My Wee Part in Bug's Life

Not An Offical Bug's Life Page, But This Is!

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.
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 Disney Company.
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Updated Nov 98 Feedback Home