WIth the 20th anniversary of Pixar’s Toy Story approaching, Fortune has posted a wonderful interview with Ed Catmull on the relationship between great animation and new technology. In the interview, Catmull points out that Walt Disney himself was a great believer in continuing to develop the technology of filmmaking alongside developing the stunning art and great storytelling that is so evident in Disney projects. Part of what helped Disney make a comeback after the drop in quality after Walt’s death, and the thing that makes Pixar great today, is the renewed interest in developing the technology that allows ambitious stories to be told.

This is a great interview for many reasons, but I really love that Catmull connects Walt Disney’s insistence on technological innovation to the culture that exists at Disney and Pixar today. I think for a lot of people who lived through the 80s and 90s, the Disney brand is often associated recycling and resting on their laurels; a heavy reliance on nonsensical sequels (who needs a Cinderella 2?) and unambitious projects more interested in merchandizing than developing anything original seemed, more often than not, the hallmark of the Disney corporation when I was growing up (not to say that there weren’t some wonderful things too). Looking at the work of Walt Disney himself, though, it seems that his eponymous company was as much in the business of developing new film technology as it was in creating entertainment. Despite his company often being on the edge of financial crisis, he refused to make easy money sequels to his successful features (just think what the world would be like if he had given in and made Snow White 2). Instead, he insisted on continuing to innovate, both with the stories they told and the way they told them. Just a few of the innovations overseen during Walt’s lifetime:

  •  Developing better ways to fully incorporate sound into cartoons with Steamboat Willie (1929),
  • Animating in three-strip Technicolor with Flowers and Trees  (1932)
  • Developing a gigantic multiplane camera to give animated scenes depth,
  • Creating Fantasound (a multichannel sound system that predated stereo and surround sound by 20 years) for Fantasia (1940)
  • Building the first regularly-operating monorail in the US for Disneyland
  • Improving the optical printer, allowing better combination of live-action and animation (including use of the “yellow screen” a photochemical predecessor to green screen) for films from The Three Caballeros (1945) to Mary Poppins (1964)
  • EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, which was intended to be an experimental utopian city rather than a feature of a new Disney park

For Walt Disney, innovation and entertainment went hand in hand, and the most exciting thing about coming up with a new story was also coming up with new ways to tell it. It is wonderful to see that Catmull is continuing that tradition in his work with Disney and Pixar today.

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Fall Film Preview 2015

It’s that time again, dear reader. Fall is officially upon us, and with it the another big season for animated feature films. I know that fall is officially here, not just by my calendar, but by the lament of my 9-year-old neighbor that her teacher actually gave her homework this week. Teachers instinctually know when the torpor caused by the summer heat should give way to the deeper thinking that becomes possible with cooler weather (or, at least, that is my explanation); filmmakers, too, seem to follow this logic, as the high-octane summer blockbusters give way to the more staid, award-seeking dramas of the fall.

Luckily, this fall also has a wide variety of visually engaging, heartstring-tugging, laugh-inducing animated films coming to the theaters. Here are the ones to look out for: Continue reading

Summer 2015 Animated Features Preview

Well, animation fans, summer is finally here; perhaps not strictly according to the calendar, but at least according to the thermometer outside my house, which means it’s time to take refuge from the heat in an air conditioned theater and enjoy a few good animated features. While last summer’s feature animation lineup was relatively sparse, with only How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Planes 2 making their theatrical debut over the warmer months, this summer is a little more packed, with four to five features being released this summer (depending on if you’re reading this from the UK or the US). Here’s what to look out for this summer when looking to beat the heat at your local cinema: Summer2015

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Winter/Spring Animated Film Preview 2015

Happy New Year, animation lovers! ‘Tis the season to start looking forward, which — to me — means it’s time to start getting excited over the new animated films being unveiled in the late winter-sping portion of 2015 (is it just me, or does Hollywood seem to work in trimesters?). While last fall’s films were showpieces (fall seems to be the time to get out the award-garnering works), the line-up for this season falls more along the predictably enjoyable side of the animation spectrum; they probably won’t win an Oscar, but they’ll give you and your family a good laugh after a week of being snowed in together.

Here are the films to look for this season:

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Halloween and “Vincent” (1982) – Short Film

Well, animation fans, Halloween is almost upon us, and I don’t know about you, but I am pretty excited. It’s the one time of year this non-artist feels a bit artistic — designing a clever costume, carving pumpkins, and decorating the house to scare (but not traumatize) the little kids who live in my neighborhood. And, best of all, October is Halloween movie month! From the best horror movies to the worst B monster/sci-fi flick, it all goes on my watch list for the next couple of weeks.

Not surprisingly, some of my favorite Halloween-y movies come from the world of animation. After all, one of the things I like best about animation is how well it interacts with, and enhances, the conventions from other genres, and the fantastical world of the horror film is a great sandbox for animation to play in. Laika’s Paranorman and Coraline, Aardman Animation’s Wallace And Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and (of course) Tim Burton’s raft of animated films are all great examples of what animation brings to the broadly-defined ‘horror’ movie genre, and are definitely on my queue for the coming weeks.

It seems only appropriate to kick things off here on 540 Feet with Vincent, Tim Burton’s 1982 short film. Created while he was still working at Disney, Vincent is a delightfully dark film about a boy named Vincent Malloy who drives himself mad emulating Vincent Price (who narrates the poem). I love the expressionist style here — it feels very similar to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in places — and it is fascinating to see the elements of this short that would later make their way into Burton’s feature films.

 

What about you, dear reader? What is your favorite animated film for Halloween? Have I forgotten something on my list? Let me know in the comments below!

Hey animation fans! If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and head over to the Cinefex blog to check out this fascinating article on Laika’s use of stop motion and CGI in combination to create The Boxtrolls. It is well worth a read, and really, what else did you have to do today? Work? I thought so…

Fall Film Preview

Happy fall, everyone!

Ok, ok. I know it’s not technically fall yet. But with schools back in session, a few leaves starting to shift their summer green, and a cool edge starting to slip into the air, it certainly feels like fall where I am. And I don’t know about you, dear reader, but, from where I’m sitting, one of the most exciting things about autumn is seeing the summer blockbuster gradually give way to a few films with fewer explosions and more dialogue that the screenwriter considered at length before putting it to paper. (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE fast paced, action packed, chase-scene fueled films as much as the next guy. It’s just nice to have a cinematic palate cleanser available.)

This fall is shaping up to be particularly exciting for animated film fans. After a relatively sparse offering of animated films this summer (really only How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Planes: Fire and Rescue), there are five animated films dues to make their debut this fall. Even better, all look like they are well worth the price of a theater ticket.  Here are the animated films to look for in theaters this season:

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