I said, Sure! I thought that it would be a few months before I had to go up but I got a call from Bonnie Arnold, one of our producers, and she said, No, we want you up next week! I’d just signed a year lease and movers showed up the next morning and they packed me up, moved me up to the Bay Area from LA. And then I worked my tail off.
AS: And then there was no turning back.
RE: Kind of no turning back. But right after Toy Story finished I moved back down to LA for another ten months, trying to get another project going, but it didn’t work out. I’d sold a screen story to Warner Brothers that I tried to get off the ground. But little did I know they didn’t want to make an animated comedy about a serial killer! Then I got a call from Steve Jobs to work on Monsters Inc and I’ve been back at Pixar ever since. What I learned about Pixar is once they decide to make a movie, they’re going to make that movie. It’s not like traditional Hollywood production companies with twenty projects in development that they’re not sure they’re going to make next.
AS: Working at Pixar do you spend a lot of time learning all the latest tools?
RE: I realized early in my career I could either dedicate myself to learning all the tools or dedicate myself to design. I chose the design aspect. I gave a talk with [Hitchcock production designer] Robert Boyle at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a few years back. It was a talk about the digital tools of production design now. Robert Boyle got up and gave his talk about design and how he’d get to work in the morning and get his coffee, read his paper, make notes, do some drawing, make rounds to his department, and then go to the set. That was old-school, right? Some other folks got up and talked about the digital tools, and they’re great people–but that frankly, that aspect of it bores me to tears!
When I got up on stage they asked me, Well, what’s your day like? I said, I get to the office and drink my coffee, read my paper, sit and draw for a couple hours and at nine am people are filtering in and I go and make my rounds, visiting the departments. It was just like Bob! It was exactly the same thing! It was just in a computer, that was the only difference!
AS: Does that fact that is is all in a computer affect how you interact with the cinematographer?
RE: Incredibles 2 was the first Pixar film I worked on using virtual physically-based lights. I would do a painting of a shot and our DP would come in and say, In order to achieve that, I need the set to do x, y, and z. And so we would make that adjustment. Before physically-based lighting, if you had a white floor and a character with a green jacket on, if you wanted to bounce light from the jacket you would actually have to put green lights in the jacket to give the impression of bounced light. This would lead to five thousand lights in every shot. Very difficult to keep track of. The cool thing about the physically-based lights now is it’s more like live action. And then the irony of course is that now that we’re able to do that, people want to do non-photorealistic! They can make it look realistic out the box really fast, but in order to stylize the lighting, more effort is involved. We still have a lot to learn so it doesn’t just come across like we’re only trying to imitate live action.