Extended: Pixar sits atop the Animation Movie World

Andrew Huff (’10)/Eastside Staff

After the theater goes dark, the screen illuminates as a quirky, white lamp hops on its base, silently yet radiating with humor, towards the word “Pixar,” so it may takes its place in the title.

The oddball opening for Pixar Animation Studios’ films shows only a fraction that the company has accomplished in the field of animation. Pixar has amassed nearly 2 billion dollars in box-office sums, garnered 21 Academy Awards out of 45 nominations, established its own University, and set a new standard for animated-movie making: through just nine films.

Ushered into Hollywood by the entertainment giant Disney eighteen years ago, Pixar started out small, agreeing in 1991 to make three computer-animated films for Disney to distribute.

Out of this deal emerged the groundbreaking film, “Toy Story” (1995), the first feature-length computer-animated film.

A staple of childhood movies, “Toy Story” opened audiences’ eyes to the life of toys, taking viewers on a journey into the adventures of seemingly-inanimate objects. When “Toy Story 2” premiered in theaters in 1999, the film revisited the toys from the first film, and took lead character/toy Woody on his own adventure as he discovers his counterparts. “Toy story 3” is set to come out in theaters on June 18 2010.

Pixar’s second film branched out from the indoors, focusing instead on the vast, complex world of bugs. “A Bug’s Life” told the tale of Flik, an unpopular ant, and his friends, each a different insect, as they try to save an ant colony from an army of villainous grasshoppers. The film with the moral messages of teamwork and bravery, told through comedic characters of a seldom-seen world became the highest-grossing animated film of 1998.

Three years later, “Monsters, Inc.” opened a door to another world, this time the world of professional monsters hired to scare children in the dead of night. Sully and Mike, two of the monsters and best friends, navigate their world as they search for Boo, a human girl who followed them back to the monster world.  
 

 In 2003, Pixar released “Finding Nemo,” the most successful Pixar film to date. The film about a slightly impaired clownfish, and his father, desperately trying to reunite after being separated in the Great Barrier Reef made 339.7 million dollars, became the number one selling DVD of all time and won the Oscar for Best Animated Film.

Featuring Pixar’s first “human” cast, “The Incredibles” fused comedy, action and adventure together to create a film about two retired superheroes, and their super-powered children. Retired life soon halts as the entire family becomes entangled in the fight to stop a villain with a personal vendetta.

Similar to the “Toy Story” films, “Cars” (2006) gave life to seemingly inanimate objects. Lightning McQueen, a racecar traveling to his next race, ends up in the town of Radiator Springs, where he meets some interesting pieces of machinery who teach him life lessons during the film.

 Cars was a technological landmark for Pixar, as it was the first film to use “ray tracking,” a system that allowed for the automobiles in the film to look more realistic by reflecting their surroundings.

 Pixar then traveled to Paris to begin tasting French food and observing rats for their next film, about following one’s dreams, no matter how outlandish they may seem. “Ratatouille” followed a wishful rat, Remy, who aspires to be a French chef, despite the obstacles on his plate. Teaming up with a human chef, Remy begins to fulfill his dream of creating culinary masterpieces, yet trouble begins to boil in the kitchen. Earning five Academy Award nominations, the most ever for an animated film, “Ratatouille” won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

 The most recent film released by Pixar, Wall E, became a visually stunning, box-office hit this past summer, wowing audiences with its portrayal of a deserted Earth, and the lazy humans who took to living in spaceships. The film opted to use non-traditional dialogue for its characters, mainly robots, an uncommon practice that paid off: Wall E made 223.8 million dollars at the box office, and has earned Academy Award nominations for Best Animated Feature and Best Screenplay, in addition to four others. The love story between two robots takes viewers across space as they try to reunite with one another, and save a polluted Earth.

In the past, Pixar has shown its cooperative attitude, most notably by sharing technological advancements with other production companies. An important animation tool Pixar uses, the RenderMan software, allows for animators to create shading and motion blur, which in turn creates realistic images on film.

The software even won an Academy Award in 2001 at the Science and Technical Academy Awards, the first given to a software package. The RenderMan software has been used in such popular films as “Jurassic Park”, “Titanic”, “The Matrix”, “Spiderman”, “I, Robot”, “300” and “Wall E”, in addition to numerous other movies.

Behind the blockbuster movies, Pixar also boast several award-nominated and award-winning animated short-films, including “Luxo Jr.”, “Geri’s Game” and “For the Birds.”

 Pixar’s next film, “Up”, scheduled to be released in theaters on May 29 2009, will be the first of a list of five upcoming Pixar movies to hit theaters.

After “Up”, look for “Toy Story 2”, “The Newt”, “The Bear and the Bow”, and “Cars 2” to attempt, over the next three years, to continue Pixar’s streak of critically, and commercially successful films, and to keep the quirky white lamp burning strongly.