Sunday, May 31, 2009

'Up' weekend box office: $68.2 million [UPDATE]

Continuing Pixar's unmatched winning streak, Up was the No. 1 movie at the box office over the weekend in the United States and Canada, earning $68.2 million (estimated, final figures out tomorrow) and comfortably beating WALL-E's $63.1 million opening weekend.

This impressive debut for Up gives it the No. 3 spot for best opening weekend for a Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures animated feature release, bumping love-struck robot WALL-E into fourth place. At 68.2 million dollars, Up is only slightly behind sensational first and second place holders The Incredibles ($70.4) and Finding Nemo ($70.2).

To put things into further perspective, Up's success surpasses that of DreamWorks Animation SKG's recent digital 3-D feature Monsters vs. Aliens by a considerable degree. Despite being the subject of an aggressive marketing and merchandising campaign, that film made only $59.3 million in its opening weekend. DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda brought in similar figures last June 6-8, making $60.2 million.

Expect Up to stay at No. 1 for the next few weekends as positive word-of-mouth about the film makes the rounds.

(Sources: Associated Press; Box Office Mojo: Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens)
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Update: The final numbers are in. Up officially grossed $68,108,790 or $68.1 million, according to the Associated Press.

(Updated June 1)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Exclusive: Amid Amidi no longer writing 'Art of Toy Story 3'

Art of Pixar Short Films author Amid Amidi contacted me this morning to inform me that he is "no longer writing The Art of Toy Story 3" for Pixar and Chronicle Books —a tremendously surprising development.

When asked about the reasons why, Amid did not wish to comment any further. I suspect there was a falling-out of some nature, but have no supporting facts except the lack of rationalization in his comments.

Amid had earlier tried to comment briefly about the change on my interview with Tim Hauser for The Art of Up since his work on The Art of Toy Story 3 was discussed in the Q&A. I rejected his comment thinking it was not genuine and so he emailed me at pixarblogunofficial@yahoo.com to let me know that it was.

'Up' toys and merchandise [UPDATE: Adult tees, pins, Kevin plush]

The 2009 Toy Industry Association Toy Fair is now under way in New York City. Several toy makers are debuting prototypes of some of the items that will be in stores in a couple of months or so. We can expect much, much more 'stuff' news to emerge in the next while.

Looking back, honestly, my coverage of merchandising for WALL-E last year was rather poor. So for Up, I'll be posting as much as possible, all in this one giant, frequently-updated post. Anytime we learn of a new product, I'll update readers here with all the latest. New items will be right at the top. Cool?

This portion posted on February 15, 2009
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Adult tees, pins, Kevin plush

With Up doing great in theatres, the Disney Store now offers an even larger variety of items 'inspired by' the movie, as follows:

New mens T-shirts (See The World By Balloon/Adventure is Out There! and Carl "Public Menace" designs); mens and womens limited-edition Dug T-shirts (only 150 of each are available, numbered with screenprinted signature of Pixar artist Ronnie del Carmen) and limited-edition Carl, Russell, Dug, and house pins.

A "brilliantly-colored" Kevin plush (pictured) is coming soon with pre-orders starting June 16.

Posted May 30, 2009
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Shirts, scrapbooks, etc.

Several new Up items have been added to the Disney Store online, for sale and pre-order. Keep an eye out for them at your local Disney Store in the coming days.

We have kids T-shirts (Wilderness Explorer and Dug designs), a snowglobe, 3-piece luggage tag set, Carl travel mug; a "My Adventure Book" scrapbook with collectible postcards and a Wilderness Explorer journal/scrapbook with stickers and a real compass; a very snazzy Hawaiian shirt (in Mens and Boys sizes) from Reyn Spooner (a favourite brand for John Lasseter, who as we all know loves Hawaiian shirts); and dozens of Create-Your-Own items with characters from the movie.

What do you plan to get?

Posted May 13, 2009.
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Talking dog plush toys (Dug, Alpha, Beta, Gamma)

A bunch of new talking plush/stuffed toys are now in stock at the Disney Store online (formerly DisneyShopping.com).

For sale is already everybody's favourite Dug (available in 11″ and 21″ sizes), and also the other talking dogs from the movie, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. The Dug plush greets you with phrases such as ''My name is Dug. I have just met you and I love you.'' Aww!

A full description of each animal can be found on the product pages. Sizes range from 8 to 21 inches with most retailing for $19.50.

Posted May 8, 2009
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More Up books


Upcoming Pixar points out even more books featuring the characters of Up. All are available now and recommended for kids ages 4-8 (as a lot of the Up books are).

We have:

Beware of Dug!

24-page "Pictureback" paperback book. Published by Random House/Disney. Text by Annie Auerbach.

Bird's Best Friend

Step into Reading (Step 2) paperback. Retells story of Russell and Kevin's friendship in the movie. 32 pages. Random House/Disney.

The Sky's the Limit

96-page deluxe coloring book. Published by Golden Books/Disney. Text by Cynthia Hands.

Wild Life

48-page coloring book. Published by Golden Books/Disney. Text by Cynthia Hands. Includes 'chunky' crayons.

Posted April 21, 2009
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Up storybooks

Up: The Junior Novelization

128-page paperback novelization of the film. For ages 9-12. Published by Random House/Disney. Features eight pages of full-color scenes. Available now. Perfect if you like spoilers!

Up Little Golden Book

Classic-style picture book for children ages 4-8. Published by Golden Books/Disney. 24 pages, hardcover. Available now.

Up Read-Aloud Storybook (Limited Collector's Edition)

72-page, hardcover illustrated storybook for ages 4-8. Published by Random House/Disney. Features "stunning full-color art" and includes a collectible poster. Available now. Check out the Look Inside! feature at Amazon.com for the first few pages of the book. Beautifully done.

Spirit of Adventure

A Stepping Stone chapter-book for ages 9-12. Retells Up's story from Russell's perspective. 80 pages, paperback. Published by Random House/Disney. Available now.

Posted April 18, 2009.
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Up Vtech V.Smile Cartridges

Available for pre-order from Toys "R" Us.

V.Smile Smartridge for all V.Smile Learning Systems from Vtech. Designed for children 4-6 years of age. Teaches plants, numbers and counting, shapes, and teamwork.

V.Smile V-Motion TV Learning Smartridge for the V-Motion Active Learning System. For kids 4-6. Teaches shape matching, memory, pattern logics, rhythm, and more.

Estimated ship date is May 15.

Posted April 6, 2009.
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Wilderness Explorers' Guide (sticker book)

Published by Disney Press. Text by Eliie O'Ryan. 48-page story/picture book for kids ages 4-8 with three sheets of removable stickers included. Available April 28 (Amazon.com says April 14).

Link to Disney Books product page (official summary).

Posted March 17, 2009.
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My Name Is Dug (hardcover book)

Pixar artist and Up story supervisor Ronnie del Carmen points on the sidebar of his blog Tirade to this 48-page Up-themed children's picture book entitled My Name Is Dug that can now be pre-ordered from Amazon.com, in advance of its April 14 publication date (but strangely not indexed in the search results for 'pixar up').

The Disney Press-published book, authored by Kiki Thorpe with illustrations by del Carmen, will follow Dug as he searches for Kevin, who'll be "cleverly hidden on each spread".

Posted March 6, 2009.
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No 'Up' toys coming from Thinkway

Just learned that Thinkway Toys, Pixar's toy maker of choice since the very first Toy Story, won't be producing any items based on Up. A rep told me they didn't get a single licence from Disney Consumer Products, which handles licencing of Pixar's characters.

There's been some talk of toy companies and even DCP not being too excited at the prospect of Up, considering its septuagenarian star, but this is quite surprising, considering the relationship Thinkway's had with Pixar over the years.

Posted March 6, 2009.
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JUN Planning action figures/stuffed toys/vinyl figures (prototypes)

From JUN Planning. Action figure prototype of villain Charles Muntz shown. (Click to enlarge: This is our first ever glimpse at Muntz.)

Visit French-language Pixar fansite DisneyPixar.fr for photos of action figure prototypes of Muntz's dogs, as well as stuffed/plush toys (4″ to 8″) and soft vinyl figures of Carl, Russell, Dug, and Kevin (large and mini).

(via Upcoming Pixar)

Posted March 2, 2009.
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JUN Planning action figures (prototypes)

From Japanese manufacturer JUN Planning. Carl action figure prototype shown. Final product will be way nicer. See action-figure.com for Russell, Dug, and Kevin figures and more info.

See also JUN Planning mini toys (not prototypes) available for pre-order at acmetrendz.com.

(via Upcoming Pixar)

Posted February 15, 2009.

'Up' Friday box office: $21.4 million

According to Variety and Box Office Mojo, Up raked in an estimated $21.4 million dollars on its opening day yesterday, slightly below WALL-E's Friday earnings of $23.2 million last June.

This opening, Walt Disney Pictures' second best ever for an animated feature (after WALL-E), puts the film on track for a nearly guaranteed No. 1 spot at the North American box office over the weekend and a good shot at matching or surpassing WALL-E's $63.1 million opening weekend.

Up is currently playing at 3,766 theatres across the U.S. and Canada (1,530 in 3-D).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Selected 'Up' Reviews (Part III) + RT update

Click for Parts One and Two of this series of posts highlighting the best in Up reviews.
  • Tom Charity/CNN
Up remains at 98% "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes with 141 reviews polled, 138 positive to 3 negative.

'Up' game for iPhone/iPod touch

Briefly: Upcoming Pixar points out that an Up game for the iPhone and iPod touch (screenshot shown) that had escaped previous notice can be bought at Apple's App Store for the devices, part of the iTunes Store.

A full description of the game, published by THQ Wireless, is provided on the product page on the App Store.

Link [requires iTunes]

Flying house? It could happen. Well...

If you've ever (secretly) wondered to yourself how many helium balloons it would take to make a house fly in real life, if it were possible, you should find this piece interesting.

Working with specialists in the field of house moving, Wired did the math of how many balloons/cubic feet of helium gas it would take to get a small house like Carl's in Up, which would weigh about 100,000 pounds or over 45 metric tons, aloft.

Read the article to find out.

Toy Story 3 teaser online

The fun, nostalgic Toy Story 3 teaser trailer, now playing in front of Disney Digital 3-D showings of Up, can also be enjoyed at home, online at Apple Trailers, via Disney.com/ToyStory, and on YouTube.

June 18, 2010 can't come soon enough!

'Up' was incredible

I just returned from enjoying one of the best cinematic experiences of my life. Up blew me away. Even better than WALL-E —never thought I'd say that— the film's second half, especially, is a triumph. The action, the emotions, everything, was perfectly played out. Pete Docter needs to start working on his award acceptance speeches.

Not to be forgotten, Peter Sohn's directorial debut Partly Cloudy was pretty amusing. It was, however, way too short. But then again, so was Up. At least it seemed that way —it could have gone on for hours more.

Have you seen Up yet? Please comment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Selected 'Up' reviews (Part II) + RT update

As expected, scores of new Up reviews were published today, Thursday, May 28, and all were overwhemingly positive. Star critic Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, for example, gave Up four stars out of four, calling it simply "a wonderful film".

He wasn't the only one:

In Rotten Tomatoes news, Up has climbed 2% since the last update to 98% Fresh on the Tomatometer with 93 reviews counted. No new negative reviews have been added, bringing the ratio to 91 positive to 2 negative or "rotten".

'Up' video game on Apple Games

Even as the Up soundtrack is nowhere to be found on the iTunes Store home screen (unlike last June with the WALL-E soundtrack), the Windows/Mac OS version of the Up video game is the subject of a feature article on the Apple.com Games page.

Several screenshots from Up: The Video Game, developed by Heavy Iron Studios and published by THQ, are presented, as are quotes from senior producer Brian Wiklem.

Pixarians to ring NYSE Closing Bell [UPDATE]

To celebrate the release of Up, Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Jonas Rivera, and others will be ringing the Closing Bell of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) tomorrow at 4:00 PM ET, remotely from Pixar HQ in Emeryville, California.

A live webcast will be available on the NYSE website starting at 3:59 PM (archived afterwards) and the event should be televised on news and financial networks.

One question: Why not the Opening Bell?

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Update: The archived video of the event, hundreds of cheering Pixarians and all (including John Lasseter and Ed Catmull), can now be viewed at NYSE.com.

(Updated May 29)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Selected 'Up' reviews (Part I)

With Up opening in theatres the day after tomorrow, reviews from film critics across North America are beginning to pour in.

Here are just a few:

Many more reviews will be published tomorrow, so check back for updates.

Up already carries a 96% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a total of 47 reviews counted, 45 of which are positive. This gives Up a Certified Fresh rating on the site.

The consensus:

"Another masterful work of art from Pixar, Up is an exciting, hilarious, and heartfelt adventure impeccably crafted and told with wit and depth."

Surely I'll agree. And that brings me to the following: Unlike last year with WALL-E, I won't be writing a formal critique of Up myself. I couldn't attend the advanced screening held yesterday in Toronto due to a last minute change in plans and so I'll be seeing Up opening day Friday (like everybody else!) and will post merely to say how amazing it was :)

Local references in 'Up'

A major part of Pixar's well-known in-joke tradition are references in the movies to real life people, places, and things familiar to Pixar employees, who live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area. Examples include the map of Emeryville in The Incredibles and the Hidden City Cafe in the WALL-E teaser trailer.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the custom of adding "local flavor" is alive and well in Up. Prominently mentioned in the film is Fentons Creamery, an ice cream parlour and restaurant located in Oakland, California popular with Pixarians and their families. Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera are among the regulars.

About half-way through Up, Russell talks about eating ice cream at Fentons and an "accurate version" of the store is shown near the end of film, with logo, as it ends up figuring into the plot. Likely the biggest mention of this sort ever.

The current owner of the 114-year-old business, who's "still processing the news", was first told of the mention by Pixar animators and shortly thereafter by Disney lawyers seeking his formal approval. Naturally he agreed and is thrilled by the fact that Pixar would care enough to give his establishement such a big shout-out.

Read the article online at SFGate.com.

Also incorporated into Up is a second, albeit smaller, reference to another Oakland eatery, the Merritt Bakery, home of the "hamburger cake". Learn more about that here.

Pete Docter profile + selected interviews

A detailed profile of Pete Docter is in today's issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and online at StarTribune.com.

Almost a biography of the 'decent, civilized, and funny' Up director, a Minnesota native, the article looks at his upbringing, penchant for daydreaming, education, early filmmaking efforts, and his start at Pixar.

The newspaper talked to Docter's parents and others, such as classmates and high school guidance counselor, for the report. Docter's mother —his own mother— calls him "very nerdy". Gotta love that.

Of course, Pete Docter is simply everywhere right now. With May 29 only a day away, a wave of Up-themed interviews with Docter and others is hitting the wires. Some highlights:

  • NPR/Fresh Air from WHYY FM (28-minute radio interview)

How to animate 10,000 balloons

CNET's Geek Gestalt blog has a smart new piece examining the groundbreaking technologies used by Pixar to conquer the animation challenges encountered on Up, the biggest of which was animating the balloons that propel Carl's house to new heights in the film. Many interesting quotes by supervising technical director Steve May can be found within.

The opening paragraph says a lot:
"If you want to consider a difficult computational problem, try thinking of the algorithms required to animate more than 10,000 helium balloons, each with its own string, but each also interdependent on the rest, which are collectively hoisting aloft a small house."
Read the complete article at CNET News.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Brave" is The Bear and the Bow

Sunday saw some hoopla online amongst Pixar fans caused by a reference made by Pete Docter to what appeared to be previously unannounced project titled "Brave". As is to be expected, scores of theories quickly emerged. /Film, for example, posited that "Brave" could be a new adaptation of The Brave Little Toaster being produced at Pixar.

Well now, while Pixar publicity declined to go on the record on the subject, a trusted well-placed source confirms that "Brave" is simply an internal name for Pixar's winter 2011 feature The Bear and the Bow.

The movie, being directed by Brenda Chapman and billed as "Pixar's first fairy tale" is, as we've known for a while, centred around a "brave" Scottish Princess Merida, voiced by Reese Witherspoon.

No Cannes to California jet lag induced slip after all!

'Up' DVD/Blu-ray short: Dug's Special Mission

Talking to SCI FI Wire, Up producer Jonas Rivera revealed the title and basic plot of the feature-based short film to be included on the Up DVD and Blu-ray, out sometime this fall.

Dug's Special Mission will give "a little bit of the backstory of what Dug was actually doing" before encountering Carl and Russell in Up. The short will be directed by Up story supervisor Ronnie Del Carmen.

Rivera also talks about the fact that there will be "tons of documentaries and stuff like that" included on the home video releases of Up.

The Art of Up | Interview with Tim Hauser

The Art of Up, Pixar's eighth 'art of' masterpiece, is in bookstores today and in stock at Amazon.com and other online retailers.

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.

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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.

15 'Up' B-rolls

Trailer Addict have an unbelievable fifteen unedited B-rolls of video footage from the production of Up and interviews with cast and crew members. These are customarily released by Disney to television stations who use the footage into their stories.

Besides the three production footage B-Rolls embedded above we have interviews, of varying length, with the following:

Clearly haven't had time to watch them all —there's lots, lots to see. The first three rolls alone have about fifteen minutes of footage from nearly every aspect of production, such as voice work, animation, music, etc. Also some incredible video from the Venezuela research trip.

Download 'Up' soundtrack [UPDATE]

Reminder: The Up soundtrack, released today by Walt Disney Records, can now be downloaded from the Amazon MP3 download site and from the iTunes Store (United States and Canada).

For once, I recommend Amazon as the whole album sells there for only $8.99 (with bonus sound effect tracks) whereas with the with iTunes Store the songs can only be purchased individually for some reason, making purchasing the entire abum quite expensive. Unfortunately, Amazon MP3 sells to U.S. customers only.

Again, such a shame this wonderful album was not made available for purchase on CD.
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Update: The iTunes Store fixed the problem. You can now buy the complete album, with digital booklet, bonus sound effect tracks, and an exclusive 7-minute featurette, for $9.99. The Complete My Album feature is available if you'd already purchased some tracks individually, like I did.

Once again, iTunes is the place to go.

(Updated May 27)

Monday, May 25, 2009

'Up' theme for Disney.com

The Disney.com homepage got a cool Up theme today in anticipation of film's opening on Friday. A bunch of features have been added including games, an excellent new featurette (Inside Up: The Dog Pack, with many exciting scenes of Muntz and his Alpha Pack dogs), etc.

Another thing that looks interesting is the "Opening Weekend Surprise", surely designed to get people to show up on opening day. What that is exactly is not explained, but it involves Pixar's in-joke tradition, which producer Jonas Rivera and many other Pixarins talk about in an original video about the tradition.

Check out Disney.com and come back here with your comments.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Q&A: Peter Sohn

Last week, as previously mentioned, I had the opportunity to speak over the phone with Peter Sohn, Pixar animator and story artist, voice of Emile in Ratatouille, and now director of Pixar's latest theatrical short film Partly Cloudy, which arrives in theatres on Friday with Up. A record of our conversation.
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Mike: My first question —and you’ve talked about this before— is about how you got the idea to do a short based on the classic ‘babies come from storks’ fable or whatever. Give readers a brief history.

Peter Sohn: Okay. The idea started a long time ago. The actual spark of it started when I was a kid in New York. My mom took me to go see Dumbo, and I remember there’s an opening to that film where the storks deliver all the babies. And as a kid I really was wondering where did they get all the babies from. And I had this idea that because they were birds they flew to the clouds in the sky, that’s where all the babies came from.

And later, I mean, like a year and a half ago was when I really started fleshing that idea out, when I was pitching it to John Lasseter. He really liked the idea, and then I started really fleshing out the characters and the actual story of what happens. But it was something that was just a seed for a long time until I got to plant it here at Pixar a couple of years ago.

M: Were you told the story as a kid? Did you believe it? (laughing)

PS: It wasn’t about believing, it’s just all I really, kind of, knew as a kid. Like, I remember, that’s where —like if we wanted a pet that’s where the pet would come from, you know what I mean? [But] then it was really fast after learning where babies [actually] come from.

It was such a innocent thing watching Dumbo. And there have been several other stories of stork delivery mistakes but I didn’t really want to go there I wanted to explore the other end of it, and try to find something new about the story.

M: In an interview you did with the AWN, you mentioned that you pitched a couple of other short ideas the were rejected in favour of Partly Cloudy. You can’t say what those were, can you?

PS: No, but what’s interesting is that they were thematically different from Partly Cloudy. I mean, they all had different, kind of, tones to it. It’s interesting because I’ve seen it paired with Up several times and I’m very proud that it works with Up thematically.

M: I haven’t seen Partly Cloudy yet but I know that there’s some very cute babies that were designed that way at John Lasseter’s suggestion. Give me other specific examples of his involvement in the film.

PS: Sure. Like in animation, when we first started animating the clouds, there was a very, kind of, interesting thing that was going on because what clouds feel like —they should feel like they’re slow, and kind of undulating, and we did a lot of animation like this, but John was like the short needs to be snappy and have a good clip to it, have a great rhythm to it as well.

So you need to balance both the undulation and the snappiness of the cloud animation, and a great way to figure that out is if you think about it, like, with the overshoot, with the overlapping animation, it doesn’t snap back like a rubber band. It stays out there and slowly comes back. So he really —this was during the animation process— where he would have ideas like that to hone us to the proper kind of animation look.

Pixar is very, very critical of finding the character and the style of movement that it needs and with Gus the main cloud we did several tests to try and find it and John was a real, real, you know, prolific part of that.

M: The design of Russell in Up was based in large part on you —you as a kid. Did anybody in particular serve as inspiration for Gus and Peck?

PS: Yeah, it’s my mother and I, hilariously enough. I mean, because of the language barrier between my mother and I —and my father— but my mother is where I got my film love from, my mom is a great film lover. She grew up in Korea watching old American movies, and when I grew up she showed me all those movies. But what’s funny is that when we used to go theatre she wouldn’t understand the English and so I would be there translating a lot of the movies for her.

And that was the kind of relationship that I was really trying to find in this —a bird and a cloud both not able to really communicate with each other —oh, no, they can communicate with each other but the whole thing is about a miscommunication where one thing meant something else.

It really —when I made that the foundation, when I was having story issues, I would just go back to, well, How would I react to this if my mom said it this way or if I did this: If I left my mom, if we were having lunch and I went to go talk to someone else for a second. Would she think that I was, like, ignoring her, or what would she think at that point? And I always would go back to that.

M: As director, how excited would you be to get an Oscar nomination for Partly Cloudy, which seems likely?

(surprised) Ohh! Yeah, absolutely, it would be very exciting. I’m just living off the high of —I had just shown it to a crowd in Austin, Texas maybe a couple of weeks ago and just having people seeing it— cause I’ve shown it here to some story guys and we just had it premiere and it had a great response— but having [regular] people watch it, it’s like no other feeling you’ll ever have.

Just hearing an audience really connect to it and laugh at something, you know, really, really enjoying something that took a while, that a whole crew put their heart into, is the most satisfying thing. I mean, have you made any films? Do you know what I’m talking about?

M: No, I haven’t. That’d be like a dream for me, but...

PS: Really, it’s quite a feeling, just for that [the audience response], and that is something I’ll hold on to forever.

M: Do you see yourself ever helming a feature for Pixar? Is it a dream for you?

PS: Um, yeah. Yeah, sure. Right now, it’s just, I have my ideas that I’m still kind of putting into pots, growing the seeds. When they’re ready to really grow, I’ll show somebody.
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Special thanks to Amanda Sorena and the Pixar publicity team for arranging the interview and certainly to Peter Sohn for agreeing to talk to me

More on Toy Story Mania! for Wii

Briefly: Examiner.com has published an article on the Toy Story Mania! video game for the Nintendo Wii launching this September.

The game will be previewed at the E3 Expo in Los Angeles next month.

Pixar's "Brave"? [UPDATE]

In what must be the thousandth Up-themed interview Pete Docter has participated in, an extremely intriguing comment was made by Docter after being asked about the balance between work on Up and other Pixar projects where he's not the director.

He says:
"Once in a while, we’re at these meetings where we all look at "Toy Story 3" or "Brave" or whatever and we all give comments and notes, but that’s just like a day here or there."
"Brave"? What's "Brave"? From the context it sure seems like the title of a hitherto unannounced, and secret, future Pixar project.

Is this perhaps a (thrilling) case of loose lips resulting from Cannes to California jet lag? Or a calculated move? A codename maybe? Meaningless typo? I will definitely be seeking comment from Pixar bright and early Monday morning.

(via Upcoming Pixar)
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Update: "Brave" is The Bear and the Bow. Full story here.

(Updated May 26)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ed Asner talks 'Up'

The Wall Street Journal has a brief, but outstanding, interview with Edward Asner (above center), the voice of Up's leading man, Carl Fredricksen.

Asner, who at age 78 is about the same age as Carl, says he's "most pleased" to be part of Up, having "found [the] ideas and thoughts [present in the movie] more provoking and longer lasting than any live action film [he's] seen in a long time".

Read his complete comments online at WSJ.com.

Seperately, in a new Boston Globe piece about Up, which includes plenty of dialogue from Asner and director Pete Docter, Asner calls Docter "a genius", mentioning that he has "enormous affection and admiration for him".

Pixar expansion positive for Emeryville

Pixar's campus as seen on Google Earth

The Oakland Tribune reports on the continued growth of Pixar's home base, fashionable Emeryville, California.

Regarding the expansion of Pixar's campus, city manager Pat O'Keeffe says: "We're very glad to see this construction go forward. It's a signal to us that Pixar has a continued investment in Emeryville. ... We see this as a good affirmation they want to stay."

There was concern among city officials, following the acquisition by The Walt Disney Company in 2006, that Pixar would leave Emeryville or move employees out to be closer to Disney in Burbank (not Anaheim like the article states).

This was despite the fact that the agreement which governs the acquisition and merger of Pixar and Disney states in the section regarding management of the feature animation businesses that "Pixar’s operations will continue to be based in Emeryville, California" and that "the Pixar sign at the gate shall not be altered."

Of course, not everyone is happy: Some neighbours are already complaining about the noise of the construction, particularly the pile driving.

Short Q&A with Jonas Rivera

Briefly: The San Francisco Examiner has a quick, five-question Q&A with Up producer Jonas Rivera.

The interview is not actually about Up, but is centred around general 'viewpoint' topics like "the difficulties of balancing the creative and practical, the rewards of persistence and how movies can bring us all back to our inner kid".

Read it here.

Ads on The Pixar Blog

I'm selling out! Well, kind of. Starting this week, I've begun accepting relevant paid ads on TPB (email pixarblogunofficial@yahoo.com for specifics).

The first is for the paperback edition of The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, published earlier this month by Vintage Books. If you didn't get the book in hardcover, now's your chance. It's only $10.88 on Amazon. (Read my review and interview from last year with the author, David A. Price.)

Don't expect ads on the site to become a constant thing. It's more of —when there's something worth advertising that fits, and an advertiser is interested, then it'll happen. It's a good way to put some free space on the site to use.

Your comments, por favor.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Michael Giacchino talks 'Up'

A second Up soundtrack-related story for today, Trailer Addict presents a B-roll of interview footage with composer Michael Giacchino, where he discusses his work in creating the music of Up.

The 42-year-old composer, who has composed scores for Pixar features twice before —for The Incredibles and Ratatouille— says it was Up's story that really made him want to be part of the production.

Exclusive: No 'Up' soundtrack CD, Disney confirms

Ending weeks of speculation, a Disney spokesperson just confirmed that the soundtrack to Up will be released by Walt Disney Records only as a digital download. No compact disc (CD) version will be sold.

Quite disappointing considering the beauty of the cover and other factors, such as Up being Pixar's tenth film.

As reported earlier, the soundtrack will become available for download on May 26.

Toy Story 3 teaser attached to 'Up'

To my embarrassment, as commenters are pointing out, I overlooked a really big detail when inspecting the newly updated Pixar Projection site: The very first teaser trailer for Toy Story 3 will be shown in theatres with Up, months earlier than previously expected. This is likely the teaser that was premiered at ShoWest last month.

The 'TS3' trailer is mentioned on the Specifications page, but only in the section about digital presentation of Up (such as in 3-D) so this may mean that traditional presentations of the film won't show the teaser. The trailer is not technically attached to Up but will be supplied to cinemas separately.

It had previously been announced that a teaser would be attached to the Toy Story/Toy Story 2 3-D re-release in October, although there had been rumors recently that it would be shown before Up. Now expect a different, longer trailer in the fall.

One thing's for sure: It will be very nice to see Woody, Buzz, and the other toys on the big screen again after all these years.

Clip from 'Bug's Life' filmmakers' roundtable

In support of the A Bug's Life Blu-ray, in stores now, Disney has released online this clip from the exclusive filmmakers' roundtable with (from left to right) Andrew Stanton, Kevin Reher, Darla Anderson, and John Lasseter found on the disc.

Pixar Projection site UPdated

The Pixar Projection site, designed for the "exclusive use of projectionists exhibiting" Pixar films, was relaunched today with information about Up.

Besides the various technical specifications and such presented, we now have official runtimes for Partly Cloudy (5:45) and Up (1:36:06) and a short video of Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera encouraging projectionists to make sure Up "really looks great" for moviegoers —the purpose of the Pixar Projection site.

Also recently updated with a great variety of media and features (including a new gameplay trailer and screenshots) is the official website for the Up video game, which hits store shelves this coming Tuesday, May 26.

More 'Up' stills

French-language Pixar news blog Buzz & Cie have posted seven high-quality stills from Là-haut, that is to say Up, which arrives in French theatres on July 29, two months after its North American release.

Some of the stills are from scenes we've seen before, but most are pretty new, like the one shown above of a young Ellie and Carl meeting early on in the film.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Up' balloon bus shelters in Toronto [UPDATE]

In a colourful Up promotion exclusive to my hometown of Toronto, ten TTC bus/transit shelters in and near the city's downtown core will be decorated with six dozen (that's 72) helium balloons each, starting Monday.

Put together by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Canada, Starcom Worldwide, and Astral Media Outdoor, the promotion required special approval from the City of Toronto due to bylaw regulations.

Do expect pictures.

(via Media In Canada)
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Update: I was downtown today and saw a few of the bus shelters. It's only a freaking bunch of, like, ten balloons on each stop! Come on! I was hoping for something much more impressive! Oh, no pictures. Sorry.

(Updated May 25)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pete Docter, Jonas Rivera on TV

Up director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera sat down for a chat with Fox 29 in Philadelphia this morning to talk about the movie and encourage folks to go see it when it comes out just over a week from now.

Nothing really new here but it's I think it's the first time we've seen the duo on television.

Monday, May 18, 2009

'Up' soundtrack details [UPDATE]

Although mysteriously still not available for pre-order on CD, a cover, release date, and track listing (with 30-second previews) for the long-awaited Up soundtrack have at last been discovered on the album's page on Amazon.com's MP3 download site.

The album, featuring star composer Michael Giacchino's score, will become available for download on May 26, just days before the movie opens in theatres.

Track titles, which do give away some plot points, are as follows:

1. Up With Titles
2. We’re In the Club Now
3. Married Life
4. Carl Goes Up
5. 52 Chachki Pickup
6. Paradise Found
7. Walkin’ the House
8. Three Dog Dash
9. Kevin Beak’n
10. Canine Conundrum
11. The Nickel Tour
12. The Explorer Motel
13. Escape from Muntz Mountain
14. Giving Muntz the Bird
15. Stuff We Did
16. Memories Can Weigh You Down
17. The Small Mailman Returns
18. He’s Got the Bird
19. Seizing the Spirit of Adventure
20. It’s Just a House
21. The Ellie Badge
22. Up With End Credits
23. The Spirit of Adventure
24. Carl’s Maiden Voyage (sound effects)
25. Muntz’s Dark Reverie (sound effects)
26. Meet Kevin in the Jungle (sound effects)

Notice that the soundtrack (at least the version being offered at Amazon) will include three album-only sound effect tracks. The artist on these is listed as Skywalker Sound.

About the cover, it may just be the most beautiful ever for a Pixar soundtrack.

(via Upcoming Pixar)
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Update: The soundtrack will be sold exclusively as a digital download. See here.

(Updated May 22)

'Up' house on The Simpsons

Readers have been emailing me like crazy about this and finally there's a YouTube clip to show: The most recent episode of The Simpsons (the season finale) had a very subtle Up reference included in it. Carl's house can be briefly seen floating by as Homer's pals attempt lawn chair balooning.

Thanks to everyone who sent in a tip, and if you're wondering why I didn't post earlier, three words: 24 season finale!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

'Up' premiere in Hollywood

Moments ago, the curtain rose on Up at the El Capitan theatre in Hollywood, California, marking its fanfare-filled North American debut, just days after its world premiere at Cannes.

Hollywood Blvd. was abuzz with excitement nearly all afternoon as cast and crew members (including director Pete Docter with his daughter Elie) and invited celebrities arrived and walked down the red green carpet, surrounded by Up themed decorations and entertainments.

Scores of photographs of the festivities are on Twitter at UP_dates and gossUP_girl, with a few on Flickr. Most are not of great quality (it's Twitter!) but we should be getting some professionally-taken pictures soon.

(Photo credit: Sharon Graphics/Flickr)