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Between The Lines Of An Animated Life: Pixar Does It Best

Written by Nick Leitzke

I am an animation nut and a sucker for Pixar. When an animated movie can make you care as much for a drawing as you would for a live human being, you know the filmmakers did their jobs. Animation for the sake of special effects always comes at the expense of human interest in a live-action story. I am looking in your direction George Lucas and Michael Bay.

Good writing will always be good writing. No matter what the medium, as long as you keep the characters genuine and maintain believable humanity, a great story will live on long after the credits roll. That has always been the strength of Pixar animated movies. Even with animation and lavish colors, fantastic backgrounds and effects, what have you, Pixar movies never cease to draw me in and turn me into a blubbering lump of emotions. There’s a reason why I smile broadly when the dog in ‘Up’ says, “I was hiding under your porch because I love you.” I smile because it’s adorable! And there is absolutely a reason why ‘Up’ was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.

Last night I watched ‘Toy Story’ for the first time. It took me fifteen years to see it, but I did it. I won’t review ‘Toy Story’ since most of the people reading this probably saw it when they were toddlers and have had Woody and Buzz Lightyear in their lives since as long as they can remember. ‘Toy Story’ is the kind of movie that belongs in your lexicon. You can’t really talk animation unless you’ve seen ‘Toy Story.’ Therefore, it had to be seen. Everything I said in the previous paragraph about story is vitally important to a successful animated movie, and ‘Toy Story’ is what it is because of a great narrative. But it’s the animation I want to talk about now.

Here is a clip from ‘Toy Story,’ not chosen for its strength but just for an illustration.

Now compare this clip to the trailer for ‘Toy Story 3.’

I didn’t notice how far digital animation has come until I watched ‘Toy Story’ last night. The quality of these clips is You Tube grade, but I think they still show enough. ‘Toy Story’ was groundbreaking in its day and remains the keystone of modern animation. That being said, I am astounded at how far this animation has come since ‘Toy Story’ debuted in 1995. Even the leap between ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Monsters Inc.’ shocks me.  The animation in ‘Toy Story’ is like the animation in the first or second season of the Simpsons. You can see the universe developing, but you can also tell the animators are defining their boundaries, learning their limitations, and they are eager to outdo themselves on the next project.

The animation in the ‘Toy Story 3’ trailer is so bright, so clean, like they’ve spent fifteen years polishing the edges but not to the extent that they wore away the vital details. That’s the most important part. Keep the vital details – the human details – and the animation will do its part. Great animation feeds on writing, and the writing has to be fearless enough that it trusts the animation to bring its vision to life.

At the same time, though, the writing must stay true to itself and not rely on animation to carry the entire picture. When animation and effects become the centerpiece of a story, there is no more story. Balance is the mark of great animation. It’s the reason I’ve been a Simpsons fan for so long, and it’s the reason why Pixar is the best in the industry. I spend each year waiting for their next movie to turn me into a blubbering lump of emotions because I am a sucker for great animation. I am a sucker for great animation because I am a sucker for a great story. It seems like common sense. I also think I am probably still ten years old, but that’s beside the point.

Posted by admin   @   19 March 2010
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