Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Visiting Pixar: Stories & People —Part II

(Continued from Part I)

March 31, 2010

After a couple of hours to ourselves, the coach bus —termed “toy wagon” in the schedules— departed from the main entrance of the Four Seasons, all the invited bloggers on-board and noticeably excited. With the rainy weather and heavy traffic on the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge, the drive from S.F. to nearby Emeryville took longer than expected.

Once in fashionable Emeryville, we drove through some not-so-fashionable commercial and industrial areas. After turning a few corners, we were on Watts Street, the Pixar Animation Studios gate directly in front of us.

After seeing so many photographs and videos of Pixar’s campus over the years, it was quite surreal to be there in person. “Wow, I can’t believe I’m actually here,” I thought to myself. Smile.

Everyone got their visitor badges and moved on to be screened by security. It was about 8 PM and the Pixar Studio Store and Luxo Cafe were already closed. No photography was allowed anywhere in the building as the Toy Story 3 decorations still hadn’t been put up. “You’ll be able to take plenty of pictures tomorrow,” we were assured.

Security at the theater door was about as tight as at the airport. All our electronics were put in plastic bags and left outside the theatre room. Metal detector in hand, a guard thoroughly searched the headwear and glasses of each person entering for any audio/video recording devices.

Photo by Deborah Coleman/Disney·Pixar

The theaters at Pixar (yes, there's more than one) are exactly what you'd expect to see at the world's best animation studio: state-of-the-art projection and sound, large capacity, and comfortable seating. The decor is nicely balanced between classic and contemporary elements. And when the lights go down, a fiber-optic star field appears on the ceiling for a few moments, complete with a shooting star effect.

Director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson entered and introduced themselves. Before introducing the film, Unkrich personally appealed to the audience to help preserve the experience by not giving away plot points by way of a formal review until the film opens. It was fine to give our general opinion of the film, however.

Lee and Darla exited, the lights went down, and the Walt Disney Pictures intro appeared on the screen. When Luxo Jr. and the Pixar logo followed, I let out a small “woot” to the amusement of the people sitting nearby.

Thoughts on Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3 explodes onto the screen with what is possibly the most vivid, imaginative opening ever for a Pixar movie. From start to finish, the film is incredibly gripping. It couldn’t have mattered less that the version we were seeing had temporary music and incomplete lighting.

Despite having a different director and screenwriter than Toy Story and Toy Story 2, ‘3’ stays true to what the series is all about. It fits in perfectly with the first two films, continuing and expanding on previous themes. In fact, the film is a return to the simpler storytelling of Pixar's early classics.

There’s a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in 'TS3', actually more so than in any previous Pixar film. Michael Keaton steals the show as the hilarious Ken doll, who has everything in the world “except someone to share it with” —that is, until he meets his partner in fashion, Barbie. And then there’s that demented surveillance monkey!

'TS3' never stops engaging the viewer. The second half of the movie makes it Pixar’s scariest since the first Toy Story in 1995. The villain (won’t say who) makes the misguided Prospector in 'TS2' look heroic. There is one expertly-timed scene —‘I’m sorry. They broke me!’— that will give you chills.

You can really see director Lee Unkrich's background in live-action film editing evident throughout the movie. Everything moves along at top speed. There isn't a single unnecessary scene —everything is in furtherance of the story.

Visually, TS3 is lightyears —pun intended— ahead of its predecessors, not surprising considering how far CG has come in the past decade and a half. The sets are detailed, character animation is fluid, and the “camera” angles could only have been dreamed of when ‘2’ was made.

But at it’s heart, Toy Story 3 is still the story of Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and rest of the toys, and how much they need and love their owner, Andy Davis. Toy Story 3 brings the story of their relationship with him —and his relationship with them— to a heartwarming conclusion and a perfect ending. And it brings the toys to a new beginning.

Leaving the theater, each blogger got some cool loot —Toy Story 3 backpacks filled with goodies like a color-changing coffee mug and Toy Story/Toy Story 2 BDs, and a Construct-a-Buzz from LEGO.

It was cold and raining as everyone made their way onto the waiting bus, ready to head back to San Francisco. The six-hour flight seated across from a guy who sneezed 150 times had begun taking its toll on me.

Stories & People continues Friday, with nearly two dozen new photos taken at Pixar


Anonymous said...

Mike, is the 150 sneeze count an approximation, or an actual number count? I know my OCD would have made me keep precise track!

Mike said...

Humorous approximation.

skinneejay said...

I'm so glad to hear TS3 lives up to the Pixar name. I have tickets to watch it tomorrow. It comes one day earlier here.

I envy you for visiting Pixar... the temple of animation...

Anonymous said...

There is nothing 'humorous' about catching a cold Mike. Germs must be stopped! ; )

GlobeReacher said...

How can you possibly expect us to handle any further anticipation? Well, I guess I have to. Can't wait!

legosamiscool said...

So, there is going to be a scary part like in toy story that is in ts3?

Nirav Sheth said...

WOW!! Thanks for sharing the experience with us. I cant wait anymore for the movie.
I remember having the same feelings when I visited Pixar for the first time.
Life cant get better, I will be joining them as an intern. Yaay !!

Love your blog :-)

Alan / Falcon said...

I enjoyed putting together my Construct-a-Buzz, thanks for the recommendation on that one shortly after you got yours!

Amy P. said...

This was such a wonderful account of your visit, Mike! Thank you for your detailed commentary and also for your review of the upcoming Toy Story 3!

I live about 10 minutes from Emeryville and I really enjoyed reading about your experience in my home metro area.

Loved your account of visiting the Pixar campus, too, it sounded very familiar when my family and I visited friends of ours who work at LucasFilm in San Francisco.