A Dreamer Walking

WALL-E – Old Vs. New

Posted in Animation, Film and Filmaker Studies, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on September 16, 2014

Wall-E #2

With Pixar’s WALL-E director Andrew Stanton wanted to create a sort of look that made one think the movie was filmed in the 1970’s.  This honestly was a tough goal to set since animated movies are not “filmed” they are shot in a computer, and to be honest there weren’t very many computers in the 70’s. Film is so loved by so many because of it’s inherent flaws. Things like lens flairs, grain in the image, and scratches on the celluloid are all technically flaws in film yet are now considered some of what makes it so special. It’s loved so much in-fact the leading edge in digital technology tries to reproduce the same kinds of “flaws” in their newest cameras. Stanton had a whole team try to reproduce the filmic look for his movie WALL-E. He even went as far as recreating actual live action footage of certain scenes they were doing in the computer so the technicians could see the difference between the imagery captured in camera with celluloid and that shot in the computer.

The story of WALL-E lends itself to this idea of bringing a classic look to a new medium. In the movie we follow an eight hundred year old robot, Wall-E, around his world where his main function is to pick up trash. Everything about Wall-E’s design and texture represents an old fashion look which is directly contrasted with his love interest, Eve. As you can see in the image above Eve has a oval design with very few mechanisms. The true magic of this relationship is how well Stanton and his team were able to make the two opposites seem so perfect for each other. You need to go no further then the scene where Wall-E introduces Eve to his home to see just how well these opposites work cinematically.

Some have called WALL-E an anti technology movie with a preachy message about saving the environment.  However, I believe Andrew Stanton when he says he only went the environmental route because that’s where the story took him. His goal was not to make people hate the new and love the old. His objective was to create a story where two very different perspectives met and found balance. In fact it took something new coming into Wall-E’s life for him to find meaning. But more on that in another post.

Stanton went farther back then just the 1970’s for inspiration for his movie. He and the Pixar artists would watch old silent classics from the early 1930’s and before. They studied silent comedians such as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and of course Charlie Chaplin. After studying these great filmmakers Stanton said he realized Pixar didn’t know anything. The idea that some of the best stories in our history were told without sophisticated special effects, flashy cameras, or sound blew the Pixar artists away. They made it their goal to recreate the magic they saw in the best silent films. In the first act of WALL-E there is hardly a line of dialogue heard. Rather, we discover Wall-E’s soul through a magnificent set of sound effects produced by Ben Burtt, who is best known for his work on the original Star Wars trilogy, and by the masterful work of all the Pixar animators who took the silent movies Stanton showed to heart.

In the end we have a movie in WALL-E that not only makes us laugh but also makes us care. We don’t care about seeing the environment around Wall-E change because of some liberal agenda, we want it to change because we get a glimpse of what “unplugging” and cherishing our world could do for the health of our personal souls. Those who think WALL-E is anti technology seem to forget the movie stars two robots. The best of Pixar is about balancing the new with the old. Pixar is known for being the leading edge in digital technology. They are famous for creating the first computer animated film in history, Toy Story (1995). However, the majority of their films are special because the technology is only there to enhance their stories. And, their stories revolve around themes that are as old as time itself.

A big debate is going on in the film industry today about the transition from film to digital technology. Celluloid is going extinct. There are fewer and fewer companies around who are able to process the film so it could be projected on the big screen. Some filmmakers, such as the famous Quentin Tarantino, have threatened to quite the film profession altogether if true “film” is taken away. The bottom line however is filmmaking is bigger than the stuff you use to shoot the picture. And as I said at the beginning of this post, the companies making cameras today have not overlooked the public’s love for the look that comes from the old classics of the 1970’s and before. Just like Wall-E and Eve, eventually the film industry will find a balance.

Andrew Stanton – An Observation – Writing Screenplays

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on January 17, 2012

I have started several screenplay’s in my life and have pretty much been scared off of all of them. Of course I tell myself I am going to come back, but usually I never do. I think a lot of it has to do with my insecurity as a writer. I don’t think I am good enough. I don’t think I can ever be smart enough to write for several different characters all of whom have different perspectives and intellects. I can never do enough research. I can never express myself in the poetic way I see so many other fine writers express themselves.

One of the writers I look up to is Andrew Stanton. He helped write the majority of the Pixar films. His stories are superbly structured. Everything is preparing the audience for the punch line. He knows how to put us in suspense through doing the unpredictable. He knows how to create characters with depth.  And his stories are always imaginative and unique while also being reflective of undeniable truths we see in everyday life. He has created two masterpieces himself in Finding Nemo and Wall-E while also helping directors like Pete Docter, Lee Ulkrich, and John Lasseter set their stories in the right direction. I don’t think anyone at Pixar would deny that Stanton is a great writer, except perhaps Stanton himself.

Knowing that Stanton is one of the lead writers for one of the most creative studios in Hollywood, you would most likely be surprised to hear that Andrew Stanton has said himself that he doesn’t really like to write and doesn’t consider himself to be very good. He dreads the time his screenplays are read out loud and he never feels like they are finished. He did not go to school for writing. His only experience has been on the job. The only way he feels it is good enough is through rewriting; not just once but rather dozens of times.

Stanton has never treated screenwriting like it was a piece of art. To him it is just a step to something great. When we treat writing as though it is just another step we are freed up to really try our best and fail miserably. Stanton has described screenplays as the screen authority that commands to be followed. It is a cinematic direction manual. It is not for the audience to see, it is for the people who are making the movie to see. His philosophy is to get something onto paper so he can begin to rewrite and refine his work. Once Stanton gets his work out there others are able to help. Pixar happens to have some of the best story helpers in the business. The Brain Trust is not afraid to be blunt with their writers and directors. They help Stanton’s writing go from good to great.

When starting a screenplay the only person you should try to satisfy is yourself. Create the story you want to create. You can read all the books there are on screenwriting, you can do months of research, and you can spend all your money on the most state of the art writing equipment. All of this however is not going to guarantee confidence. The value of writing is that it allows us to put what is in our head onto paper. Don’t treat screenwriting as anything more then a way to get your ideas out there, in a structured way, so you can improve them. After you have something you are able see and show others, you can start to refine. You will never know how good you are until you start doing it.

Sound

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on October 25, 2011

You know Charlie Chaplin really has helped me understand the importance of sound in film. Watching his “silent” movies in the sound era is extremely interesting. Honestly the two silent films he made during the sound era, actually had sound. Just, the sound was used extremely selectively. There was no dialogue from the main characters and there were periods of time where we heard nothing except the score. But every once in a while Chaplin would bring in a sound to emphasize a point. He was quite funny with some of his selections. When you watch the beginning of City Lights the mayor of the city is giving a speech and all we hear from him is a bunch of gibberish. I am sure Chaplin is trying to say something about politicians in the scene, as though they talk only to hear themselves speak. In Chaplin’s next film Modern Times Charlie takes sound effects in his silent film one step further. He is almost intrusive with the sounds he expresses at the beginning of the film while the Tramp works at the factory. He is making a statement about modern times and how technology seems to be intruding into our peaceful world. Sound is never over used in Charlie’s films. Even when he made an actual sound picture The Great Dictator, there is an elegance in the way he uses the sound that makes it far more impacting most films we see today.

Simplification is one of the keys in using sound in films. No filmmaker tries to copy everything we would hear in real life. Instead most sound designers try to take away all but the essentials. I remember hearing one of the sound designers for Forrest Gump talk about how he approached the sounds of battle when Forrest fights in Vietnam. He explained that if he used all the sound you would actually hear in a battle like the one Forrest was in nothing would really register with the audience. There is such thing as having so much sound that it just begins to sound like static. So instead, everything was taken away but a few sounds of bullets whizzing past soldiers head’s, explosions, and selective pieces of dialogue from soldiers in the background. We were given just enough to place us into the situation that was taking place, but everything else was deserted. Sometimes the director wants to take us away from the environment so we can see what is going on from a different perspective. Steven Spielberg took away sound in his movie Saving Private Ryan when the soldiers were attacking Omaha Beach. There are just a few dozen seconds where the main character Captain Miller seems to go inside himself and the gun shots and explosions stop. All we hear are faint sounds coming from the places he is looking at. This kind of thing helped focus our eyes and it made us rely more on the visuals. Often in film sound just gets in the way.

The sound designer’s job is not to recreate the sound we would hear in real life. For instance, when someone pulls a sword from their holster it never makes a “SHRRING” sound like we hear in almost every movie. We don’t hear a big “POW” sound when someone punches another person in real life, yet we almost always hear something like that in the movies. The goal of a sound designer is to make us feel something when we hear their sounds. If using something unrealistic gets us farther into the story they will use the unrealistic sound. The sound designers I have heard talk say that they rarely use the actual resource material when creating a sound design for a movie.

Sound effects really have the ability to drive a story. A good example is the movie Wall-E. Even the characters voice’s are expressed through sound effects in Wall-E. The sound designer Ben Burtt also brought characters like R2-D2 and E. T. to life with sound. With R2-D2 he needed to create a whole character through a series of high and low pitched beeps. We owe much of our love for Wall-E to Burtt. We immediately registered with Wall-E’s emotions through sound. Burtt talked about creating a whole vocabulary for Wall-E when he was doing his sound design. He needed to know what sounded sad, what sounded happy, and how to focus those sounds and make them unique for each character in the movie.

Sound design has the potential to be as poetic as a music score or a piece of dialogue. You have an artistic license when it comes to the sound design of your film. The rhythm of the sound design is important. The sound effects in a film need to be able to flow with the soundtrack and they must not get in the way of dialogue. There are times you will find that sound effects are all you need in a scene and you can get rid of the music and dialogue. Chaplin used sound well because he knew how much of a gift it really was. He knew how to use just enough to draw us into the scene. He also knew the power of the image without sound. Understanding the power your film could have without sound is key to understanding the importance a piece of sound could bring to your movie. Sound in film should be used for the same purpose as all the other tools in filmmaking; to tell a good story.

No Arc?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 14, 2011

Is it okay for the main character in your story to have no arc? An “arc” in storytelling is the change you as the audience member see the characters go through.  Whether it is learning to share, getting a lesson in responsibility, or understanding what it means to truly love, there needs to be some kind of journey or arc in your film that makes the movie experience worth while. The arc does not always need to be oriented toward a good result. An arc could be represented through showing the corruption of innocents in someone. It is sometimes even more thought provoking when you make the arc of a character point to evil. Usually the character that changes the most and goes on the greatest inner journey in any given story is the protagonist. He or she is usually the character the audience gets most attached to. However, not always is it the case that the protagonist of the story changes the most. There have been some great movies where the protagonist has had no real arc.

You do not need to have every character in your story change. Usually you need to have one or two characters that represent a solid foundation. In most stories there usually are characters who are already developed. These characters represent a solid belief in order to change the characters around them. Most villains in the movies don’t go through much development, their job is to test the protagonist of the story. A good example of this is the Joker in Batman Dark Knight. The Joker represents chaos. He has this foundational belief, if pushed enough everyone will drop all morals in order to survive. The Joker tests the protagonist Batman to the limit. Batman is forced to go through a change and understand who he is because of the solid belief the Joker holds.

There is usually a good character with no arc in stories. Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid is a good example. Other examples are Sam from Lord of the Rings, Izhak Stern from Schindler’s List, John Keating from Dead Poets Society, and almost every secondary character in the Disney Animation movies. I am not saying these are character who don’t feel emotion or go through trauma, but they all have foundational beliefs that usually end up changing the protagonist of the story. Usually the characters with no real arc are the characters we enjoy the most. It is comforting to know exactly who a character is from beginning to end without needing to worry about his or her arc. This is one of the reasons so many secondary characters in Disney movies are so endearing. They are confident in who they are and they only have two jobs, guide the protagonist in their journey and entertain the audience. It is always risky for a storyteller to have a quality that the audience likes in a character be taken away from the character in order to create an arc. Many people would say for example they liked Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story franchise more when he was under the delusion of being space ranger then when he actually realized he was a toy. This is one of the reasons why the toys in Toy Story 2 run into another delusional buzz, and why Buzz is changed back into a delusional Buzz in Toy Story 3.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post not all stories have the protagonist change. There are some movies where we see no real arc in the main character. It is alright to have these types of protagonists as long as they are able to create an arc for the characters around them. Two great movies that represent main characters with very little inner arc are Forrest Gump and Wall-E. I find it interesting that these two films both have the main character represented through the title. It might be because the characters are so well liked. Both Forrest Gump and Wall-E are characters audiences through out the world have come to love. Both represent a very innocent point of view on life and both characters connect immediately with the audience. They represent perspectives and hold beliefs that are already developed and can’t help but change the characters around them. Forrest for example brings about a change in almost all the characters he interacts with. His story concentrates on two character changes in particular; One with Forrest’s love interest, Jenny, and and the second with his lieutenant, Dan. Dan is saved from dying in battle by Forrest, the only problem is Dan loses his legs and is angry at Forrest because he wanted to die. Dan is ashamed of how people look at him but eventually finds strength in Forrest’s consistent love for life. Jenny is an emotional train wreck and feels she is unworthy of love, yet Forrest’s love for Jenny is strong and consistent all the way through the film, and at the end his love wins Jenny over and brings her clarity.

Characters should be created to tell a good story. They shouldn’t be created to flesh out your world or because you just find them interesting. They need to drive the arc of your story. You shouldn’t worry about making all the characters change. It is usually good to concentrate on the arc of just a few characters. Better to have the audience really buy into one character arc then be half sold on several. A story like A Christmas Carol is just about one man changing, all the other characters have no arc. Yet, this does not make the other characters the main character Scrooge encounters less enduring. We like the secondary characters, like the ghosts Scrooge runs into, because we can see the change they are making in Scrooge. Wall-E is one of those characters we ended up liking all the more because he had this solid belief in love and life all the way through the movie. I personally liked him because he helped give me joy and change my perspective. All the way through the story Wall-E’s only goal is to find love. Because of his unwavering dedication he finds love at the end and brings joy to all of us.

Andrew Stanton – An Observation – Worth Fighting For

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on August 24, 2011

2008 National Board Of Review Awards Gala

You know Andrew Stanton has helped write more then a dozen of the Pixar movies. The two films he has directed, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, have both won Oscars for Best Animated film. After realizing this, would it surprise you to know he doesn’t really like writing or directing? Stanton has talked more then once about the frustrations and exhaustion that comes with writing and directing. He has talked about the insecurity he has with being a writer and how he is scared to death when he turns his script in for other filmmakers to read. Stanton refrains from writing until the very last minute, he has described himself as a master procrastinator. He has also talked about how all the little details that come with directing wear him down. Four to five years on each project is a long time. What makes him stay in there? Why do so much work if it is so hard to do? I do not think Andrew finds satisfaction in the middle of production like someone such as John Lasseter does. It might be because Stanton is always thinking of other things and keeping his mind on the project at hand is extremely hard to do. It might be because he second guesses the value of what he is doing.   At times I am sure he feels his time would be spent better doing something else. After all writing and directing a film does not leave much room for family activities and social events. It might be because of an insecurity, the whole project lays on his shoulders what if he makes the wrong decision? I believe Stanton’s struggles with filmmaking has to do with all these insecurities.  However, a filmmaker has two choices when faced with insecurities such as these ones. They can run and hide or face them head on. Based on Stanton’s track record I believe he has chosen the latter.

Andrew Stanton counters the wear and tear that comes with needing to deal with a bunch of little details by being very picky about each little detail. He does not burden most of his colleagues with an idea until he is sure the idea is worth fighting for. He needs to figure out whether or not it is worth spending four to five years to make. John Lasseter even talked about bugging Andrew Stanton about the movie Finding Nemo.  Stanton would not even tell him what it was about until he thought he had a story worth committing too. For the movie Wall-E Stanton started development for the project when he was supposed to be on vacation. He thought that if the story turned out to be nothing special he wouldn’t have wasted anyone’s time.

A good question is, what makes a project worth committing to for Andrew Stanton? A key things to realize is Stanton does not think short term he thinks about the big picture. He does not go through the pains of writing and directing lightly. He wants to find a story that can entertain audiences for years to come. He finds universal themes to put into his stories. He concentrates on the insecurities of parenthood in Finding Nemo, what it means to be a friend in Toy Story, and the essence of what it means to love in Wall-E. We can relate to the characters Stanton creates because even though they might be robots, toys, and fish, they are full of human flaws and needs. Woody in Toy Story is insecure in his relationship with Andy. Marlin in Finding Nemo is scared his son might not be able to handle the real world. Wall-E is lonely.  These themes and character qualities represent the heart of Stanton’s films.

At the beginning the only thing Andrew Stanton has is an idea. Production represents the war Stanton faces in order to bring the idea to life on screen. When you go into battle you need to have passion. Stanton wants to make sure he can give the story everything he has. He knows there will be those days where nothing is working. He talked in an interview about needing to have enough passion to push through those times. Stanton talked about how he wants the audience to be thinking the characters he creates have feelings and lives that go on after the movie ends. This is what makes a movie worth fighting for to him. Stanton knows if he fights through and wins the war he will give us characters that truly become real in our hearts. Characters like Woody and Wall-E have a life of their own in the minds of many kids and adults. Film is the ultimate illusion of life. It takes a lot of work to pull off. But the results can be well worth it because they have the potential to be endless.

Andrew Stanton is one of those directors who will not commit to any old project. I think he is one of those artists who needs to both write and direct the film. He writes the films himself not because he thinks he is a brilliant writer but rather because he wants to find a story that is personal to him. Andrew Stanton is not a good director because he can’t make mistakes. No, he will be the first to tell you he makes mistakes all the time in in the development of his films. The thing about Stanton is he does not give up. He works through the mistakes. Andrew Stanton is a great director because when he finds something worth fighting for, he will not stop or compromise with the vision. He will fight until he gets the idea on screen.

Humor!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 14, 2011

When it comes to filmmaking humor is actually a pretty serious thing. There are several routs you can take to draw out a laugh from your audience. One way is to have something that is completely out there, on the border of being considered wrong. Movies like Dumb and Dummer, Superbad, and American Pie are only a few examples of what I am talking about. These kind of films think that toilet problems, drinking parties, and sexual insecurities are funny and they rely on making the crowd uncomfortable enough to feel they need to laugh rather then, dare I say, express how shallow the jokes truly are.

Another way to get a laugh is from gags. These are humorous acts you can see in any old movie, but can be quite funny if pulled off right. I think of the Loony Toons and Funniest Home Videos as good examples. They get their humor from every day situations. It is through the verbal or physical slip up that the funny stuff happens. The last way to create humor is through having your audience know the character you are portraying. The characters personality generates the humor. A good example is Wall-E. He is a lonely robot who happens to have a personality. It is through his unique perspective on the world we find the humor. The box holding the diamond ring is more important then the ring, plastic silverware is interesting enough to collect, and cockroaches make good pets in Wall-E’s world.

When the humor comes from the character rather then some lame toilet joke or some kind of sight gag, you impact the audience to a much higher extant and give them reason to come back. The visual gags and toilet jokes can come from anywhere, however the humor coming from the heart of the character can’t be copied. We are also able to get the audience more involved with the story when the humor comes from the essence of the character. Humor can be used as a connection device, it can help the audience buy into who the character is and the adventure he or she is on.

Have the humor come from the character rather then the gag. When the character is more important then the gag the gags become funnier. We laugh more from the mistakes Wall-E makes because we know who he is. When trying to connect to his love interest Eva he falls down a building, gets hit by lightning, and gets ran over by a stampede of carts. These gags are all the more humorous and emotional to us because we know who Wall-E is and how much he wants Eva’s affection.

Humor can be such a powerful tool for the filmmaker. Make humor be more then this insecure need to make the audience laugh. Make it be about connection and development. We need a reason for the humor we express on screen. The laugh can be used to demean and hurt our views of the people around us or it can be used to strengthen our understanding and love towards others. Everything depends on the quality of the humor and how you use it.

Andrew Stanton – An Observation – Opening Doors

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Observation Series by Jacob on August 10, 2011

Andrew StantonWriter/Director Andrew Stanton is a firm believer in not creating but finding the story he is trying to put on screen. He has talked about filmmaking being more like a archeological dig then performing magic tricks. He believes the pieces of the story are already out there, they are just waiting to be found. The great task for Stanton is figuring out ways to open doors so he can get to the foundations of the story.

Stanton once talked about filmmaking being all about finding ways to open those closed doors in your brain. He listens to music, studies art, debates with peers, and tries to use events from his own life to unlock those doors that are stopping him from finding the heart of his stories. Andrew Stanton does not dictate and make the story be something it shouldn’t be, rather he serves the story and tries to find ways to flesh out what is already there.

I am a big advocate of serving the story. I think filmmaking is like putting a huge puzzle together. Once you find enough pieces you begin to figure out the function of your film and the story starts to take on a life of it’s own. However, if you try to force in a piece that does not fit you can ruin the whole picture. Andrew Stanton ran into a problem like this in his movie Wall-E. He wanted the robot Wall-E to be the hero at the end of the film. In the draft he originally had Wall-E’s love interest Eva get severely injured at the end of the film and Wall-E save her. However, during one of the test screenings Stanton realized it actually needed to be the other way around. Stanton had spent the whole movie showing how Wall-E impacted all the characters around him. At the end it was time to show how much the characters had changed. He could not express the characters’ growth if Wall-E stayed the hero.

Stanton once talked about the difference between a good film studio and a great film studio being what happens during the 11th hour. He said at the 11th hour in Wall-E they found a bone that completely changed the dinosaur. The studio had the option of ignoring the bone or embracing it and working their butts off to fix the mistake. They decided to work their butts off. They came together in the service of the story and created a much more satisfying ending where Wall-E gets injured and the characters around him work together to save him. In the end Stanton found the right key and was able to unlock the door to a film which entertained and moved millions of people and will keep on doing so for years to come.

I think it is much more wondrous to look at filmmaking as something more then creating the illusion of life. I think filmmaking is about finding real life. I would never contribute the stories I create to just me. They are all built out of real things I find through living life, research, and having a relationship with God. I hope Andrew Stanton keeps on building his stories out of the real things he finds in his life. We do not invest in toys like Woody, fish like Nemo, or robots like Wall-E if they don’t touch us on a very personal and real level. Stanton’s constant devotion to story has opened many doors for us through out the years. I look forward to seeing what door he opens next.

Wall-E: Andrew Stanton Interview

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 18, 2011

I stumbled upon this very informative interview with director Andrew Stanton talking about some of his thought process behind the movie Wall-E.

Wall-E is not my favorite Pixar movie but I think the movie’s storytelling is superb. We are introduced to the robot Wall-E and find out exactly what kind of character he is and what he is longing for in life within the first seven minutes of the film. The first twenty to thirty minutes of Wall-E consist of some of the greatest animation I have ever seen. The Pixar guys had guts. They trusted that the audience would not loose interest, even though there was little action and hardly any duologue at the beginning of the film.

Wall-E also represents a break away from the typical Pixar visual style. Andrew used lenses and brought in a color schemes that were different from movies like Cars, Finding Nemo, and Monsters Inc. He shot for a more realistic look. The movement of Wall-E was very limited compared to most of the Pixar characters. This allowed for the animators to stretch their skills and learn how to communicate a lot with a little.

Anyway, here are the video’s. Enjoy!

(Go to the site beta adikted or their youtube page for more interviews of popular filmmakers)