Fri
Jun 22 2012 3:00pm

Pixar: Two Early Works

Pixar: Two Early WorksBrave is Pixar’s 13th feature but the studio started by making short films and they are still an important part of the studio. John Lasseter has stated that making shorts was a great way for him to gain experience as a filmmaker and that this is why Pixar continues to make short films: they are at the root of the studio success and I’d like to take a quick look at two early works that were key to making Pixar what it is today.

 

The Adventures of Andre and Wally B

The Adventures of Andre and Wally B is the first short made by Pixar. It’s a quite simple film really: André wakes up from a nap in the woods only to be confronted by a giant bee (Wally), a chase ensues, the end.

It’s a very simple film. The idea was to tell a short story and show people just what could be done with a computer. Like many first steps, it’s very simple, but already points to what computer animation would become.

The limitations of the technology at the time were severe, Lasseter could only use geometrical shapes (spheres, cubes, etc..) but still pushed the envelope by insisting on a teardrop shape for Andre’s body. “The Adventures of Andre and Wally Bee” stands out from other early computer animation because what makes the film isn’t software, though several innovations were used, it’s the application of traditional animation principles. Upon seeing the film, Siggraph attendees cheered. It didn’t matter that the film wasn’t in its final form (parts were still in wireframe). Compared to the flying logos and simulations people were used to seeing, it was new and refreshing and showed them just what computer animation could do.

 

The Stained Glass Knight

The feature Young Sherlock Holmes elicits a variety of reactions, some love it, others hate it. The one thing everyone at the time could agree on was that is had excellent special effects, some of which were unique at the time. And one had a rather unique distinction, one most people would be unaware of: the effects people in the audience who hadn’t worked on the film just couldn’t figure out how it was done. Not before reading the credits at the end that is, at which point they realized not only what the tools were used (computers) but just how far they had come.

It’s a rather short sequence, and while a modern day director would be tempted to overdo it, but the minimalist approach used, dictated by the limits of hardware (a Vax-780 – whatever you’re using to view this post is more powerful), software, and the undoubtedly tight production schedule, make the stained glass knight that much more effective as he advances on his doomed victim.

Neither of these were made at Pixar as we know it today, rather they were made by The Graphics Group, a division of Lucasfilm that was eventually bought by Steve Jobs and turned into Pixar.

What’s interesting about them is that they show just how early computer animation split between visual effects and animated films. The same software and skills are needed for both, but the results are very different. The same people worked on Andre and Wally B and the Stained Glass Knight. We can be thankful that they didn’t all end up doing visual effects for other people’s films.


René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics, this has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He looks forward to living on Mars where he would benefit from having more than 24 hours in a day.

4 comments
Adam Beyer
1. Adam Beyer
Pixar's first short film was Luxo Jr, not Andre & Wally B. They make shorts to test new rendering technology, field test new directors without risking feature budgets, and garner awards by being standouts in a category usually occupied by amateurs and semi-professionals.
Walter Underwood
2. wunder
Several years ago I went to an Alvy Ray Smith talk at The Exploratorium, where he showed several shorts and talked about them. The exceptional things about André & Wally B are the backgrounds and the motion blur. The realistic backgrounds were what was cheered at SIGGRAPH. Note that the "Forest Design and Rendering" is the first credit, before the character animator. Each rendered forest background required millions of polygons, probably more polygons than pixels, a crazy idea at the time.

If you want a lot more detail, read The Making of André & Wally B by Alvy Ray Smith.
Brian R
3. Mayhem
@Adam,
As the article says, neither short was made by Pixar, they were made by the guys who would later form Pixar while still working for Lucasfilm.

As such Andre & Wally B came out in December 1984, two years before Luxo Jr in August 1986 when Pixar became an independant studio.

@wunder

Now that is a cool article, thanks for linking!
Adam Beyer
4. Wei (the archer)
I'm always amazed at Pixar's "magic". They can always spun out beautiful animation out of their fingers! Actually, that was quite literal, but enchanced with drawing pencils and computer graphics and BAM, voila, a good and enjoyable movie!

I'm intrigued by these short clips. It shows the development of Pixar as an animation company, and if I may venture to say, they have improved (and keep improving) a WHOLE lot with every movie they make. I'm proud of them.

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