My Wee Part in Bug's Life
Not An Offical Bug's Life Page, But
A Bugs's Life opens
nationwide on 25 Nov 98.
As you surely know, the film was
made by Pixar Animation
Studios in conjuction with Disney. Unlike
Toy Story, there was no additonal paper corporation --
Pixar produced the film directly.
Your humble correspondent was fortunate to
have worked on A Bug's Life from fall of '96 through completion
of layout in June '98, after which I went on to a long vacation and then to
Hawaii to work on Final Fantasy.
Unlike Toy Story,
the crew efforts on Bugs were much more focused. Few
people worked across narrow departmental boundaries. But then,
the second film started with a much larger crew, and folks
had to specialize....
I was in the layout
department throughout the film, and made a few forays into other
departments, such as assisting the crowd team and doing support
for the "Pixar University" animation classes. In addition to
laying out hundreds of shots, I also handled writing and
rewriting a lot of the layout and animation production software,
camera focus and fog tools, administrative web pages, etc etc
etc. Hey, somebody had to do it.
- Did you use NatPix software on A Bug's Life?
- Almost! I did some ant-crowd test using Blizzard but
it was decided that a different tool would be needed so that
the ants could animate more accurately in 3D (i.e., they had
to walk and look etc). Adding those features onto
Blizzard would have been just as hard as building a
new system from scratch, so... a new system was built from
scratch, directly-compatable with Pixar's Menv software.
- Did you use any Mac software?
- Yes! Photoshop, photoshop, photoshop. I also occasionally
found it easier to do image format conversions on the mac,
and used my mac at home as an additional XWindows station so
I wouldn't have to drive 20 miles to Pixar to review shots at
2, 3, or 4AM. I could even control the digital video system
in Pixar's screening room -- from my living room.
- What exactly does a Layout Artist do?
- Bridge the gap between the storyboard and what's actually going
to be animated. Pick the lens. Put the camera in there. Put
Flik here, and Hopper down there. Move Heimlich over there.
Make sure that the characters have all their props, that
their arms are connected, and that this shot matches the
shots that surround it. Make sure you're not looking at the
part of the grass that was never modelled. Make the scene
read in the simplest graphic way, played back as complete
scenes with sound. Work with the director and the editors to
be sure the story plays clearly. Animation tradition calls
the job "layout," but in live-action it would
probably be called "staging," but overlapping with
the DP, since the 3D layout artist is also a cameraman. In some
ways it is like the common Japanese live-action method -- the camera
director lines up the shots and so forth, and only later do the
lighting director and gaffer show up to deal with the chosen
framing (despite that, on A Bug's Life the person in charge
of lighting, who had been uninvolved with camera choices, was
given the title "Director of Photography." Don't ask me).
- Are there anime influences in A Bug's Life??
- Yes, but don't read too much into them.
- Of course we watched Nausicaa
- During an inspiration screening, I did run some sequences
from Giant Robo because some of the characters in that
series leap amazing distances rapidly -- like a bug. But the
moves, while cool, were a bit too over the top for Pixar.
- So what about the next movie from Pixar?
- Toy Story
IIis due in 1999, and another film code-named Hidden
City (named after a restaurant near Pixar's Richmond
studios) is due the year following. I doubt they'll stop making
films at that point, so expect more to come....
- Is Pixar a great place to work?
- Sadly (to my mind) it's not the studio that made Toy
Story any more. Pixar is packed full of people I admire,
and many that I consider my friends (many were my friends
long before I worked there...). Pixar has also become
phenomenally wealthy, and that's had a big effect on the
day-to-day flavor of the place. Anyway, I'm working on
Final Fantasy now!
A Bug's Life is © 1998 Pixar and © 1985 The Walt
Updated Nov 98
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