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"The Art of Ratatouille" gives its readers a glimpse of the picture that Pixar Animation Studios almost made

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"The Art of Ratatouille" gives its readers a glimpse of the picture that Pixar Animation Studios almost made

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It is one of the more intriguing aspects of the production history of Pixar's latest, "Ratatouille." The fact that this animated feature started off with one director (I.E. Jan Pinkava, who helmed this animation studio's Academy Award-winning short, "Geri's Game") yet wound up being completed by another director (I.E. Brad Bird, the talented writer / director behind Pixar's Oscar-winning feature, "The Incredibles").

Why exactly did that happen? More importantly, what would Jan Pinkava's version of "Ratatouille" have been like? Well, if anyone could tell us that, it would be Karen Paik. As a member of Pixar's development department, Ms. Paik was one of the very first people assigned to work on this movie about a rat who wanted to be a chef.

Karen was there when Jan originated this project, then stayed on after Brad came on board and totally overhauled the production. So she basically had a front row seat for all of the upheaval that ultimately led to the creation of the version of "Ratatouille" which is opening in theaters this Friday. 

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar
Chronicle Books LLC. All Rights Reserved

But does any of that juicy behind-the-scenes stuff actually wind up in the new making-of book that Ms. Paik just wrote, "The Art of Ratatouille" (Chronicle Books, May 2007) ? Well ... Sort of.

To explain: Karen closely follows the template that you usually see applied to hardcovers like these. In that you first get to see the artists struggling to get a handle on the look of the characters (Take a look at this early, extremely skinny version of Remy that Peter DeSeve drew back in 2001) ...

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

... followed by the final, fully-realized versions of those same characters from the film. (First take a gander at "Ratatouille" 's lead character as a three dimensional clay sculpture done by Greg Dykstra, then as a shading study created by Dominique Louis).

 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But then -- in addition to this material -- Ms. Paik also gives her readers brief glimpses of ideas & characters that were originally developed for the Jan Pinkava version of this movie. Take -- for example -- Remy's mother, Desiree ...

 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Who -- according to "Ratatouille" story supervisor Jim Capobianco -- was a character that ...

" ... we tried to develop for quite a while, but as the story evolved it became more about the father-and-son relationship, and she faded away. Desiree was the overworked mother of 200, but she always knew what was going on with all of her very precious children, who were kind of an 'Our Gang' group that were continually getting into trouble."

Mind you, along with these abandoned characters, Karen also slips in quick glimpses of cut scenes from the film. Check out this aborted fantasy cooking sequence which was inspired by "The Nutcracker." Where Remy imagines himself wandering in this wintry wonderland where powdered sugar falls from the sky and covers a wide variety of outrageous desserts.

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Of course, given that this is a book that's intended to support & help promote Brad Bird's new movie, 90% of the art that's featured in this hardcover comes from that version of "Ratatouille." But again, if you're paying really close attention, Ms. Paik sneaks in these references to the Jan Pinkava incarnation of this picture. Check out these two title concepts for this animated feature. Back when Pixar's latest went by the name "Rat!" or "Rats!"

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Me personally? While I like the stuff like this, I also enjoy getting the chance to scope out some of this production's hidden detail that goes by too quickly in the finished film. Take -- for example -- these images from the main dining room at Gusteau's. Which -- as production designer Harley Jessup explains -- were done in this style because ...

" ... we ... thought of the dining room as a palace of food. (Which is why) the walls are covered with murals that show Gusteau as a Zeus-like god of cuisine."

Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

The end result is a making-of book that skillfully mixes the what-might-been with the what-actually-did-end-up-on-the-big-screen. Loaded with hundreds of colorful concept paintings & inspirational sketches, "The Art of Ratatouille" will make a fine addition to any animation enthusiast's library. If only because Karen used the very last page of this book to pay tribute to the late, great Dan Lee ...  

 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc. / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

... the much-beloved artist who helped create the look of many of the characters featured in this brand-new Brad Bird movie.

Speaking of Mr. Bird: If you want to know why Brad replaced Jan, the real reason that John Lasseter, Ed Catmull & Steve Jobs called Bird (While he was on vacation after promoting the release of "The Incredibles" DVD, no less) and insisted that he immediately take over as director of "Rat!" / "Rats!" / "Ratatouille" / whatever ... Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about the important role in Pixar history that this particular animated feature was originally intended to play.

Your thoughts?

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  • Good God Jim!

    Just stop it with the Pixar bashing!

    It is so clear you want this movie to fail!!!

    I'll never post here again!

  • SuperGrover is right, Jim...this looks like another cut and paste piece from a "cars" article you did last year...you may not come right out and say it, but we know you're having mean thoughts about Pixar! Just scandalous!  

  • I saw that book. Its quite interesting, especially how Colette became a more important character than she was before.

  • Uhm.. How is this article bashing Pixar? Whiners.

    Great article :) Looking forward to tomorrow!!

  • I have a feeling they might actually be Jim Basher Bashers, empoor...

  • Yes, thank you, oh wise Anonymouse! Thought it was obvious...next time I'll  put out a disclaimer...or a haha...or just assume I'm don't take these comment sections too seriously...seriously...

  • The first two posts are merely Jim Hill Bashers. Stop trolling here please. This is a thorough and informative site. If you don't like what you read, simply leave.

    No ones asking you to stay.

  • DISCLAIMER: I make no secret that I'm a movie fan -- most all genres and types, including documentaries and some foreign films. And, since I've never been disappointed in a Pixar film like I have been in some Steven Spielberg productions -- it's fair to say that I'm a Pixar fan and a cheerleader for great art and animation. PERIOD.

    No, this story by Jim isn't a hit piece ... but it's a story that offers an issue animation fans may want to ponder -- especially after seeing "Ratatouille."

    Consider the addition of all those characters, the competing subplots and the time it would take away from the central story of Remy, and decide for yourself whether all that was necessary or needed.

    It's unfortunate that we'll never see the film as Jan Pinkava envisioned it ... but that doesn't take anything away from his wildly inventive and original idea for this plucky "Little Chef." Pinkava deserves his story and co-director credit. I know he had established characters, sets and many of the assets that helped Brad Bird, the story team and the film's production.

    Consider the film as the soup Remy has to come in and fix ... Brad Bird did a bit of slicing and dicing, "got fancy with the spices" and delivered a compelling, entertaining and hilarious tale that's quite satisfying.

    Filmmaking -- especially as executed by the brain trust and artists at Pixar -- is collaborative. Ed Catmull, John Lasseter have said the best idea in the room should win. Shouldn't the entire team rally around it -- if there's a consensus that it is indeed the best idea? I mean, don't these creative collaborators all have the same goal -- to make something special and memorable?

    I don't know Jan Pinkava -- enjoyed "Geri's Game" and his basic storyline for "Ratatouille" -- but there's a small part of me that feels sad for him and Chris "American Dog" Sanders for not embracing the lifelines they were offered before parting ways with Pixar/Disney.

    Artists should be free to explore, experiment and fail ... but I also understand why those in charge don't want artists to fail when there are millions, hundreds of millions, at stake and there's time for a course correction.

  • I don't get it.  How is Jim bashing Pixar here?

  • I don't think it is bashing, so much as a few backhanded comments implying that PIXAR screwed up by bringing in Brad Bird and changing some of the original ideas/ concepts.

    It's nothing glaringly specific. Just the tone of the article, to me, seems to be that the movie would have been better or something more than the "cute movie" Jim thinks it to be, had the original creative team been allowed to follow through start to finish.

  • Nice article, Jim. I just might check that book out. And the "might-have-been" aspect of it is most intriguing. One of the most interesting parts of the "Monsters Inc." DVD was that it featured the original rejected script for that film. What a disaster it would have been had the film gone in THAT direction! A lot of people who see a polished Disney movie have no idea of the creative struggles behind the scenes. Which, of course, is how it should be: it's the finished film counts. Thanks again for a great article, Jim. I'm looking forward to seeing Ratatouille this weekend.

  • I'm a huge Disney-Pixar fan who gets annoyed whenever somebody makes a dig at how much the merger with Pixar has ruined Disney (because really, the Pixar folk are just putting back Walt's old principles and defending the classic Disney tradition - whoever is against this shouldn't be working at Disney).  Some of Jim's articles do irk me when it seems he is the mouthpiece for some disgruntled Disney exec who does not like Pixar's growing influence (but I usually just think Jim's connected to the wrong insiders).

    That said, I see nothing wrong with Jim's article today. No hidden swipes at Pixar, no digs that might be coming from a Disney suit.  I actually would like to read about that book as well, was interested to see how the movie was conceived at first.  Got me wanting to take a look at the book as well.

  • Those concepts seem somewhat terrible.

    The design for the mother is awful, the fantasy sequence sounds terrible.

    Of course, I'm basing my opinion on little information and those aspects could have been fantastic. But they sound awful to me.

    I fully expect lots of analysis of the box office performance of this film, its comparion to the expectations, the reactions inside of Disney and the reactions on Wall Street. Those are my favorite parts of this site.

    Dammit. I need to hurry and drop this legal career, get my MBA, and either be an analyst or a Disney suit myself, haha.

  • Gigglestock ...

    It's been said that good filmmaking is a bit like making sausages ... consumers really don't know what went into it ... they simply want something that tastes good. That just seems appropriate in talking about "Ratatouille."

    And, yes, I've heard John Lasseter & Co. talk about some of the struggles (especially with story) they've encountered in crafting every single Pixar production. Making a movie is easy -- look at YouTube -- but making something worthy of a worldwide market is an arduous challenge.

    Just think at one point "Toy Story" was almost unwatchable, with a snarky and very unlikeable Woody. It was so bad -- in part because the artists at Pixar were following the notes given to them by Jeffrey Katzenberger and the suits at Disney -- that the plug was almost pulled. The people at Pixar rallied, made the movie THEY wanted to make -- a film that delighted critics and audiences alike and secured a place in cinematic history.

    Yes, if you look at all the making of/art of books from Pixar's productions (I have 4 of them), watch the DVD bonus materials and follow the company through Web sites, blogs and mainstream media, you'll get a sense of this.

    You might also learn about how some of these artists are constantly creating -- even away from work. They're illustrating and writing graphic novels or comic books, honing their craft and talents on things like sketchcrawl (Google it), creating animatics, even designing their own high-end collectible toys.

    It's this drive and passion that fuels my admiration of Pixar -- in addition to finding the few I've met -- genuinely nice people.

  • Nice article, although "what might have been", only seems like a collection of the hundreds of conceptual drawings that precede the production of any animated feature of live action film. Animated movies go through an enormous evolutionary development of story, character and style  before going into the cost of full blown production.  This goes all the way back to Snow White, who once was invisioned as a blonde.....

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