A creative network of the idea, by the idea, for the idea

Friday, May 29, 2009

Design with purpose

I'm so happy I'm curious.

Without this father learned legacy I would have never clicked the 7 links I needed to follow to end up here: AN INTERVIEW WITH RALPH EGGLESTON, Production designer on Pixar's WALL-E.

I didn't know of course that
Ralph Eggleston joined Pixar Animation Studios in 1992 where he served as Art Director of their first feature film Toy Story. Afterwards, Eggleston helped develop the treatment and screenplay for Monster’s, Inc. and went on to write, design and direct their 2002 Academy Award®-winning animated short For the Birds. In the role of Production Designer he helped envision the undersea world of Finding Nemo and was Brad Bird’s choice for Art Director on his Academy Award®-winning animated film The Incredibles. Before coming to Pixar, Eggleston’s early work in animation included character animation for the Family Dog episode on the television series Amazing Stories.

Eggleston’s recent contribution for Pixar was as Production Designer for their cautionary tale Wall-E. Months after the film’s June 27th theatrical release, in October 2008 and January 2009, Eggleston discussed with me how he went about creating the futuristic environments for Wall-E.

The whole interview is worth your time considering he speaks about Pixar, the creative process and Wall•E. But these are some of my favorites.

In many ways Wall-E is a film about contrasts, not only from the point-of-view of its story, but also contrasts and contradictions within some of its design choices. The film opens with a portrait of a ruinous Earth inhabited by a diminutive robot. The second half of the film is contrasted by a high-end space resort full of overly-indulged humans.

As any of the great production designers would tell you, “Start from the character and then everything else will follow;” and it’s so true.

The script provided the most obvious jumping off points. Wall-E is a square whose only limitations beyond his imagination is what he can physically do. Eve was a circle (an oval, actually) who only did what she was programmed to do. Wall-E has a soul; Eve develops one.

Once the major design obstacles are laid out and agreed upon with the design staff and the director, I can jump back into the color script. Because we’ve done so much research and have begun understanding the world we’re creating, I can delegate to my crew a lot of what needs to get done. This allows me to get back in and focus on the emotional core of what we’re trying to say visually with color, value, and lighting, which usually takes me well into production.

Wall-E was the first time I’ve ever did it exclusively in Photoshop, digitally.

My creative process is
“method painting.” I put myself in the place of the character and walk through the story. I’m trying to find colors that evoke an emotion based on everything I’ve absorbed up until that date, reading the story, hearing a pitch, research.

For inspiration for the movie w
e looked at the Mars Rover film and toured a cruise ship. We looked at Sea Lions for the blubber on the humans.

The key things to the design of Wall-E are his -- eyes, and the overall proportions of his body as it relates to his eyes. The first impression we wanted the audience to have is "child-like.” They were about to watch a whole feature starring a bucket of bolts; we needed to grab their hearts as fast as possible. We never wanted this to be a man in a robot outfit. I’ve seen many animated robots that were visually appealing, but I rarely believed in them, because they didn’t seem designed to do anything specific. Not so with Wall-E. He was designed by the Buy'N'Large Corporation to do one thing: crunch trash. Over the centuries of gathering trash, it seems he’s developed a soul and a personality.

Exactly, one of my goals on this film was to bleach out the whites. I wanted the audience to feel like they might need their sunglasses while they were watching the movie.

The three classes of the Axiom were delineated by shape, color, lighting, organization, and texture.

No, I don’t think so. I think it was the idea of the song and the contrast of the world you were seeing, the world of trash. So much of this film deals in contrasts and the song really grabs your attention quite well! Also, the director was in a High School production of Hello Dolly and had a soft spot in his heart for it. If anyone has video of this, I’d love to see it!