A Look Inside the Making Of WALL-E

Check out early sketches of the characters from Pixar's space odyssey, now on DVD.

by | November 19, 2008 | Comments

With the release of WALL-E on DVD this week, Rotten Tomatoes is giving you an inside look into the making of the best-reviewed wide release of the year (Certified Fresh at 96 percent). We toured Pixar studios in September, and learned about the process of crafting this animated sci-fi romp from director Andrew Stanton and others. Click through for a look behind the scenes, as well as some early concept art from Pixar’s latest wonder.

In crafting a feature, Pixar usually spends two to three years on the story. Starting with a script, the film is subsequently storyboarded. The studio used 96,000 storyboards for WALL-E. (Director Andrew Stanton is pictured above, to the right.)

Artists hand-draw storyboards directly into computers, and save them as digital images. Once the storyboards are completed, they are put to reels, or filmstrips of the storyboards, which include scratch dialogue recorded by Pixar employees. The filmmakers never go to the final animation process without recording temporary dialogue.

Character art director Jason Deamer led a small group of artists that designed the look of the characters. The designs go through a series of revisions as the director evaluates them. “We bring it all to the table, and then it’s a selection process,” he said. “I like to think of it as a big ship, and they’re steering it.”

In designing WALL-E and EVE, the artists got a better feel for how the rest of the robots in the film would look. “There was a big evolution with the main characters, because we focus the most attention on them,” Deamer said. “There’s a lot of work there that doesn’t see the screen, but it’s a process that defines not only those characters, but what the rest of the cast will be.”

“Robots are a huge challenge, because robots are function-based machines,” Deamer said. “When you’re drawing them, you can only make up so much stuff that doesn’t actually function, or the person looking at them, even if they’re not engineers themselves, they’re going to notice that that joint wouldn’t actually work. So it became important to look at actual robots. You can only make so much up out of your head.”

In order to create the trash-strewn environment WALL-E inhabits, artists trolled dumps around Oakland, CA, studying the textures and colors of garbage to determine what the main character’s world would look like. “As fantastical as the worlds we create are, we try really hard to bring a sense of reality to them,” said Adrianne Ranft of Pixar University. Though researching the look and feel of the environs is essential for the films, some assignments are better than others. “It was nice for the Ratatouille folks when they took their research trip to Paris,” she said.

More character sketches.

Early takes on the Axiom.

WALL-E‘s vision of outer space.

Stanton was profoundly influenced by silent comedy. Since WALL-E has next to no dialogue, the story had to be furthered in another way. “We went and watched one Buster Keaton and one Charlie Chaplin movie per day,” he said. “What it did was confirmed our gut [instinct], which was that there’s nothing you can’t get across if you ripped away everything and could only do it visually. Those guys, through staging and edition and pantomime can convey anything. It gave us the courage to say, ‘There’s gotta be a way to get this across.'”

The WALL-E DVD contains two deleted scenes, which is rare for Pixar. In each case, Stanton recognized late in the process that the respective scenes didn’t fit with the overall picture. “We have more of what you’d expect a deleted scene to be than the other movies,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that we only animate a section of a film when we know it’s working. It’s so expensive to animate it. At least we recognized it and we fixed it. We just fixed it so much later than we’re used to.”

For RT’s interview with Stanton and sound designer Ben Burtt, click here. To take a look inside Pixar Studios, click here. For all of RT’s WALL-E-related headlines, click here.

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