AS: Are all of those people in-house at Pixar?
RE: All of them are in-house, except for music and sound mixing. With Covid it’s a little different, but it’s the same people, they’re just working at home.
AS: You start with the director and your art department team, but then at one point does it shift over to all the animators and you oversee them?
RE: I want to clarify something if I may–animators have a very specific role. They are the actors. We have a modeling department, a texturing department, a lighting department, a tools department that develops new technology for us, lighting and camera, layout, editorial. And then we have sculptors who sculpt both in clay and Z-Brush. A lot of folks call anyone who works at Disney or Pixar or Dreamworks an “animator.” These are all very different roles.
For all these departments to know what the goal is, you need a good, clean, clear design plan. They can push the walls and break the parameters of that plan if they have a better idea. I keep calling it corrals of visual information. They can see where the corral is and they can contribute to the ideas within it, and the director or producer know at the very least they’re going to get these ideas in the film. And if they break a fence down because there’s a better idea, let’s go for it. We’ll make the fence bigger. But you can’t just throw people in a room and expect it to just happen. You need a clear plan up front. The story doesn’t necessarily need to be completely detailed or written or storyboarded or edited in the beginning stages. You start by just focusing on the big elements and planning.
AS: And if you don’t have a plan?
RE: Well, there was a sequence in the original Incredibles where Bob is going down this lava pit, fighting this zombie droid, and then he races over into a waterfall, leaps over it, drops a bomb blowing the water out, and then swims through a cave. That whole scene was so technically messed up it was horrifying. I told them, You can’t render any of this! The producer, (who was new to CG animation), didn’t understand why.
The reason was that it was put together with low resolution models. It wouldn’t hold together on the big screen! Where are the set designs? There were none! They just used the storyboards (which were fantastic) for the basic designs. And that’s great but it’s not high enough resolution for production. So I suggested we could save eleven weeks on the next two sets if they could give me one extra week on this one set. We just had to re-plan it. We redesigned everything, with all reusable elements (rocks, trees, plants). It became the rocks down to the lava pit, the lava pit, the waterfall, the water hole he jumps into, and the cave. These were all the same set, just redressed. If you watch the film you can’t tell it’s the same thing over and over!
Brad was willing to play ball at that point because he started understanding the weirdness of the virtual world. He was great on Incredibles 2. I always said, Brad, we can cheat every single shot if you want. But there’s no reason to do it!