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Annecy 2015: Pixar’s Line-up – ‘The Good Dinosaur’, ‘Sanjay’s Super Team’, new RenderMan & ‘Lava’

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The Good Dinosaur (Disney/Pixar)

The Good Dinosaur (Disney/Pixar)

What if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs didn’t hit the Earth, but missed? That is the question that Pixar asks in its new film The Good Dinosaur, due in cinemas at the end of this year. Peter Sohn (Partly Cloudy) is the director of the film and at Annecy he presented both concept work and a first-look at some shots from the film. So the asteroid missed the Earth, the dinosaurs live and have had time to evolve. Arlo the Apatosaurus – our protagonist – is from a family of farming dinosaurs. Arlo is mourning his father when he gets violently swept away by the river, he is knocked unconscious and when he wakes up has no idea where he is. Arlo must find his way home, having never left before and with no idea about the world outside the farm. He meets an unlikely friend who can help him however; a human boy called Spot. From what we saw at the screening, Pixar have really pushed themselves with the incredible environments for the film. Sohn mentioned several times how they were really trying to create a sense of scale in the film – a dinosaur is big, but the world is huge! We saw a short clip where Arlo makes it to the top of a mountain and sees a vast country of mountains and forests ahead of him and it was truly epic. Similarly however we saw a shot from the film where was rain falling on a zoomed-in cluster of leaves on a branch. The renders were very impressive and these gorgeous environments, while pushing photo-real, still had a strong sense of design about them, which was great to see. I was really enjoying the presentation up to this point, but then did become worried when we were shown the characters of the film. Most of the dinosaurs seemed to just-about fit into the world that Pixar had created; their naturalistic colouring and texturing making up for their slightly cartoonish designs; but Arlo is different. Arlo is a step cartoonier than the other dinosaurs and a step less natural-green and more glowing-green. After such a powerful presentation of the naturalistic environments, I worried about using such a different style of character as I felt it would be jarring. Spot was like the other dinosaurs; similarly alright because of his colours and textures, and he makes a slight bridge in style between Arlo and his environment. The relationship between Arlo and Spot is a reversed man-and-dog situation as Spot is the dog; he moves about on all fours, sniffs the ground and makes dog-like noises. From clips we saw it was a very entertaining dynamic! This animal element also ties Spot further to the setting of the film more than Arlo. Arlo still walks around on all fours, but has more humanistic motions. I felt from the few clips we saw that this is another distracting element of Arlo – my logical brain couldn’t quite stretch to believing some of the motions; I felt that they were cartoony and took away from Arlo’s believability within the setting. My worry was slightly quelled by a clip of Arlo and Spot interacting right at the end of the presentation. Arlo is trying to explain to the dog-like Spot that he misses his family. Spot doesn’t understand what Arlo is saying at first but when he does the two share a very heartfelt moment. The characters felt real to me then, but I was still distracted by the character design. I hope that it is not a major issue in the finished animation and Pixar’s storytelling mastery will overcome my worries about the film.

pixar_sstAfter the presentation of The Good Dinosaur, we were treated to a screening of the short that will be released with that film; Sanjay’s Super Team, and a talk with the director, Sanjay Patel. According to Patel the inspiration for Sanjay’s Super Team comes from his own long journey to harmonise his western upbringing and influences with his Hindu culture and history. Patel has been making books and comics about and around the Hindu culture for years in his own time while working at his day job at Pixar on western-influenced films. He said that when he was given the opportunity to direct a short film he wasn’t sure what to do, so he asked his father who said that after all the years that Pixar had supported him, it would be bad Karma to not take the opportunity, so that’s exactly what he did. The beginning of the idea came from one of Patel’s visits to India when he visited an ancient Hindu shrine. All visitors had to take their shoes off upon entering and there was a man sitting on the step whose job it was to watch the shoes. Patel said that it was just such a funny sight – they were at one of the oldest, most precious Hindu temples in India and this man was bored, uncaring of where he was. He said that this was like his upbringing; his parents – he talked particularly of his father – worshipped at a shrine in their house and if he had been interested to know about it, all of the history and culture was there with his father. Instead he said that as a child he just wanted to be ‘normal’ and it is only in his adult years that he has come to appreciate his father’s culture and his cultural heritage. The setting of the film is in the living room of a family home. On either side is a place of worship; a Hindu shrine on the right, and a TV on the left. The boy, Sanjay, is dragged away from his superhero cartoon by his dad to pray at the shrine. He’s bored and doesn’t want to, and in his efforts to get his confiscated toy back while his dad chants, he accidentally puts out the wick in the little shrine. We are suddenly transported with Sanjay into an enormous, celestial shrine where the enlarged wick is smoking. From the smoke comes a demon and the now superhero-like gods in the shrine, with Sanjay’s help, must defeat the demon. Sanjay realises that his dad’s culture isn’t boring – it’s about super heroes! The short is a wonderful little story about a son learning to appreciate his father’s teachings. While the story is specifically about harmonising the western and eastern influences in Sanjay’s life, the short is totally relatable to anyone who has ever tried to teach a reluctant child something or learned to appreciate the once-ignored-teachings of another. That moment of connection where the father and son see eye-to-eye for the first time and connect with each other is beautiful and we were very lucky to have time to see the short for a second time before we had to leave the screening room!

Lava (Pixar)

Lava (Pixar)

Another Pixar short that was screened at Annecy this year was Lava at Pixar’s RenderMan presentation. The software was shown-off to full effect with images from Finding Dory, the first feature to be made by Pixar with the new upgrade. The team also re-announced that RenderMan is now free for non-commercial use. Lava is a musical short that will be released with Inside Out, coming to UK cinemas next month. The short is about a lonely volcano in the South Pacific. Our narrator sings the volcano’s story to ukulele accompaniment and to great effect. There was a small amused groan at the beginning of the screening when we realised it was a musical, and a bigger that-was-a-terrible-pun-but-we-love-it groan as the expected lyric ‘love’ was replaced with ‘lava’. The volcano sings:

I have a dream I hope will come true, that you’re with me and I’m here with you. I wish that the earth, sea and sky up above will send me someone to lava.

The above lyric is as good a synopsis of the short as there can be. It’s beautifully designed, storyboarded and animated; I thought that I couldn’t ever feel an emotional connection to a volcano but Pixar has proved me wrong!

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