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Learning from Pixar

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By Gordon Meyer
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A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a really fun media event presented by Sony Pictures Animation at their historic Culver City lot.   Christmas came early at this event, with real snow on the ground, Victorian carolers, and lots of comfort food as Sony gave members of the press an advance look at their CG animated holiday feature, “Arthur Christmas,” which opens November 23.

This is Sony’s first joint production with the British animation house Aardman Animations, the creators of the successful “Wallace and Gromit” series.  While most of the production work was done here in California, significant elements of the film were created at Aardman’s studio in Bristol, England.  Thanks to the wonders of technology, the US and UK teams were able to seamlessly collaborate on the film using shared files.  You’ll be able to read more about this in the December issue of P3 Update.

At the media event, Sony showed the first 30 minutes of the film (in 2D, darn it, even though the completed feature will be in 3D).  If that first 30 minutes is indicative of how the rest of the movie will play, I think they’ve got a solid hit on their hands.  Call it, for lack of a better term, the “Pixar Effect.”

When the first “Toy Story” came out over a decade ago, pundits excitedly proclaimed its success was because it was visually exciting as the very first computer generated animated film.  But they missed the point, the same way these same “experts” said “Avatar” was a hit because it was in 3D.

Audiences flocked to both films because John Lasseter and James Cameron are first and foremost STORYTELLERS.  They crafted solid stories featuring very human characters (in spite of their non-human forms) that audiences cared about and became emotionally invested in.  Because Lasseter and his team at Pixar put a huge emphasis on making sure they have the foundation of a great story and three dimensional characters in all their films, their films all do gangbusters business at the box office.

I bring this up because those first 30 minutes of “Arthur Christmas” indicate that writer/director Sarah Smith and co-writer Peter Baynham obviously come from the same school of storytelling.  While it’s not appropriate for me to review the film based on a partial screening, I will say that I saw a lot of heart along with the humor and a film that effectively uses the CG medium as a storytelling tool.

So why am I bringing this up in a publication aimed at below the line professionals?  Because successful movies mean more jobs for everyone.  And it’s helpful to remind everyone that the most successful movies of all time, regardless of their genre or format, are stories superbly written.

Kudos to the creative teams at Aardman and Sony.  Keep up the great work!

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