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"The Art of Pixar Short Films" is loaded with great stories & inspirational sketches

"The Art of Pixar Short Films" is loaded with great stories & inspirational sketches

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When did you first become aware of Pixar?

For most folks, this animation studio initially came on their radar back in November of 1995. That was when “Toy Story” first bowed in theaters and then quickly became the must-see movie of that holiday season.

But for a number of us more hardcore animation fans, our interest in Pixar actually predates “Toy Story” ‘s release by more than a decade. It was this animation studio’s visually dazzling yet genuinely funny shorts that initially caught our eye.

Art of Pixar Shorts-Andre and Wally B
Copyright 2009 Pixar / Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

I myself … Well, the first Pixar production that I ever saw was “The Adventures of André and Wally B.” I caught this then-ambitious CG short at Cambridge’s Off the Wall Cinema back in the Fall of 1985. Back when this teeny, tiny theatre would regularly hold screenings that showcased the very best animated shorts that were making the rounds on the festival circuit.

So why did I personally find “André and Wally B.” so memorable? Well, you have to remember what computer animation looked like back in the early 1980s. With all those chromed, reflective surfaces and flying camera moves.  Back then, CG was usually slick and visually impressive … but also kind of heartless.

Whereas “André and Wally B.” … These were the first computer-animated characters that looked & moved like hand-drawn animated characters. They squashed & stretched. More importantly, they performed the sort of takes & hoary old sight gags that would make Tex Avery proud.

Art of Pixar Short Films book
Copyright 2009 Pixar / Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

In short, the crew behind this Lucasfilm Computer Graphic Project (i.e.  George Lucas’ CG unit which Steve Jobs purchased in 1986 for $10 million and then renamed Pixar)’s production were really trying to do something different here. Combine these new fangled tools with old fashioned storytelling.

And Amid Amidi’s new book, “The Art of Pixar Short Films ” (Chronicle Books, February 2009), actually walks you through how John Lasseter and his team learned their craft. How they used each of Pixar’s shorts to push the boundaries a bit. Experiment with new tools. Not to mention making some very funny little movies.

What’s particularly nice about “The Art of Pixar Short Films” isn’t its use of seldom-seen photographs (Like this image of John holding the actual unicycle that Pixar’s production team used for reference while they were animating the studio’s 1987 short, “Red’s Dream”) …

Art of Pixar Short Films-John Lasseter holding unicycle
Copyright 2009 Pixar / Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

… But – rather – that Amidi isn’t afraid to dig into the more controversial aspects of the Pixar story. Take – for example -- the studio’s decision to revisit its Academy Award nominated short, “Knick Knack” in 2003 …

Art of Pixar Short Films Knick Knack storyboards
Copyright 2009 Pixar / Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

… and perform cosmetic surgery on those two busty babes who appear in this wildly funny 1989 film.

Art of Pixar Short Films Knick Knack Snowglobe mermaid changes
Copyright 2009 Pixar / Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, Amid does get John to go on record as to exactly why Pixar officials felt it was necessary to deboobify “Knick Knack.” Despite rumors to the contrary, Lasseter insists that this really wasn’t a case of …

“ … big bad Disney coming in and insisting we do this … it was our own choice. It was just crossing the line for me personally as a father, so I made the decision to reduce (these characters’) breast size.”

That (to me, anyway) is the best part of “The Art of Pixar Short Films.” Not the more than 250 full-color illustrations, pencil sketches, storyboards, photographs and fully rendered frames that you’ll find scattered throughout this 160 page hardcover. But – rather – all the great behind-the-scenes stories that Amidi uncovered while he was interviewing all of those Pixar veterans.

Like Bud Luckey’s inspirations for the two main characters in “Boundin’

“For the jackalope, Luckey envisioned an Edgar Buchanan or Wallace Beery type; for the lamb the model was someone more like Wally Cox."

Art of Pixar Short Films Boundin' Maquettes
Copyright 2009 Pixar / Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

Or how “Jack-Jack Attack” hadn’t actually started out life as a stand-alone short. But – rather – as a subplot that got dropped from “The Incredibles.” As Brad Bird told Amid:

“I had originally imagined that storyline with the babysitter as a running gag I could cut away to if the action got too slow or the plot machinations became too complicated. But once we started getting the film up on reels, I discovered that the story had enough momentum without it and it was actually a distraction to cut away to the babysitting scenes.”

Art of Pixar Jack Jack short concept art
Copyright 2009 Pixar / Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of fun to be found in just paging through “The Art of Pixar Short Films” and scoping out all of the illustrations. I mean, check out Steve Purcell’s great concept art for the Banshee from “Mater and the Ghostlight.”

Art of Pixar Short Films Banshee concept drawing
Copyright 2009 Pixar / Chronicle Books. All Rights Reserved

Amid Amidi strikes just the right balance with this handsome new hardcover. There are just enough new stories to interest history buffs like myself. While – at the same time – there are enough great illustrations to be found in “The Art of Pixar Short Films” that animation professionals & students of the medium will probably want to pick up a copy of this new Chronicle Book just for inspiration and/or reference purposes.

Long story short: This book about Pixar’s shorts doesn’t sell the Studios’ legacy short at all. So put “The Art of Pixar Short Films” on your short list. And the next time you’re in the neighborhood, make a short stop at your local bookstore and pick up a copy.

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  • Too bad Lassetter wasn't around to decrease Jessica Rabbit's size as well - would have made for a better movie overall without the Dreamworks-style humor.

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