Toy Story 3

Interview mit Darla K. Anderson & Lee Unkrich – Teil 1

Am Montag vergangene Woche war es endlich soweit, der Pixarblog hatte ein Interview mit Toy Story 3 Regisseur Lee Unkrich und Produzentin Darla K. Anderson.

Allerdings war es nicht ganz so wie ich es mir vorgestellt hatte. Es saßen zu viele Journalisten mit am „virtuellen Tisch“ und stellten die üblichen Standardfragen. Fragen, die Pixarfans und Liebhaber des Animationgenre bereits selber beantworten können und im Schlaf aufsagen können. :)

Das Interview dauerte fast zwei Stunden und wurde von einer Moderator geführt, der sich die „besten“ Fragen rausgesucht und an die beiden weitergeleitet hat.

Ich habe die Fragen und Antworten mit Absicht nicht übersetzt, da ich wahrscheinlich den „Flair“ und eigentlichen Sinn der Antworten zerstören würde. Also dann Ihr lieben, einen schönen Wochenstart wünsche ich allen.

© Disney/Pixar · Alle Rechte vorbehalten.

What sequence in this film were you most proud of, and why?

Darla Anderson: I would say the last sequence in the film, „Goodbye Andy,“ and the reason why is because from the get go it was always a really poignant and emotional touchstone for the movie. I just love how it brings this trilogy to a really amazing conclusion.

Directing a sequel while the original director is looking over your shoulder can be daunting. How involved was John Lasseter during TS3’s development?

Lee Unkrich: Its true, when John first asked me to direct Toy Story 3 I was simultaneously flatterd and intimidated. Luckily though I’ve worked closely with John since the very first Toy Story. We very much made Toy Story and Toy Story 2 together. John trusted me to take the reins of Toy Story 3, and made it clear from the very begining that he wanted this to be my film. That being said, John was involved in the film and contributed creatively throughout the four years of production.

Do you think growing up in Glendale, C.A and being so close to Hollywood had anything to do with becoming a producer?

Darla Anderson: Well probably. I was around entertainment a lot, growing up near the industry, but mostly I fell in love with films and film-making. When I saw my first images of computer animation, it was love at first sight. I was immediately attracted to what I thought was the best studio doing the most exciting things, which was Pixar. Certainly being around LA, growing up and seeing films being made all over the city was exciting, and I definitely wanted to be a part of it.

What sequence in this film were you most proud of, and why?

Lee Unkrich: I love the entire film but I guess the sequence that I am most proud of is the scene in the incinerator toward the end of the film. It was very important to me that we handle the moment truthfully and respectfully. The toys are real to us and I wanted to take the moment seriously. They face their end with a quiet dignity and the power of the moment proved to be one of the emotional centerpieces of the film. I think the animation is among the best in the film. I am very proud of the work my animators did in that scene. I believe that the audience forgets in that moment that they are watching an animated film and find themselves fully engrossed in the drama.

Pixar films have added progressively darker elements over the past several years. Has this been a planned thing to push the boundaries of what you can get away with in an animated film?

Lee Unkrich: I wouldn’t say that our films are getting darker, but I would say that we have been exploring more mature ideas. That’s not because of any grand plan. I think its because we are all growing up and living life and raising families and we have started to become interested in different things. We do strive, however to balance the heavier emotion with great comedy and entertainment. I think the best films are the films that allow us to feel a lot of different feelings, wether they be laughter or sadness or tension. We like the films to be very well rounded.

What’s the secret of toy story 3 that has made it the most successful Pixar movie ever?

Darla Anderson: Well I don’t think there’s any particular secret. What I do think is that Toy Story started this whole industry. It was the first film that introduced the world to this new medium of computer animation, and it was such an appealing story with such classic themes that related to people’s childhoods. These characters have become a part of world wide culture and there’s enormous ownership and connection with them and these stories. In that way, it was enormous pressure to make a film that was worthy of people’s expectations.

Years ago, technological advances allowed to see major changes or advances between a movie and the next, watching more and more realistic and credible elements. Have we already reached the top level in terms of visuals? What have been the main challenges in this direction with ‚Toy Story 3‘?

Lee Unkrich: It’s true that for a long time, we were limited in the stories that we could tell by the state of technology. With each new film we created, we had to overcome technological limitations to put the stories we wanted to tell up on screen. After sixteen years of making our movies, we’ve now gotten to the point where just about anything that we can dream up, we can now realize on screen. These are very exiting times. As far as Toy Story 3 is concerned, the biggest breakthroughs we made were in the depiction of the human characters. We spent a great deal of time making the humans as believable and appealing as possible. I knew that the final scene of the film hinged on the performances of humans, and thus, we had to make them great.

I’ve seen some incredible Toy Story interactive book on iPad. How much are you interested at Pixar in new opportunities of storytelling thru new media? Do you think you’ll always be a film company or that maybe in the future you will develop standalone projects for different media?

Darla Anderson: We’re a film company first and foremost. If we’ve done our job correctly, then people will want a lot of these ancillary products because they fall in love with the characters. There’s a lot of people at Pixar with a lot of talent so they are telling stories in different ways, but what brought us all to Pixar is our enormous love of filmmaking.

How was your world tour with Lee? Besides the stress, did you have the possibility to see or experience something while visiting other countries and cultures?

Darla Anderson: The world tour was a great adventure. We both brought our families with us and so we were able to experience all kinds of different cultures and visit all kinds of locations that we normally wouldn’t be able to do. I can honestly say that we thoroughly enjoyed every country we went to and it was fascinating to see how much people have taken Buzz and Woody and the gang into their homes and hearts and families.

Did you consider dropping Slinky Dog from the movies due to Jim Varney’s passing?

Lee Unkrich: When Jim passed away right after we made Toy Story 2, I had momentary thoughts about whether we should retire the character. However, John Lasseter pointed out to me that when the original voice of Mickey Mouse died, they didn’t retire Mickey Mouse. The actors are a huge part of creating the characters in the first place, but once they’ve been created, the characters take on a life of their own and live beyond the original creators. We will forever be thankful to Jim for his contribution to Slinky Dog, and are thankful that the world has wanted to see the character live on.

Did any of the actors in the movie approach you to voice a character in the movie? Do actors approach you for roles in Pixar movies in general?

Darla Anderson: Yes, actors do approach us, but in the case of Toy Story 3, we approached everybody in our film first. All of our actors are so talented and help us imbue so much life and soul into these characters. It doesn’t hurt that most of them have such brilliant comedic timing and colorful voices.

Lee, you were co-directing for a long time before having the chance of directing your film. can you tell me how talents are trained at Pixar to have one day the possibility to direct a feature film?

Lee Unkrich: Pixar is an amazing place, filled with people from many different backgrounds. I originally came to Pixar from a live-action background, and was one of the few in the company who had worked in that field. I ended up bringing a vital live-action sensibility to the films we were creating and thus, became an indispensable part of the core team. John Lasseter made it clear to me that he wanted me to eventually direct at Pixar. After being given the opportunity to co-direct many films, he finally asked me to direct Toy Story 3 solo. That was my personal path, but the directors at the studio have each had their own individual path. I wouldn’t say folks are groomed to direct, but rather, their singular voices as filmmakers are recognized and nurtured.

What were Michael Arndt’s contributions to TS3? What was the rationale for bringing him on board?

Lee Unkrich: I started working with Michael prior to beginning work on Toy Story 3. His film, Little Miss Sunshine, had not yet come out. He proved to be a fantastic collaborator and a brilliant story mind. When John Lasseter asked me to direct Toy Story 3, the first person I turned to was Michael. I asked him to write the screenplay, and thankfully, he accepted. It’s been wonderful, not only having him contribute to Toy Story 3, but also to watch his own personal journey from struggling writer to Academy Award-winning screenwriter. At the beginning of Toy Story 3, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and I came up with the bare bones beginnings of the story, and then Michael ran full-time with fleshing out the story and helping to bring it to life.

What is the most important part of your job?

Darla Anderson: I think the most important part of my job is to focus on story. We have such enormously talented teams at Pixar that they can only do so much if the story isn’t working so I do everything I can to provide an environment and focus to make story the priority. After that, the rest of my job is highly detail oriented. However, things tend to fall into place when we center everything on the story

I am curious for both Lee and Darla…how long did Toy Story 3 take to make?

Darla Anderson: Four years, three months. People sometimes think that’s a really long time, but for us, that’s just enough time. It takes a long time to create these believable worlds and characters. The fact that these characters have back stories and are so real to people doesn’t come easily.

Was there a point that you felt yourself going off-track with this film, and how did you get back on?

Lee Unkrich: Every single day, especially in the early days. Storytelling is a very messy process, and you often find yourselves heading down blind alleys. However, even a blind alley can yield a little idea or an entertaining moment that you never would have come up with if you hadn’t ventured down that blind alley. Luckily, I’m surrounded by amazing storytellers, and we all help each other find our way through the forest. I’ve been on films that had more troubles than Toy Story 3. It went more smoothly than most. However, that’s not to say it wasn’t difficult.

Lee, what lead you into the field of directing?

Lee Unkrich: I’ve always loved movies, and grew up watching lots of films. My mother is also a film fan, and she exposed me to many different kinds of films when I was growing up. When I was twelve, I saw Stanley Kubrick’s film ‚The Shining‘, and it ignited a passion for filmmaking that has never abated. I went to the USC School of Cinema to study film, and although I wanted to direct, I ended up specializing in film editing. It was my work in editing that brought me to Pixar, which ultimately gave me the opportunity to start directing again.

© Disney/Pixar · Alle Rechte vorbehalten.

What is the most important part of your job?

Lee Unkrich: I work with hundreds of talented artists and and animators and other creative folks. They are all extremely focused on working on their individual parts of the film. My job is to give them guidance and direction as they do their work, but most importantly, my job requires me to be able to step back and see the film as a whole. I’m the one person who needs to know how all the millions of individual parts will fit together into the final film to form an engaging, emotional, funny, fully entertaining experience for the audience.

In the film we can see Totoro. Was your decision to appear this character in the movie? Is this some kind of tribute to Hayao Miyazaki?

Lee Unkrich: Absolutely. We have all been longtime fans of Miyazaki’s work, and have gotten to be friends with him. We saw the Totoro doll’s inclusion in the film as a perfect nod to the friendship between our studios.

Years ago, technological advances allowed to see major changes or advances between a movie and the next, watching more and more realistic and credible elements. Have we already reached the top level in terms of visuals? What have been the main challenges in this direction with ‚Toy Story 3‘?

Darla Anderson: It’s true that we’ve accomplished so much in our field and conquered many of the areas that were previously impossible for us. It’s no coincidence that the first Toy Story used plastic toys as subject matter, as that was the easiest thing for the computers to handle back in the day. But still on Toy Story 3, we accomplished some things we hadn’t done before. I’m very proud of the humans in this film. It was critical that they be appealing and believable because we always knew what the ending would be and so the characters needed to be able to act beautifully with great nuance. I wouldn’t say that we’ve reached the top level in terms of visuals. I think it’s very interesting to see what various filmmakers do with these tools, and there’s no limit to the imagination. Toy Story 3’s particular challenges also had to do with the multiple characters in both the human and toy world, lots of kids, lots of toys, all wearing clothes that are very difficult for the computer to compute.

TS3 has lots of references to genres like thriller, romance, drama, adventure etc., resulting in a more „feature film“-like feeling compared to most other CGI-movies. When and why did you decide to go into that direction?

Lee Unkrich: We just went where the story told us to go. We decided early on that we wanted the middle of the film to be a kind of „prison break“. As a result, we visited prisons and watched every prison break movie that’s ever been been made. We thought it was a fun direction to go with the film. In the end, I strongly believe that the best films are the ones that give us a full experience at the movies — the movies that somehow can make us laugh and cry and be scared and be reminded of the love in our own lives. We really strived to give the audience this same, full experience with Toy Story 3.

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