I said, We’re already making it seven times, I don’t see what the problem is! Previs was always just to solve a specific problem here or there. It wasn’t to help design the production. Early on, there were valid reasons for not using it, as most of our software was developed in house and wasn’t compatible with most mainstream computer software today. Or it didn’t exist! The original software we used was too big and slow to do previs. The first film we utilized previs from the get-go to actually design the film and get the story department and director on board, was Incredibles 2!
I worked directly with the head of story, the director, our supervising technical director Rick Sayre, and our previs artist Philip Metschan on Incredibles 2, to design that process. The only reason I was able to get it that far was that it came out of my budget. Rick Sayre designed a game controller where the director and story artists could put VR goggles on to look at the set we were designing and plan shots. They could use it either literally, or as inspiration, where they’d print out images to hang up and look at.
The trick was to be very disciplined and not overbuild it. And the great thing was that we were able to get our layout/camera DP on seven months earlier than normal, to come in at least twice a week and test-drive the sets.
Our DPs are split into two roles, one for camera and one for lighting. Our lighting DP was also able to get in there and start testing out lighting ideas earlier. It was the first time at Pixar that we were able to work that collaboratively, that early on. It was the best experience I’ve ever had on a show because of that. We wouldn’t have been able to do that if it hadn’t been for the director, Brad Bird, allowing us to utilize previs. We built twice as many sets that ended up in the film and still brought it in under time and under budget. It was really about discipline, not overdoing it. And I was in sync with Brad in that if I thought that something would get cut I would shelve it.
I told our set designers, I want you to design it exactly as we need to see it. Then when they were done I would ask them to take another pass and break it into “Lego pieces.” I said, Break it down into as many reusable components as possible but don’t compromise your original design. That way, we gain a library of things that A, save us time and money, and B, start building a kind of a consistent visual language for our world.
AS: What kind of components would they break it down into?
RE: Things like shelving or desks, or chairs, even the room itself. Then they change the colors, the textures, the scale, redress it, shoot it from a different angle. It’s not a new idea but it’s amazing how little we have done that as an “up-front” plan.
AS: Do you see the style of animation changing at Pixar?
RE: What’s funny is that now, as we finally get to the point of real-time rendering with robust lighting tools and our skills are better and the technology’s better, many want to go non-photorealistic with the imagery!