Thursday, 25 February 2010

How Pixar Makes a Movie

At Pixar, animated features go through a variety of different stages: development, creating the storyline, preproduction, addressing technical challenges, production, making the film, postproduction and then adding the finishing touches to the movie.

First an idea is pitched by Pixar employees to other members of the development team. The challenge at this stage is getting the others to perceive the real possibilities in an idea.

The next stage involves the text treatment, which is a short document that sums up the main story in it’s entirety. Multiple treatments may also be developed in order to achieve the perfect balance between the ideas.

Storyboards are then developed, in a similar style to a hand drawn comic and act as a comic version of the movie. Additionally, it acts as a blueprint for the action and for the dialogue. Storyboard artists receive the script pages which detail emotional changes that have to be seen through character actions. Once the artist creates their sequences, they “pitch” their work to the director.

To begin with, temporary “scratch” voices are recorded for the storyboard reels by the artists at Pixar. Later on, when the story and dialogue are more developed, professional actors are brought in to record their character voices from the script.

Next, the editorial team begins making reels, a videotape that allows the cleaned up storyboard sequence to stand on its own. This is an essential step in the process, helping to validate the sequence and to ensure timing is understood in the sequences.

The look and feel of the film is created next in Pixar’s art department. They base this on the initial text treatment, storyboards and in addition to this they are allowed the opportunity for creative brainstorming and development work. They also design sets, props, visuals for surfaces, colours and lighting.

Models are sculpted from the art departments drawings. These are either sculpted by hand and scanned into the computer or modelled directly into the computer itself. The characters are given “avars” which the animator uses in order to make them move.

The sets are then constructed in 3D.

The layout of the shots are sorted next. Basically, employees at Pixar must translate the story into 3D scenes. A virtual camera is used to create shots that capture the emotion and story point of individual scenes. Once a scene has been completed, the final version is released to the animation department.

The stage to follow is the animation of the shots. Unlike in traditional animation, the character, models, layout, dialog and sound are already prepared, making a 3D animator more like a puppeteer. Additionally, the computer creates the in-between frames, which the animator simply adjusts if need be.

Next, the sets and characters are shaded. The shading process is done with “shaders”, software programmes that allow complex variations in the colour or colour shading.

In order to complete the look, lighting is added next. By using “digital light”, scenes are lit in a similar way to stage lighting. The lights have a variety of uses, such as creating and enhancing a required mood and emotion in a scene.

The computer data is “rendered” next. This is basically the translating of all the individual files that make up a shot, into a single frame of film. This is done using a huge computer system called Renderfarm, and roughly takes six hours to render a frame, although some frames can take up to a whopping ninety hours.

In the end, the final touches are added, such as a musical score, sound effects and special effects.

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