Pixar Review 3- Red’s Dream

reds dream6Of Pixar’s first 5 early shorts Red’s Dream is probably my favorite.  It’s so beautifully realized and has tremendous heart.

Released in 1987 for the SIGGRAPH conference Red’s Dream feels less like a proof of concept and more like an actual story.  It is not one that I have to make excuses saying ‘it would look better but they developed the technology while making it”.  No, this one looks great on its own.

It starts out with a gorgeous cityscape.  It’s a rainy night and we focus in on a bike store and then on a little unicycle who is dreaming of an incompetent clown.  Red of course is the true star not the Bozzo clown.

Director John Lasseter says in the audio commentary they picked the project because Eben Ostby (hint Eben’s bikes) had taken up a fascination with bikes and they had a 3D digitizer that could load sculptures and animate.

reds dream5Early animator Bill Reeves used it as a chance to work on animating rain which it looks flawless.  Lasseter says “I’d say it’s the Pixar blue period” because there isn’t really a happy ending to the piece.  It is really quite sad for our little unicycle but there is something about that which makes it feel vintage and old school animation like a Dumbo or Pinocchio.

This was also the first time they animated something at night and again they did an amazing job.

reds dreamAs with all these shorts it has the feel of a silent movie like a sketch you might see Chaplin or Buster Keaton do but certainly with enough pizazz to appeal to a modern audience.

Evidently Ollie Johnson, one of the 9 Old Men, saw the short and “he shook Lasseter’s hand aferward and said meaningfully ‘John, you did it'”

reds dream4

The music is by David Slusser and there is an article at http://www.sfgate.com that says “pixar sound editor by day, saxman by night”   Evidently he is the one playing the perfect bluesy saxaphone accompanying Red’s Dream.  I think he wrote the music too.  Pretty great.

Like I said it is probably my favorite of the shorts and so I give it an A+

Pixar Review 2: Luxo Jr

luxo3So now we get to review our first ever actual Pixar branded short, Luxo Jr.  In 1986 Steve Jobs bought the computer animation division from Lucasfilms and branded it Pixar.

John Lasetter was borrowed from Disney and he was being trained on how to build models.  As his source material he started to look at a luxo lamp he  had on his desk because “it was geometric and would show the shadow algorithm well”.  At this time computer animation was done with equations and ‘art school math’ as Lasetter puts it.

As he attempts to actually animate his lamp Lasetter grows increasingly more frustrated with the math:

“I’m sitting there with a hand calculator at these expensive computers trying to figure it out using my art school math if a ball is this size how far would it move and I was like ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ so I went to Eben [Ostby] ‘please can you do something with the computer to help me with this?  And that was the beginning of our procedural animation so I just animated the path of the ball and this amazing program Eben developed made it so the ball rotated accurately”

Sounds like we should all be grateful to Eben Ostby for some art we’ve gotten since 1986!

Here he is

Lasseter also got some key inspiration that we can see in his later leadership while making Luxo Jr from a man named Raoul Servais.  At first Lasseter just wanted to make a “plotless character study” of his lamp.  Servais told him “No matter how short it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Don’t forget the story.  You can tell a story in ten seconds”.

So that’s what he does.  As you will see in Luxo Jr we get a clear story.  Most of these early shorts are like silent movies with no dialogue but a clear beginning, middle and end.

It’s a charming little short and did great things for Pixar.  Lasseter said in the audio commentary the hardest part was getting the cord right “It was the cord.  I will never forget.  The cord was so hard.  The rolling of the ball was such a pain.  [Eben’s program] didn’t help with the cord.  The ripples in the cord were done by hand and it was painful!”

Never forget the cord! 🙂

What Lasseter is able to do in Luxo Jr is create emotion extremely quickly and establish a relationship between the two lamps, something that when I  write it sounds insane and yet there it is.  Some say it is a mother and baby lamp.  Lasseter has said it is a father son lamp but either way it is amazing any such connection can be made with a lamp!

luxoThis little short, Luxo Jr, “sent shock waves through the entire industry- to all corners of computer and traditional animation.  At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer.  They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist’s kit” (Edwin Catmult, Computer Animation: A Whole New World)

Luxo Jr also became the first computer animated short to be nominated for an Oscar in 1986.

So it’s another of these shorts that is simple on the surface but anything but when you consider its influence in the world of animation.  In many ways it may be the most important animated short since Steamboat Willie.

You got to give it an A+.  It has emotion where it shouldn’t.  It tells a sweet simple story.  It was groundbreaking and it is completely charming.  It also became the face of Pixar from then on.