Elegantly written by Tim Hauser and published by Chronicle Books, and presenting hundreds pieces of art created during the making of Up, this book is everything readers have come to expect from the series.
Rather than going on about how thrilling turning each page was, here is my email Q&A with Tim Hauser. In the interview, Tim tackles nearly a dozen and a half questions posed by me via email over the past week. I'd like to thank Tim again here for his well thought out answers and just for taking the time to talk to me.
Q: I received my copy of The Art of Up earlier this month and I have to say, I think it's probably the best Pixar 'art of' book so far. Everything is so well arranged and the artwork selection is fabulous. How would you compare this book, and your work on it, to the previous one, The Art of WALL-E?
A: The artwork showcased in both volumes is certainly gorgeous. But that has little to do with me. Pixar’s production designers, Ralph Eggleston (WALL·E) and Ricky Nierva (Up), have wonderful taste and talent, as do their collaborators. This leaves an embarrassment of visual riches to include in the books, and the artists do a remarkable job of selecting what to publish.
My job on the Pixar “Art of” books is not to select and arrange the art. For this series, that is done by the production designers in conjunction with the book’s designers. My task as author of the text is to provide a context for the visuals, a progression of theme and organization, and some insight into what the filmmakers were thinking and why they made certain choices in the preparation and production of the film.
What I hope to do with the text is give a taste of that behind-the-scenes, “you-are-there” thinking; the unique choices made by storytellers as they craft and nurture each project in its own way. What I strive for is a deceptive simplicity in the text that doesn’t distract from the artwork, but rather supports it.
That said, I found The Art of WALL·E, with its broad science-fiction allegory, was easier to convey in text, whereas The Art of Up required a more delicate touch in the writing. Mostly because ephemeral fantasy and stylized design are trickier to define in words without weighing it down. In a way, the book is a natural extension of Ricky Nierva’s design theory of “simplexity,” as detailed in The Art of Up. Simplicity can be a complex thing to craft.
In both cases, it was an honor to help document living history for visionary directors like Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter. Hopefully, decades from now, people will be able to look back on these books and learn something they always wondered about while watching the films.
Q: Well, I was definitely including the text when saying that 'everything is so well arranged' —it's excellently written. But there was collaboration between yourself and the production designers, right?
A: Absolutely. Following a screening of the reels, the project began in a meeting with a stunning collection of pre-production artwork set-up on the walls. Ricky conveyed his vision for the film’s look and his hopes for themes and ideas to be expressed in The Art of Up. Everything else grew from that.
When posing questions in interviews, I mined for stand-alone quotes that would support the selection of artwork that was previewed in addition to material for the chapter texts.
Q: Tell readers how you got involved with Pixar for the art books, because not everyone knows.
A: Andrew Stanton and Ralph Eggleston, both former classmates in the CalArts Character Animation Program, had liked some of my online writings on animation and kindly recommended me for the job to Pixar’s publication manager, Kathleen Chanover, and Chronicle Books. We were all interested in delving into a visual storytelling angle for the book, which fit nicely with the pantomime aspect of WALL·E. Since my background is in traditional animation and story development, that theme is a particular passion.
After that, I was invited to author The Art of Up and The Pixar Treasures (for Disney Editions). All three projects have been wonderful experiences for which I’m very grateful.
Q: Not sure whether this is appropriate to bring up, but back in 2003 you were a big part of the Save Disney campaign, which was instrumental in getting rid of Michael Eisner as CEO of The Walt Disney Company. You realize that kind of makes you a hero for both Disney and Pixar, don't you?
A: As Goofy would say, “Gawrsh!”
I am extremely proud to have been involved with the SaveDisney campaign. I can’t fully express my depth of admiration for Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold and the energy and resources they poured into making certain that changes would take place. They are the true heroes.
I only tried to give an emotional voice to the issues in writing and editing for the website. In the process, I learned a lot about how the worlds of business, the stock market, politics, pensions, press and punditry actually work. It was a substantial life experience, delving into a lot of areas I never could have anticipated. Growing up, I just wanted to make “Walt Disney” movies… Who knew?
Q: Let's go back to The Art of Up now, How long did it take you to put the book together, from start to finish?
A: I worked on The Art of Up text from roughly May to September of 2008, from a screening of the story reels to final tweaks. The bulk of my time fell into the first two or three months of focused meetings, proposals, interviewing, transcribing, researching, writing and rewriting. Then notes came in for some time as the filmmakers made comment and visuals took final form.
Q: Hardest part? Biggest challenge?
A: Writing the first drafts of the “Art of” books are the biggest challenge. It’s not just a matter of sitting down and sketching out a rough thematic idea out of your head that can be built upon in later drafts, as it would be for fiction, but in a documentary-style book like this, all the research and interviews, quotes and thoughts of the artists actually make up that first draft, so the projects are very front-loaded with intensive material gathering on a rather short lead-time.
And even though the texts run only about 10,000 words, many multiples more than that must be generated in order to whittle it down to just the right stuff. It’s a ‘round the clock race to get the first draft in shape. It’s a fun, rewarding and energizing challenge.
Q: Ever get writer's block?
A: Not on these Pixar projects, thank goodness. There just isn’t time for it! Plus, I feel a strong commitment to hitting deadlines. And these are fun projects to do, with compelling, inspirational films, subjects and talents. The book creates an energy of its own that pushes you on.
But certainly, writer’s block happens on my own personal projects sans deadlines. I’ve learned you just have to write anyway for a certain number of hours to work through it. Then you can polish it up later.
Q: The Art of Up contains some artwork done by Elie Docter, Pete's daughter, who voices young Ellie in the film. There are also some quotes from her. Did you personally talk to her?
A: When I learned that Elie had provided inspirational art for “My Adventure Book,” the scrapbook that young Ellie keeps in the film, I thought that was a really unique angle to bring out. I emailed questions for Elie directly to Pete, who was happy to help and conveyed her answers back to me.
Q: How many people did you interview total? And don't just say everybody!
A: For The Art of Up I recorded face-to-face interviews (on an old-school mini-cassette recorder) with Ronnie Del Carmen, Scott Clark, Pete Docter, Greg Dykstra, John Halstead, Bryn Imagire, Thomas Jordan, Harley Jessup, Noah Klocek, Shawn Krause, Patrick Lin, Daniel Lopez-Munoz, Albert Lozano, Steve May, Nathaniel McLaughlin, Dave Mullins, Mark Nielsen, Ricky Nierva, Bob Peterson, Jonas Rivera, Don Shank and Mike Ventorini, some individual, some in groups, on two separate trips up to Pixar studios. And later I exchanged emails with Enrico Casarosa, Elie Docter (through Pete), Tony Fucile and Lou Romano as well.
So that’s 26 people interviewed expressly for this project (hope I’m not forgetting anyone). As usual, it was a very inspiring and generous crowd to say the least. Not only have I learned a lot about how computer graphics work, but also my typing skills have greatly improved with all the transcriptions!
Q: In the foreword, Pete Docter writes that the reason a lot of animators became animators is that they're 'socially challenged' (hey, join the club!) and that was part of what inspired the idea of escape in Up. Could you expand on that from your perspective?
A: That sort of experience is something many cartoonists have in common. An ever-present, ever-searching inner-child connects us. And it seems audiences of all ages can relate to that as well. The “Peter Pan” in everyone loves to escape into cartoons and fantasy.
Q: Moving on, in Chapter Three, there's a lot about the research trip to the Tepuis in Venezuela which inspired the locale of the film. While writing that section, did you find yourself wanting to go there? Have a big adventure? I did just from reading it.
A: Yes! Recounting their exploits was like writing a pulp novel.
In fact, we cut a lengthy block of quotes concerning a dramatic real-life adventure on the Tepuis where the artists were nearly stranded on a Tepui-top overnight —an epic story involving helicopters, storms, emotional reactions and last-minute escapes as told in interviews by Mark Nielsen, Nat McLaughlin, Bob Peterson and others— that I would have loved to include as a sidebar or appendix, but the editor rightly felt it would be more appropriate to a “Making of” book than an “Art of” book. It wasn’t directly related to the visuals.
The out-take was titled “Terror on the Tepuis” in my rough draft. There is no doubt that Pixar’s filmmakers go to wild extremes to bring authenticity to your animation!
Q: Near the end of the book, the fact is brought out that Pixar's first ten features have basically followed the story of life, with its stages and challenges. By all accounts it wasn't intentional, and Bob Peterson talks about it in the book. Why do you think that is, though?
A: It’s something I had wondered about while considering Pixar’s body of work. I just offer the observation, not an analysis. As the filmmakers said, it seems to be a natural evolution of themes that mirror their aging process and changing interests. It will be interesting to see if Toy Story 3 fits the same paradigm. Without knowing the story, I’m betting it will…
Q: What most interesting to you about Up's story, it's development?
A: Pretty much everything. No doubt that the story of Up is atypical from the usual Hollywood project in nearly every way: in its themes, its fanciful nature, its emotionality and in the selection of its protagonist. I’m always most fascinated in the “whys” - - the meaning, subtext, communication and intent of a story. Why that particular story? Why an old man? Why these themes and ideas? Those are the sorts of questions I wanted to explore with the filmmakers. I hope readers find their answers compelling as they browse the great art in this coffee table companion to a unique and wonderful film.
A few closing questions
Q: Was there even a little disappointment at not getting The Art of Toy Story 3?
A: After writing three books in the last two years, it’s nice to take a spring break. Chronicle’s editors inquired about my availability for The Art of Toy Story 3, but another writing commitment precluded any real possibility of participating. I’m glad to hear that Amid [Amidi] is on it.
Q: Do you know Amid?
A: We met and had lunch at the studio while he was researching The Art of Pixar Short Films and I was working on The Pixar Treasures. Of course, I’m a big fan of Cartoon Brew and Amid’s beautiful book, Cartoon Modern, which covers one of my favorite periods of animation art. I’ll look forward to his observations on Woody and Buzz.
Q: Your next book is The Pixar Treasures, out in September from Disney Editions. What can we expect?
A: The Pixar Treasures is a companion to Robert Tieman’s The Disney Treasures books, with a host of illustrations, photos and pull-out memorabilia included. It’s a bit like a scrapbook or yearbook for the Pixar Studio, with a light text that tracks aspects of Pixar’s creative journey to support the visual “Treasures” on display. It also shines a light (or should I say a Luxo desk lamp?) on creative talent and departments at Pixar that aren’t often covered in the “Art of” series.
Q: Any other future Pixar-related projects you're working on? 'Art of Cars 2' perhaps? Please let it drop here!
A: Nothing in the works at the moment, but there are always ideas out there for the future. After three books and such a warm welcome, I feel like part of the extended Pixar family, so I trust we’ll collaborate again in some form.
Like Carl discovers in Up, I’ve learned to enjoy the journey and not focus so much on the destination. No matter what happens ahead, working on these books has been a marvelous adventure!
Artwork spread: Nat McLaughlin, digital, 2007
A big thank-you to publicist April Whitney at Chronicle Books who was friendly and helpful every step of the way in arranging my discussion with Tim.