Monday, September 14, 2015

Pixar Filmography, Volume 1: The Short Films

September 14, 2015

With Inside Out and the upcoming The Good Dinosaur released in theaters this year, Pixar Animation Studios celebrates twenty years of feature films since the release of Toy Story in 1995. It’s also been nearly thirty years since the company was founded and began making short films and commercials.

It began as a team under George Lucas’s Lucasfilm company, known for creating computer software to further push the limits of what technology in film was capable of since the original Star Wars in 1977. Key team members included Pixar co-founders Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith, as well as William Reeves, Eben Odsby, and John Lasseter. The first short (technically under Lucasfilm) was "The Adventures of Andre and Wally B." (1984), directed by Smith, and features an android character taunted by a large bumble bee. Not only did the short create a bright and lush forest environment, but also believable and engaging characters that could comically squash and stretch as they would in hand-drawn animation.

"Andre and Wally B."
"Luxo, Jr."
"Luxo, Jr.", Pixar’s first official short after being founded in 1986 (Apple co-founder Steve Jobs purchased the group from Lucasfilm in February that same year), centers on a large Luxo lamp and a smaller one as the latter chases and plays with a rubber ball. Directed by Lasseter (a classically-trained Disney animator who went on to direct the group’s next few short films, in collaboration with Reeves and Odsby in particular), “Luxo” received a standing ovation when it was presented at the SIGGRAPH computer technology conference in 1986, and eventually became the first computer-animated short to receive an Academy Award nomination. The title character would go on to become the company’s mascot, and even made appearances on segments of “Sesame Street.”

"Red's Dream"
"Red's Dream" (1987), the first short to use Pixar’s new rendering system at the time, is a noir-like story about a lonely, store-bound unicycle (colored red) who dreams of a life in the circus. It was one of the first uses of water effects in a computer-animated film, as well as Pixar’s first attempt at creating an organic human-like character (in this case, a circus clown).

"Tin Toy"
"Tin Toy" (1988) proved to be the most complex for the animators. Featuring the most characters (including a human baby, a one-man band toy named Tinny, and a host of other playthings hiding under a couch) and shots for a computer-animated short, this Academy Award-winner also inspired what would become the world's first entirely-CGI feature film.

"Knick Knack"
"Knick Knack" (1989) was said to be the most collaborative and fun-filled of the shorts, as it features a tiny snowman who tries repeatedly (in Wile E. Coyote fashion), but to no avail, to break out of his snow globe and join the other knick-knacks on the shelf. It was also the last of the shorts made before Pixar would commit the next few years to the aforementioned feature film. The rest is history.

WRITER'S NOTE (September 21, 2015): The original version of "Knick Knack" featured a Miami girl knick knack and a Mermaid one that were big-breasted and very risque. For the revised version that appeared before “Finding Nemo” in theaters in 2003, these elements were fortunately changed to make the short more family-friendly. However, very quick shots of the former uncensored elements appear very briefly in "Toy Story 2," during the scene where Hamm the piggy bank channel-surfs the T.V. at lightening speed.

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