLane on BURN-E

Cinema Blend spoke at length with BURN-E director Angus MacLane (also WALL-E directing animator) for a special Q&A about the short.

In the interview, MacLane reveals what BURN-E's name stands for —Basic Utility Repair Nano Engineer— and why the name was chosen. (And yes, he's defensive about the "E".) Also discussed are the challenges of animating a film without dialogue, the short's most challenging shot, including an in-joke to annoy Brad Bird, etc.

Read it here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More BURN-E stills

These come courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment/Click Communications (WDSHE online marketing agency).

For more on BURN-E, go here.

Download WALL-E screenplay

The WALL-E script/screenplay can now be downloaded for free (in PDF format) from the Walt Disney Studios Awards website.

Aimed at A.M.P.A.S. members, the site helps promote WALL-E (and other Disney releases) for Oscar consideration.

The reason for the script being offered is to boost its chances at being nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category.

(via Upcoming Pixar)

Monday, November 10, 2008

WALL-E in running for People's Choice Award

WALL-E is one of three movies nominated for Favorite Family Movie at this year's People's Choice Awards, where regular folk vote for their favorite films of the year.

Voting started today and runs through December 7 (ends at precisely 11:59 PM ET).

The awards show will be held next January 7 and will be seen on CBS in the United States.

This can't be true. No, it just can't.

Over the weekend, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the latest sequel from the idea theft outfit called DreamWorks Animation, had the highest grossing #1 opening for an animated film this year so far, earning $63.5 million and beating WALL-E's June opening by approximately $500,000.

Feeling very Carl Fredricksen right now...

WALL-E submitted in Oscar animation category

The journey to the Oscars continues.

WALL-E was officially announced today as one of fourteen animated films submitted to the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for consideration in the Animated Feature Film category for the 81st Oscars, to be telecast on Sunday, February 22, 2009.

Disney's Bolt (stay tuned here for special coverage, coming soon) was also submitted, in hopes of getting a nomination.

Disney is, of course, pitching WALL-E in the most prestigious Oscar category —Best Picture— smartly ignoring any potential risk of vote-splitting between the two categories.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

'Pixar Touch' blog

David A. Price, author of The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company (who I previously had the chance to interview) is starting a new blog to accompany his book, which was published in May.

At thepixartouch.typepad.com, Price hopes to post around "once a week" to "offer new material on Pixar and computer animation in general, including material... that didn't make it into the book."

The site will not feature Pixar news, but will instead focus more on the studios history. "I don't expect to cover day-to-day announcements from Pixar, as a general rule," says Price, citing this blog as one reason.

(via Upcoming Pixar)

Friday, November 7, 2008

WALL-E DVD/Blu-ray previews

WDSHE PR/Click Communications just sent me these preview clips of some of the bonus material included with WALL-E on DVD and Blu-ray for all of you who have to wait until the 18th to watch the whole thing :) Enjoy.

"Elbows"

"Reason for Bots"

"Building Worlds from the Sound Up"

Must watch: BNL Shorts

Quick post here: Saw all five of the "BNL Shorts" included as extras on Disc 2 of the 3-disc WALL-E DVD (and Blu-ray)yesterday.

Seriously very funny, really well done. A lot more of the live-action stuff than what we saw in WALL-E, but would have fit perfectly into the movie.

If you think you know Buy N Large, think again!

'Up' theatrical teaser trailer online [UPDATE]


The above embedded first theatrical teaser trailer for Up has made its way online at Trailer Addict. As exciting as you'd expect it to be. Way to go Pete Docter!

Runs 1:49 and will be attached to Disney's Bolt on Nov. 21.

Also, love the old school narration...

(via VNOG Blog)
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Update: Now up at Apple Trailers in standard and HD resolutions.

(Updated Nov. 8)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Disney reports FY08/Q4 earnings

Pixar parent The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) reported its financial results [pdf] this afternoon for the 2008 fiscal full year (FY08) and for the year's fourth fiscal quarter (Q4 FY08) ended Sept. 27, 2008.

CEO Robert "Bob" Iger said he was "pleased" with the Company's performance in 2008, "especially in light of the [current] challenging economic environment."

The market responded poorly to today's report, sending DIS down in after hours trading.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Note on WALL-E DVD packaging

Following in the tradition of "Note on WALL-E soundtrack packaging", here are my observations on the packaging and presentation of the WALL-E DVD. Once again, please keep in mind that this is about the 3-disc. And sorry about not having any unboxing photos; my camera is crap.
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The DVD package features raised printing on the front, bright and glossy, with a slight metallic effect.

Designed to eschew all use of plastic (excluding the shrink wrap), the box strikes you as rather light when you first pick it up, and opens easily from both sides to reveal Disc 1 on the left and Discs 2 and 3 on the right. Weighing in at slightly over 6 1/2 oz (according to kitchen scale), it's made using a total of 30% recycled cardboard (post-consumer and recovered fiber), and is 100% recyclable. Says the back cover: "Earth (and space) friendly eco-packaging".

The screen printing on the actual discs is a bit of a disappointment. Unlike the amazing print on the WALL-E soundtrack CD, the printing on the discs here looks a little dull, and the design could have used some improvement.

Finally, included inside is a sheet with a 12-digit "unique activation code" for the digital copy, as well as an offers booklet. Contrary to circulating reports, there is no Up mini-poster included; the Up poster forms the back cover of the previously mentioned booklet.

New 'Up' trailer on DVD? No.

Briefly: Can confirm that the Up trailer included on the WALL-E DVD is the same teaser that can be seen at Disney.com/Up.

A lot to report today. Real nice, after months like Aug., Sept., and Oct.

Exclusive: WALL-E DVD menu screenshots

Please note that these are from the 3-Disc Special Edition DVD set. Disc 3 contains only DisneyFile digital copy (for iTunes and Windows Media Player, and compatible devices).

Disc 1
Main MenuScene Selection
Bonus Features Set Up Sneak Peaks

Disc 2
Main Menu
"Humans" menu
"Robots" menu

Exclusive: First look at BURN-E

As reported below (update #2) my advance copy of the 3-Disc Special Edition WALL-E DVD (which will be in stores Nov. 18) arrived via UPS less than one hour ago. My first order of business (after opening the package giddily like an excited child) was watching BURN-E, Pixar’s latest DVD/Blu-ray-exclusive short film. Above are three never-before-seen stills from BURN-E, for your enjoyment.

Included on all editions of WALL-E on DVD and Blu-ray disc, and directed by WALL-E lead animator Angus MacLane, this is one enjoyable short, on par with some of Pixar’s best —and that includes the theatrical ones.

As expected, BURN-E (runs 7:35) follows the unfortunate little welder robot locked out of the Axiom in the main film —BURN-E— and more precisely his exploits in trying to install a replacement lamp on the starliner and find a way back inside. The film begins as WALL-E hurtles towards the Axiom...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Woohoo! [2 UPDATES]

I've just been told that I should be getting my advance copy of the 3-Disc Special Edition WALL-E DVD by Friday. Friday.

Jealous? Hihihihihi!

Will add this: Shout out to the folks at Click Communications, online publicity agency for WDSHE.
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Update: Got the ship notification email from UPS, like, two minutes ago. Package is in transit. Estimated delivery date? Tomorrow! Hahaha!

Will keep you posted...

(Updated Nov. 4 at 10:40 PM)
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Update: Package has arrived, straight from WDSHE offices in Culver City, California, and boy is it ever cool!

Stay tuned...

(Updated Nov. 5 at 11:43 AM)

No other Pixar Blu-ray for 2008

With all the excitement over the impending release of WALL-E on DVD and Blu-ray, the world seems to have forgotten that since January we've been expecting another one of Pixar's films to be made available on the Blu-ray high definition format at the same time.

Originally, it was supposed to be Finding Nemo, that other film directed by Andrew Stanton. In March, it was revealed that the 'Nemo' Blu-ray would be delayed until 2009 ("presumably spring").

With that, it was taken for granted that another film would be released on Blu-ray in conjunction with WALL-E in place of 'Nemo', all available reports leading to that conclusion. The Incredibles (Blu-ray cover mock-up pictured) looked to be the strongest candidate.

But now, with only 2 weeks to go until WALL-E's home video debut, and no mention from Disney of any such release, and no information suggesting otherwise, it appears safe to say that our expectations were fabulously incorrect. When it comes to Blu-ray, WALL-E's all we're getting from Pixar this year!