Pixar's Dylan Brown at Emily Carr

It's gold when you find someone that is good at the thing they do, good at explaining the thing they do, and good at entertaining you when they're explaining the thing they do. Last Thursday I found gold in Dylan Brown, Creative Director of Pixar Canada, at his talk for the Emily Carr's Presidents' Lecture Series: Pixar's Film Making Process - with an emphasis on the application of traditional fine art skills in the digital realm.

Dylan Brown at Emily Carr

As you would expect from a man who's worked on A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and The Incredibles the presentation was packed with lots of art and animation examples. Brown discussed both the physics of movement and importance of the art. What set this presentation apart from similar presentations I've seen in the past was Brown's clarity around one unifying aspect of the work:

It's all about the story.

The presentation was an hour and a half with approximately 200 slides, so this will only touch the surface of his presentation. Not coming from a fine arts background, my take is probably a little different than others in the room. Here are some of the moments I remember.

Remy and Linguini from RatatouilleBrown described in brief the process of creating Remy the rat from Ratatouille. They had many choices. For example, they could have made him very human looking, like the Stuart Little character was in the movie of the same name, or gone for a very realistic look. Since Remy was a rat that wanted to be in the human world they wanted to reinforce his outsider status by not making him look too human. They also decided to make his body closed in, visually amplifying one of Remy's character traits. The physical choices reinforced the story arc. Brown showed concept sketches and animations of the artist's exploration that lead to the final look.

Studying the way something moves is important, it adds an authenticity to the character. If you've chosen well, the movement of the real thing or animal you've based your character on will reinforce the traits of the character. For example, the real life movement of the regal tang fish used for the Dory character in Finding Nemo was perfect for expressing her character traits.

Matching real life movement alone isn't enough, movement happens in a context.

In discussing the animation of movement Brown elaborated on the importance of context and authenticity. It isn't enough for the character to move. The character needs a purpose for moving. Brown even practiced this with his animation tests. He showed us a video clip of a head movement test for the Linguini character in Ratatouille. It was a short clip of Linguini's head moving and changing expression. He then gave us a rather strange back story he made up while doing the test to give the movement a purpose, and played the clip a second time. Laughter filled the room as we imagined what Linguini was seeing based on his facial expressions. It wasn't pretty.

Lack of proper motivation leads to cliche.

Brown had lots of other practical advice. He said when exploring a concept try lots of things and pay as much attention to what isn't working as to what is working. The things that don't work establish a boundary that is important to know about. If a concept drawing is too creepy, cheery, dark, or light, you now know where the limit is of that thing.

Though a single person can't do everything, and shouldn't try, interests in other disciplines are a good thing. There's a special bonus to knowing other storytelling art forms like drama and acting.

Perhaps his most important piece of advice, in my opinion: Never be afraid to throw away something that isn't working. Throughout his presentation he referenced Pixar projects that had gone down a wrong path and had to be started over. As important was why; the false paths weren't being true to the story, and it's all about the story.

Of particular interest to the Emily Carr students was Pixar's requirement for all forms of artist, not just digital animators. A tremendous amount of art is created using many mediums before the first digital work is created. Brown had slide after slide of example demonstrating the point.

I've only touched the surface of Dylan Brown's presentation. If you get a chance to hear him speak in person, don't hesitate to go! You'll not only be entertained, you'll feed your brain.

I'll end as Brown did with his last slide: Though there's always room for improvement you should celebrate and acknowledge your achievements.


Marina wrote 11 years 43 weeks ago


It's official. I'm SOOOOOOOOOOOOO dragging you to the next SIGGRAPH event. ;)

dale wrote 11 years 43 weeks ago



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