Recent Comments

WALL-E
Morgan Jaffe

What I found interesting about the montage is that WALL-E’s non-apocalyptic future could be seen as a repeat of the past. The montage might not be artistic mediums of the past, but showing how the future is essentially the starting over of humanity. I agree that this is showing “an attempt to avoid having to endure the many disasters of the twentieth century a second time,” but the humans of 2805 are reliving the artistic and cultural wonders a second time.

It’s as if EVE the finding of the plant represents a second big bang, and as such the montage shows the world starting over - but instead of cavemen doing the drawings it is the humans of the year 2805 who have finally returned to earth. On the ship the society depended on technology, and they would not eat, walk, or think without it. They must now relearn what made humans and civilizations great: how to build the wondrous Pyramids, the storytelling of Greek myths, art, music, and architecture.

Now, returned to earth, they must learn to make fire as their caveman ancestors once did; but they are not alone; they now have help from WALL-E and EVE. They must learn how to be an intelligent society again along with technology, and how to not repeat the destruction that caused them to flee earth in the first place.

At the end of the montage, WALL-E and EVE walk to a tree. Panning down, underneath the green grass and dirt are the roots, leading to an old boot. This could further show that the montage isn’t an homage to the past, but that the humans of 2805 have had to start over, learning from history (but not repeating the mistakes).

Masters of Sex
Simone Becque

Sorry for not commenting during the week, but time got away from me and I wanted to return to your thoughtful post. I am struck to by the way Masters of Sex treats its college setting. I think “Masters of Sex” also uses the academy setting to confer some respectability to an otherwise tawdry subject. I wonder if the show’s period setting allows it the freedom to glorify it’s intellectuals unhindered. My question is, to the extent that it’s a question and not just an observation, but could we imagine that same sort of reverence and wonder in a non-period piece? Could we imagine such a show set in present day that is working to reclaim the work of intellectuals in an academic setting, especially those not as interested in the so called “hard sciences”? (The closest I can some would perhaps be something like Fringe, though he is a disgraced scientist).

Alla Gadassik

Roger, I really appreciate your connection between proprietary software in the animation industry and debates about open/closed programming elsewhere. I’ve been thinking about this case study in connection to a much older history of animation technology development (Earl Hurd’s patent of the animation “cel” sheet; Fleischer Studio’s development of the rotoscope apparatus; Disney’s investment in colour printing methods and the multi-plane camera method, etc.) Within this history, proprietary ownership and exclusivity was an important strategy for differentiating one studio’s style from the next. Mark Langer has written about this in connection to Disney and Fleischer studios, especially. Some of the same is true of the contemporary CGI animation landscape I briefly sketched out, wherein CGI auteurs like John Lasseter (Pixar CCO), James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Roberto Rodriguez (and so forth) hold major investments in digital effects R&D companies. Proprietary ownership and development of technology remains key to animation studio differentiation and competition in the digital context. However, your remarks reminded me that RenderMan, as a digital technology, also fits into a more recent history of software technology development. As the latter is not my area of expertise, I can offer but a few comments from my perspective and through this particular case study. If we separate Pixar-entertainment from Pixar-technology-R&D (the two are closely intertwined, but also separate in some key respects), we can say that Pixar-entertainment fosters a closed, exclusive, and proprietary approach to animation technology, while Pixar-technology-R&D absolutely depends on collaboration both within and without the animation industry. For example, the latest Pixar software development “Presto!”, which I briefly linked in my post, was developed in collaboration with Intel and has itself been used as an Intel success story. Then, Presto! was used for an in-house Pixar film (“Monsters University”), making sure that Pixar-entertainment is the first innovator of the technology and the first to explore the potentialities of the software. So to answer your question, Pixar will keep a temporal advantage. However, eventually, the software will take on a new life, as it is sold and distributed to other companies through channels like Pixar’s “RenderMan University”and used by other studios. In fact, it is not uncommon for a CGI-heavy film to include programs and technologies that can be traced to otherwise competing studios. As such, one can say that Pixar-technology a tool for creating Pixar-entertainment products, but one can also say that Pixar-entertainment products are a tool for promoting and selling Pixar-technology. Whether or not this system fosters a network of smaller independent companies like Fido or not — that question fits into the ongoing software and hardware debates that you mentioned. As you effectively phrase it, the technology helps to “mushroom” an industry. But at the same time, RenderMan is sold to companies, it’s not offered as an open-source program. A one-year student subscription to the full RenderMan package currently runs at $200.

Roger Almendarez

Thank you for your contribution this week. I found your exploration of the ways that in-house software development has led to the growth of popular CGI companies like Pixar particularly fascinating. As you mentioned early on in the article, Pixar’s “RenderMan” has allowed companies like FIDO to thrive as “success stories” rather than Pixar competitors. I am drawn to your conclusion here because proprietary software is often discussed by open source advocates as a way of squelching creativity and limiting the growth of users, and by extension, consumers that could not afford those programs to then become producers. Not to mix technologies, but as someone that has been frustrated with certain companies for using proprietary cables with their hardware, I am generally opposed to the development of proprietary tech. However, your contribution to In Media Res this week seems to have found evidence that demonstrates how proprietary tech can still serve to mushroom an industry while also supporting a closed software system. I wonder, does Pixar use the same software that it sells, or does it somehow distribute a limited program that still grants Pixar an advantage by giving the company access to a more feature-rich version to produce better/more-easily-rendered animations? Thanks again for the great article!

remyandlinguinipuppet
Alla Gadassik

In Shamus Culhane’s “Talking Animals and Other People,” Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s “The Illusion of Life,” and many other first-person accounts of working at the Walt Disney Studios in the 1930s-1950s, one finds many of the same collaborative production techniques that are attributed to Braintrust. To prevent the dreaded “waste” of animated labor (the costs of reshooting a live-action film scene, in most cases, pale in comparison to the economic crisis of botching an animated scene), the Disney studio demanded: peer brainstorming and feedback at almost every stage, hierarchical checks and balances, reviews and approvals. Animators write about screening rough drafts of their scenes in the “sweat box,” a hot room in which no feelings were spared, but which was ostensibly done for the benefit of the animator and the cultivation of the best product with the widest appeal. One objective of the management system was to create a ladder that would conform all animation to Walt Disney’s vision. But even without the oversight of Walt Disney personally, we can think about this collaborative process as integral to maintaining a continuous and unified aesthetic style/brand — in other words, the workshops in some respects operated as limiting and correcting mechanisms. Keeping in mind this longer historical connection, and taking cue from Eric’s comment on brand management, perhaps we might think of Braintrust as Pixar’s version of Uncle Walt.

remyandlinguinipuppet
Eric Herhuth

I find discussion of Pixar’s Braintrust quite ironic in light of the themes of Ratatouille. The trust seems to operate in many ways as the final arbiters of taste—they are Anton Ego. And the studio has deliberately foregrounded the success and significance of this Braintrust, as it is referenced in nearly all publications about/by Pixar. I suspect that this rhetoric supports the efficacy of brand management on two levels. First, audiences trust this group to deliver quality content in the way that every brand wants to be trusted. Second, the Braintrust probably contributes to internal organization. The approval of this group may make or break a person’s career. I would be interested in comparisons of Pixar’s organization to other technology start-ups, in which, I suspect, there exists much blurring between collaboration and competition.

remyandlinguinipuppet
Christopher Holliday

Hi Ethan, and thank you for your response to the post! There is little doubt that the Pixar Braintrust has offered an effective and highly productive working culture for the studio, yielding particularly strong results in the case of Ratatouille (winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2007). But as a disclaimer to this, Bird’s film was conceptualised, produced and released at a time when Pixar themselves were at the height of their powers. Bird’s involvement (following the removal of Pinkava) was intended to eradicate a mild staleness apparently seeping into the studio’s computer-animated features, and to preserve the winning formula that the previous film Cars had otherwise deserted, albeit admittedly only at certain junctures. Yet Pixar’s more recent critical and commercial “downward” turn when compared against other contemporary animation studios, divisions and subsidiaries has since reframed the Braintrust as more of a necessary ‘go to’ operation. The challenge posed by DreamWorks, Blue Sky and now Illumination Entertainment to Pixar’s seemingly-unwavering animated authority has given greater visibility to the inner workings of the Braintrust at a time when How to Train Your Dragon (2010) and the Despicable Me films (2010 & 2013) have performed in a way that Pixar’s Cars 2 (2011), Brave (2012) and Monsters University (2013) have not. While the Braintrust certainly recasts studio involvement as a more positive enerprise by weakening the cliche of agreeable filmmakers having to appease clueless corporate interference, it is a model becoming increasingly viewed as an urgent intercession and recourse to a ‘panic mode’ style of working rather than simply a useful step within the creative process. While the Braintrust is perhaps charged more than ever with having to save the Pixar studio in the face of more sustained competition, its future success may ultimately be measured away from its original application. The creative merger between Disney and Pixar, and the influence (and seeming success) of the Pixar Braintrust when implemented at their parent company too, suggests it is an operation that can be successfull applied, adopted and reworked. Given the critical plaudits directed towards Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and now Frozen, the notion of a “Braintrust” more broadly also demands greater focus be placed upon those industrial processes underscoring how today’s animated features are actually made.

remyandlinguinipuppet
ethan tussey

Thank you for starting out week on Pixar. I really appreciated your piece and was wondering if this is an example of a highly effective working relationship that gets stretched when too much is demanded. With Pixar leadership now overseeing much of Disney (as you pointed out) is there any indication that their success can continue? Or do they fold over the demands of expectation and a lack of “start-up” style chemistry?

Simone Becque

Thanks Ethan! I too am interested to see this next season of Girls. I wonder if they will use Hannah’s time away from the City as a time for her personal growth, but then again, knowing what we know about Hannah, that seems in part unlikely. It seems unlikely, for instance, that Hannah would respond well to criticism of her writing, even from people she respects. I also interested to see the Iowa story line develop given that Iowa has denied them the chance to film on campus, meaning the majority of their shooting will perhaps be non-classroom related.

ethan tussey

I really enjoyed your post as it is something that I have noticed with interest. For this reason, I am very excited to see what HBO’s Girls will do with Hannah going to grad school in the next season. In the show it is treated as a life changing positive but we know from the show’s tone that Hannah may not be the best avatar for a likable grad student. I am interested to hear about your thoughts on the potential of this show taking on this world?