Thoughts on Movies

A Trip to Pixar

Last week, I had a chance along with some friends to tour again the Pixar Animation Studios campus in Emeryville, California. Pixar created Toy Story, the first feature length animated motion picture made entirely using computer-generated imagery. Since then, the studio has made a number of fantastic feature length and short animated films using their trademark blend of cutting edge of technology, beautiful artistry, and authentic storytelling (a complete list of their films is on their website). I have such tremendous respect for the films created by Pixar team, so being able to see this unique place again was an honor and a thrill.

(Photos taken by yours truly unless otherwise noted.)

Driving through the gates is a great way to start

This Pixar employee had an awesome cutout of Miss Fritter from CARS 3 attached to the Jeep’s spare tire

The giant Luxo Jr. and Pixar ball statues in front of The Steve Jobs Building

Luxo Jr. refers to a computer-animated short film done at Pixar in 1986 starring a couple of Luxo brand desk lamps and a ball (the Luxo Jr. lamp is part of the Pixar logo placed at the front of every one of their films). Watch the trailer on YouTube.

We’re going in


I have no selfie game

In his excellent (and highly recommended) book Creativity, Inc., Pixar co-founder and president Dr. Ed Catmull says this about the Pixar campus, which was heavily influenced by the owner of the studio at the time, Apple Computer guru Steve Jobs:

“Built on the site of a former cannery, Pixar’s fifteen-acre campus, just over the Bay Bridge from San Francisco, was designed, inside and out, by Steve Jobs. (Its name, in fact, is The Steve Jobs Building.) It has well-thought-out patterns of entry and egress that encourage people to mingle, meet, and communicate. Outside, there is a soccer field, a volleyball court, a swimming pool, and a six-hundred-seat amphitheater. Sometimes visitors misunderstand the place, thinking it’s fancy for fancy’s sake. What they miss is that the unifying idea for this building isn’t luxury but community. Steve wanted the building to support our work by enhancing our ability to collaborate.”

Once you enter the doors of The Steve Jobs Building, it feels like you’re walking into a more creative version of an Apple retail store. Currently hanging from the sides of main atrium area are giant “papel picado” (Spanish for “perforated paper”) cutouts that are themed to Pixar’s upcoming film Coco.

The atrium of The Steve Jobs Building

COCO-themed “papel picado” (perforated paper)

More papel picado

Beautiful Coco art is hanging on many walls in the atrium.

Loved seeing this concept art from COCO

Fun statues also populate the space.


Luigi, Guido, and The Incredibles welcome everyone walking through the front doors

These statues also populate the lobby–Pixar’s increasing number of awards (Academy Awards and others) for their animated films and shorts.


Pixar’s impressive haul of awards received for their work

From the atrium, we were given a tour of the infamous animators’ office section on the main floor of the building (sorry, no photos allowed). This is the place where the animators are encouraged to decorate their own workspace. Here’s what Ed Catmull had to say about it, again from Creativity, Inc.:

“The animators who work here are free to—no, encouraged to—decorate their work spaces in whatever style they wish. They spend their days inside pink dollhouses whose ceilings are hung with miniature chandeliers, tiki huts made of real bamboo, and castles whose meticulously painted, fifteen-foot-high styrofoam turrets appear to be carved from stone…The point is, we value self-expression here. This tends to make a big impression on visitors, who often tell me that the experience of walking into Pixar leaves them feeling a little wistful, like something is missing in their work lives—a palpable energy, a feeling of collaboration and unfettered creativity, a sense, not to be corny, of possibility. I respond by telling them that the feeling they are picking up on—call it exuberance or irreverence, even whimsy—is integral to our success.”

Needless to say, the animators’ area is really a fun and clever space where these brilliant and talented folks get to put in the long and arduous hours in creating these beloved animated films. It was cool to see director Lee Unkrich at work in the Coco production area. And we also got to see some art from some other upcoming Pixar projects which kind of made my head explode.

We then were taken upstairs (again, no photos allowed…sorry). In one hall, we got to geek out at a stunning display of pre-production art for Coco.

Here’s a trailer for Pixar’s Coco, which opens in U.S. theaters on November 22.

In the opposite hall on the second floor, we got to see some amazing concept art used in the making of Cars 3 (and how cool is that neon sign at the top of the stairs?). Some of this art can be found in the books The Art of Cars and Poster Art of Cars, both highly recommended for any Cars fan. I didn’t want to leave this hall.

Actually, I didn’t want to leave the building. There really is a palpable, positive energy in the place, which I believe comes from both the beautiful work environment and, more importantly, from the talented people at work there. Our tour guide kept it real with us–he knows that he is working in a rarified work environment, but he also was very clear about the challenges and pressures that the artists face daily. He said something really interesting about the importance of problem solving at Pixar which, to quote Ed Catmull one more time (because he says it best), really sums up what makes Pixar so exceptional:

“What makes Pixar special is that we acknowledge we will always have problems, many of them hidden from our view; that we work hard to uncover these problems, even if doing so means making ourselves uncomfortable; and that, when we come across a problem, we marshal all of our energies to solve it. This, more than any elaborate party or turreted workstation, is why I love coming to work in the morning. It is what motivates me and gives me a definite sense of mission.”


The entire gang (📷: Allison Shields)

I left the experience with even more respect for the creative folks at Pixar. I also left feeling creatively re-charged and ready to re-start some of my own creative projects that have been percolating. The Pixar-themed fun continued later that evening when I had some delicious ice cream at Fentons Creamery, which made an appearance at the end of Pixar’s wonderful animated feature film Up.


From the parking lot (and it was a miracle that I even found a place to park–it’s a very popular place)


The ice cream here is legit


Russell, Carl, and Dug (and the rope ladder to the dirigible) at Fentons in UP (©️Pixar)

Thoughts on Movies

Happy Star Wars Day

© Lucasfilm

It’s May 4th, so let me be the millionth person to tell you Happy Star Wars Day and “May the fourth be with you.” Here are some of my favorite posts I’ve seen online today from the many creative folks on the internet.

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#starwarsday #maythe4thbewithyou #starwars

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And some of my Mormon Tabernacle Choir friends might appreciate this one, particularly after tonight’s rehearsal:

Thoughts on Movies

“The Magic of Aardman” Museum Exhibit

I had the pleasure of seeing Aardman Animations‘ “The Magic of Aardman” exhibit at the Deutsches Filmmuseum while in Frankfurt, Germany a few months ago (sorry that I’m a bit slow on this one). The exhibit is a terrific retrospective of the incredibly creative work done at Aardman Animations. I love anything that provides a glimpse into creative endeavor, particularly filmmaking, and this exhibit definitely did not disappoint.

The exibit was created by Aardman Animations in partership with the Art Ludique-Le Musée in Paris, France, where it had its debut in 2015. The Aardman website provided this introduction about it:

“Over 400 concept drawings, character and background studies, watercolours, and storyboards will complete this exceptional exhibition, where one can even discover Nick Park’s sketchbook as a student, containing the first drawings of Wallace and Gromit, never before seen by the public. The exhibition will display numerous screens, allowing visitors to discover as a family the incredible creativity of the studio, through extracts of its most famous films, but also with more than 60 short and feature films, hilarious advertisements or magical video clips.”

Here are a few of my favorite images from the exhibit. (All artwork © Aardman Animations.)

I believe this is a photo of Peter Lord, David Sproxton, and Nick Park–the founders of Aardman Animations

One of my favorites pieces in the exhibit: a set from “Shawn the Sheep–The Movie” with lighting and camera

The exhibit next opens at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne, Australia in June 2017. Here’s a promotional video:

Thoughts on Movies

“The Films of Ron and John” Film Festival

Ron Clements and John Musker are two of my favorite animation directors at Walt Disney Animation Studios. The directorial duo are responsible for making two of the great films of the Disney Animation renaissance during the late 1980s-early 1990s, specifically 1989’s The Little Mermaid and 1992’s Aladdin (one of my all-time personal favorites). 

Ron and John have directed five other films for Walt Disney Animation Studios: 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective, 1997’s Hercules, 2002’s Treasure Planet, 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, and 2016’s Moana (which was just released last weekend and it’s fantastic).

To celebrate the pending release of Moana, Walt Disney Animation Studios put on a retrospective of Ron and John’s films at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California last month. 

I attended two screenings in person at the El Capitan–Treasure Planet on October 10th and The Great Mouse Detective on October 11th–and I watched the other films at home on Blu-ray. I had the distinct, geek-out pleasure of meeting Ron and John before the Treasure Planet screening where they signed some stuff for me and the other 49 people that were first in line. As a happy and unexpected bonus, they then watched the film in the row immediately in front of me after they introduced the film onstage (many thanks to the ticket lady at the El Capitan who happened to sell me a ticket on that row). I felt like I had died and gone to Disney Animation heaven.

Waiting to meet Ron and John (sorry about the blurry pic)

Cool art cards were given out at every screening. Here’s the one for “Treasure Planet.”

Art from the specific film was on display, too. Here are some of the pieces from “Treasure Planet.”

Ron and John talking “Treasure Planet” before they sat in right in front of me for the film’s screening

The screening for The Great Mouse Detective was really enjoyable and informative, too. While Ron and John didn’t attend in person (they gave their remarks in a pre-recorded video played before the film), in attendance were co-director and Disney Legend Burny Mattinson and director and animator Rob Minkoff. 

Waiting in line (and geeking out) to meet Burny Mattinson and Rob Minkoff

Signed art card for “The Great Mouse Detective”

Art from “The Great Mouse Detective” on display

The “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ at the El Capitan

Burny and Rob talking about the production of the film

My only regret is that I couldn’t stay in California for a week to see all six films on the big screen. My thanks to Walt Disney Animation Studios and the El Capitan Theater for putting on such a classy and cool event.

All images © Disney

Thoughts on Movies

“The Little Mermaid” 25th Anniversary

Image © Disney

Image © Disney

Can you believe it’s been 25 years since this film was released? Disney Animation’s The Little Mermaid was issued in
wide release in U.S. theaters on November 17, 1989.

I re-watched the film this week and I don’t think I stopped smiling once. Pure charm and delight from start to finish. I hope you’ll re-watch it soon, too.

Thoughts on Movies

TCM to Sponsor The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park

Image © TCM and Disney

Image © TCM and Disney

Finally, some good news to come out of Walt Disney World. Last month, a Disney spokesperson confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel that the giant, heinous “Sorcerer Mickey” hat that was plopped in front of the replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park in 2001 is going bye-bye (more about my thoughts on this egregious structure are here). Then, yesterday it was announced that Turner Classic Movies (TCM) signed an agreement to sponsor The Great Movie Ride attraction, which is located inside the Chinese Theatre building and is one of the park’s original attractions. Vintage Disney movies and television programs will also be shown quarterly on TCM in a new “Treasures from the Disney Vault” programming block. TCM has put together a press release and a webpage about the new deal. I couldn’t be happier about this latest development.

Once the awful giant hat is removed and the beautiful views restored to the entrance of Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, guests will then be able to see and enjoy The Great Movie Ride with new content at the beginning and end of the ride curated by the pros at TCM. Giant hat removal is scheduled to begin in January 2015. The TCM additions to The Great Movie Ride should hopefully be in place soon thereafter.

The ride has been in need of an update for a long time and TCM is the perfect partner to make this experience great again. I’m also glad that the classic movie theme is staying as the opening act at the Disney’s Hollywood Studios park, a celebration of “the Hollywood that never was and always will be.”

Thoughts on Movies

Happy 25th Anniversary to Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park

You all know that I love Disney theme parks. Disney’s Hollywood Studios park (originally known as the Disney-MGM Studios park until 2008) located at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is celebrating its 25th anniversary today. I first visited this park in 1992 and completely fell in love with its concept, scope, scale, and design. It was like a Disneyland park created as a love letter to the movies with a grand movie palace serving as its castle and centerpiece.

Here’s a pre-opening day image of the park from the Disney Parks Blog.

Image © Disney

Image © Disney

And here’s a shot of the glorious Chinese Theater, a replica of the original Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California, which is still today the ultimate movie palace.

The Chinese Theater (the park's  "castle")

The Chinese Theater (the park’s “castle”)

The park has tremendous potential but continues to struggle due to many factors, including Walt Disney World’s unwillingness to spend the money necessary to make some much needed changes and upgrades to the park’s attractions. One of the things I hate most about the current park is the giant “Sorcerer Mickey” hat (with a pin store underneath it, of all things) that was plopped in front of the Chinese Theater (the park’s “castle”) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney’s birth in 2001. Well, the anniversary promotion/celebration came and left and, 13 years later, the hat is still wrecking the glorious vistas that once were in place.

Who wants to look at the beautiful and perfectly proportioned Chinese Theater when you can look at this?

Who wants to look at the beautiful and perfectly proportioned Chinese Theater when you can look at this?

Since the Walt Disney World team is probably never going to get rid of this egregious structure, I’m just trying to come to terms with it. In fact, here are some ideas that I came up with that Walt Disney World can use in the future for the structure.

Idea 1: Put a giant cutout of Duffy the Disney Bear on the hat.

Idea 1: Put a giant cutout of Duffy the Disney Bear on the hat.

Idea 2: Celebrate Walt Disney World's My Magic+ with the world's largest MagicBand!

Idea 2: Celebrate Walt Disney World’s My Magic+ with the world’s largest MagicBand!

Idea 3: Celebrate the group that put the hat there in the first place...

Idea 3: Celebrate the group that put the hat there in the first place…

Well, enough of that cynical gibberish… My sincere hope is that Walt Disney World guests will be able to enjoy a view of the Chinese Theater again someday that is free of the henious giant Sorcerer Mickey hat (and that the park’s attraction roster will get some TLC, too).

A guy can hope, right? (Image © Disney)

A guy can hope, right? (Image © Disney)

Final image also from the Disney Parks Blog.