Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pixar's Game Plan

The President of Pixar himself, Ed Catmull, gave us an idea of what the studio's future will be like and their plans involving both original films and sequels... At a time when several are very concerned about their current and future endeavors...

In speaking with Buzz Feed's Adam B. Vary earlier today, Catmull stated...

“For artistic reasons... it’s really important that we do an original film a year. Every once in a while, we get a film where we want or people want to see something continuing in that world — which is the rationale behind the sequel. They want those characters, which means we were successful with them. But if you keep doing that, then you aren’t doing original films.”

Vary implies that Catmulls means that Pixar will "scale back" the production of sequels "significantly". Many are quick to jump the gun and state that Pixar is all about sequels now, but of course, if you follow them and read up on the news, you'll know that Pixar has over five original projects in the works.

I'm not really sure if the whole "we want or people want to see something continuing in that world" explanation is the true rationale behind the recent sequels. Toy Story 3 and Monsters University mostly exist because Pixar had to make them, Disney got as far as copyrighting scripts for their aborted Circle 7 versions that they were going to make had they lost Pixar after Cars. The same applies to Finding Dory. Disney had all of those three ready. But look what happened with the first two...

Toy Story 3 was a miracle and the rare third film that was excellent whilst being very worthy of the first two. Critical reception was through the roof, with the film getting a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars much like Up from the previous year (whilst giving animation a lot of much-needed cred in a world where supposedly "superior" live action films dominate). Monsters University got solid reception, though many agree that the first is superior and it's not a phenomenal film by any means. But at least it wasn't Cars 2. Care went into that there film! Pixar made sure to make those great and they made sure that they weren't the typical mediocre/unsatisfying sequels to great films. Cars 2 does not count, that film *conspiracy theorist mode* obviously exists because Disney wanted it, Iger coaxed Lasseter into doing another film about his universe and then boom! Therefore, Pixar didn't need a good film with it... Just something they had to get off their chest because they didn't want to make it in the first place. *okay, conspiracy theorist mode off*

We also have no idea how Finding Dory will turn out. Vary points out that the film is the only sequel on the slate... What about those other sequels that Disney CEO Bob Iger mentioned during a shareholder conference?

It's also no surprise that Pixar has a film scheduled for release on November 22, 2017. That same year, another film of theirs is coming out in June. Since Pixar will give us an original during the summer and a sequel during the autumn in 2015, many predict (including myself to some extent) that the November 2017 release will be a sequel.

What could it possibly be though? The Incredibles 2 is the one everyone wants but a third Cars is the one Disney probably wants, unless Planes 1 & 2 are very profitable so that Disney wouldn't even need another Cars film to keep the bean counters happy. Don't mention a fourth Toy Story, despite the fact that "rumors" annoyingly pop up from time to time. If anything, it'll either be Incredibles 2 or Cars 3 if Iger is right and there is going to be another sequel after Finding Dory. Maybe Pixar plans on kicking off a franchise with one of their upcoming originals. You know, like an epic trilogy or something with the first film ending with a cliffhanger. That would be interesting, since Pixar never really created an original film that was singlehandedly meant to kick off a big series. You never know! That could very well be in the cards.

Either we'll get a new sequel between 2016 and 2018, or Iger has no clue what's going on and assumes that they are making more sequels or whatever. After all he did say that "to his knowledge", no hand-drawn films were in development at Walt Disney Animation Studios a few months back. He could be dead wrong about what the Emeryville folks have cooking.

Back to Catmull, though. Catmull very much believes in original films, as evidenced by his comments on continuing to expand already established worlds whilst not creating new ones. Walt Disney was mostly against creating sequels, feeling that you didn't try anything new with continuations of the things you already made... "You can't top pigs with pigs," he famously said after the requested sequels to his The Three Little Pigs short didn't achieve the same success as the first. Early development on sequels to Snow White and Bambi were rightfully halted. Walt never had a sequel made to one of his animated films during his lifetime. Walt Disney Animation Studios has very, very few sequels in their canon.

“We’re going to have an original film every year, then every other year have a sequel to something. That’s the rough idea.”

This comment from Catmull kind of contradicts Vary's comment on Pixar's aim to slow the production of sequels down. But then again, Vary only presents excerpts from the interview... Did Catmull outright say to him that production of sequels will be scaled back? Also, what does Catmull mean by "every other year"? Will a sequel will show up every 2-3 years? Or every once in blue moon? Say, 6-7 originals from 2016 to 2020, and then a sequel sometime afterwards followed by 5-7 more originals in a row after that? Kind of a mystery there...

The last excerpt addresses the idea of the Pixar veterans giving first-time directors a shot, a practice that they've been trying recently...

"How do you figure out how to pass the baton onto other people? In some places they don’t do that. When Walt [Disney] died, he didn’t pass the baton to anybody else, and so they went downhill after that. So John and I take very seriously the fact that we need to get people up to the level where they can tell original films."

The attempts to get others outside of the Lasseter-Docter-Stanton-Bird circle to direct films hasn't gone over too, too well in some cases...

After years of not being the lead director on a project, Lee Unkrich helmed Toy Story 3 and he had no major trouble, probably because he co-directed Toy Story 2 and several other Pixar films. But then the ill-fated NewtCars 2 and Brave happened...

Newt was going to be sound veteran Gary Rydstrom's feature-length directorial debut, since he had directed the fine Pixar short Lifted. But the film ran into some trouble, apparently the story was a real mess. The project was canceled, and it seems like it'll never see the light of day. Rydstrom is now at Lucasfilm Animation, directing an animated feature.

Brad Lewis, the producer of Ratatouille, was the original director of Cars 2. The film began pre-production sometime around 2008, but he was removed from the director position in October 2010 and  John Lasseter replaced him. This was when sequences were already being animated! That same month, Brenda Chapman was removed from Brave. A really personal project of hers no less! Mark Andrews, who has never directed before at Pixar, replaced her and finished the film. Apparently the change was because of "creative differences", though to many (combined with Chapman's words) that spelt: "Pixar didn't want a woman on board so they kicked her off and replaced her with a man, because they are a sexist boy's club." or "Pixar wanted the film to be more mainstream so they got rid of Chapman and turned her 'art' film into a conventional film."

There is no hard cold evidence of any of that... These two cases could've been Ratatoutille all over again. That film's original director, Jan Pinkava, was fired from the project leaving Brad Bird to take his place. But from many accounts, Pinkava's film was rife with problems. Revised storyreels were presented to the upper brass, but the story didn't seem to gel. Ratatouille turned out to be a masterpiece despite the director change and production problems. Sometimes director changes have to happen for the good of the finished product. Director changes happen elsewhere in the animation industry, too. It's happened with a couple DreamWorks films, Sony's Hotel Transylvania went through six different directors before they got Genndy Tartakovsky on board! To say nothing of many other studios...

It's very possible that Lewis' version of Cars 2 was even worse than what we ended up getting, and that Lasseter did what he could to salvage the mess.  Brave? Again, Chapman's complete film could've had some problems. Also take into consideration that she was working on that film since 2004/2005-ish, and got removed in 2010. She had a long time to work on the project, so maybe things were going along very well for quite a while. Sometimes ideas that seem great on the storyboards may very well fall flat when presented and added to the flow of the story as a whole. Again, we can't assume what the exact reason is, the reason why Pixar removed her from the project. The reason could be anything: They're sexist, they're afraid of letting newcomers direct films, the Brain Trust just wants to keep directing, the story wasn't working, etc., etc. We also can't assume that Pixar is hell-bent on hiring rookies to direct and then firing them because they aren't Brain Trust-worthy. Can we please stop assuming the worst about this studio? Can we please try to look at the bigger picture?

Ed Catmull

New directors are the thing at Pixar now, the whole Cars 2 fiasco excepted. Who ended up directing Brave after Brenda Chapman had to step down from the position? Mark Andrews. Has he directed a feature-length film at Pixar prior to Brave? No.

Who directed Monsters University? Not the director of the first film, Pete Docter. Not Lee Unkrich. Not Andrew Stanton or Lasseter. Dan Scanlon has been the director of that film since Day 1 (we're talking 2007 here!) and he was never replaced with another director.

Next year's The Good Dinosaur is being directed by Bob Peterson, who has never directed a film at Pixar before though he has been a co-director in the past.

Unkrich is getting his second shot at directing with the currently untitled "Dia De Los Muertos" film, and Andrews is going to direct another film. Teddy Newton, director of Pixar's excellent 2010 short Day & Night, has an untitled film in the works with a script that's being penned by Derek Connelly.

Who will direct the other originals? Probably new people, since Docter is busy with Inside Out and Stanton will be directing Finding Dory. Maybe more short film directors will get their chance. Scanlon directed the home media exclusive Cars short Mater and the Ghostlight in 2006 and look where he is now, director of a successful prequel to a Pixar classic! Jan Pinkava made his mark with the short Geri's Game in 1997 and three years later he found himself beginning work on Ratatouille. Rydstrom went from Lifted to Newt. Despite the fact that Pinkava was removed and Rydstrom's film was outright canceled, they still got the directing gig in the first place. Maybe Steve Purcell, Pete Sohn (he's co-directing The Good Dinosaur), Ronnie del Carmen (co-director of Inside Out), Angus MacLane, Enrico Casarosa and Saschka Unseld will get to direct upcoming Pixar films in the far future given their co-directing work and/or shorts. This could all be very, very possible. It's also good to know that both Catmull and Lasseter are taking this new director route very seriously... Contrary to what many may think after what happened with a few films as of late.

What is your take on Ed Catmull's comments? Do you think sequel production won't be as abundant? Do you think Pixar is gung ho about first-time directors? Sound off below!

1 comment:

  1. It seems like they are trying to do original, sequal, original, sequal,
    I think a toy story four could actually ork. It can continue Woody and the gang, but also be about a new group of toys. The short Small Fry made me realize how many great toy movie scenarios there are.
    Great article, I could not look away.