Quint sits down with WALL-E director Andrew Stanton!!!
Published at: Aug. 11, 2007, 6:47 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Of all my regrets from Comic-Con, of all the panels I had to miss or footage I had to skip out of for interviews, my biggest regret by far is that I had to leave the WALL-E panel halfway through in order to interview Robert Downey Jr.
If it was almost any other interview, I would have blown it off… and if I had known they were screening the first 5 minutes of WALL-E I might have even left Downey hanging. It’s Pixar… I’m sure he’d understand.
I did see much of the panel, including Ben Burtt (legendary sound designer whose work on STAR WARS is a great part of why we love that movie today… think about it. He invented the lightsaber noise. He invented that unique laser blast. He invented Darth Vader’s breathing) who did a live sound mix for us on the stage, illustrating how he gave voice to WALL-E.
That’s what was on my mind when I sat down with Andrew Stanton (FINDING NEMO), the director of WALL-E and our conversation begins with Ben Burtt. In fact, our conversation started even before I sat down and could get my audio recorder out. So, we jump in a tad late, but you’ll be able to keep up. Enjoy!
Andrew Stanton: We’ll have meetings and we’ll be like doing something with the reels and we’ll have scratch music from say like the map room in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and he’ll suddenly be like “You know, it’s funny that you used that for scratch, because when I was doing the map room editing, we used NORTH BY NORTHWEST,” and the whole room would just get quiet and “oh my gosh, that’s right.” You just forget, because he’s such an unassuming guy and you just get humbled by him.
Quint: Well, I really liked the presentation.
Andrew Stanton: Good.
Quint: Watching the trailer, the original teaser… what I loved about it is you don’t really know anything, but what’s great about Pixar is the emotion and the character showed through without us having to know anything about the plot, so it was really fascinating to see this story was so much bigger in scope than I was expecting it to be.
Andrew Stanton: Well, we’re trying to you know, dole it out, the cat’s out of the bag now, but we kept… Initially arguing with marketing, but then they really got behind this idea for what that teaser become, we said “We remember growing up, when all E.T. was three fingers coming around a door and that was it, you had to know more.” We were like “why can’t we go back to that?” So it’s nice to know that it kind of succeeded in that sense.
Quint: I love the new logo too.
Andrew Stanton: I really like it. I love the whole putting the last letter in a circle, because we’ve said that you could do that to DISNEY, you could do that to a PIXAR, you could do that to people’s names, so…
Quint: So just watching that stuff… I don’t know, it’s already, and I know this sounds kiss ass, but it really does feel like the character of Wall-E is already part of the Pixar group…
Andrew Stanton: Wow, well… *knocks on the wooden table* …your word’s to God’s ear.
Quint: Well it’s the design, it’s like it really… like I told you on that teaser, there’s just so much hope and personality just in that one little bit of footage.
Andrew Stanton: Yeah, well you know it’s funny, I didn’t get to elaborate because there was a guy with a card saying “two more questions… three more questions…” so I had to be short, but when that first question came up about the design of it, I mean the binoculars kicked it off, but then you start pulling from… You know I remember going to the STAR TOURS ride on the inaugural night. I waited up all night with my college buddies and through midnight and they had taken this animatronic, from AMERICA SINGS, and stripped off all of its feathers and stuck it in the middle area where you kind of move around and it’s got binoculars, stereoscopic eyes, and I love that. I said, “that is the coolest looking thing I have ever seen.”
Quint: It’s so awesome that you mention that, because once you said that, I knew exactly what you were talking about!
Andrew Stanton: Yeah and it’s still there and then I got a bunch of my sci-fi… everybody’s a sci-fi geek at Pixar and so they were all excited to finally be on something. We sat around a room literally for weeks, just sketching what would be cool robots, you know, with sort of pie in the sky and it was really great to see it naturally, organically, start to come down, because we did Eve and Wall-E at the same time and just naturally came down, people where grabbing photographs from anything they would see, where they would read… because all I cared about, was “I want to read a character into it. I don’t want to put a character on it, I want to put a character into it…” just like you do when you look at a car or you look at a certain thing and so we started collecting photographs of anything, any kind of inanimate object or artifact that made you read a character… just a vacuum cleaner or a bicycle and why…
So we would just really home this down until we got these things down to an essence, so that you would think you would see it… I kept saying “see it as an appliance first, and then read character into it” and that’s been the driving goal for any of the designs and kicked off basically those two characters.
Quint: It’s always amazing to me to see a digital effect, or what’s essentially a digital effect, have a soul. It took the integration of live action movies a long time for that to happen, I’d say until Gollum and KONG…
Andrew Stanton: Right!
Quint: I believed that there was a soul to those creatures, but if you think about it PIXAR was able to do that before…
Andrew Stanton: With Luxo…
Quint: Yeah, very much so.
Andrew Stanton: But it’s a specific direction, you can’t compare it to Gollum, it’s the enduing a life into an inanimate object.
Quint: Yeah, and you can also point to Walt Disney’s work before that, making you believe a piece of plastic and paint was real.
Andrew Stanton: Yeah, but there’s something to it. I honestly believe that it’s a different part of your audience response system or muscle that when you look at a pet or an infant, you don’t get the full equation and because of their appeal, you draw from your own history of “I think that dog is sad. I think that baby wants food.” And you end up pulling from personal memories. So they end up being much stronger in your response than if a character on a screen is telling you their specific world and why they specifically feel a certain way and so I felt like “man, imagine if you could put that in a bottle and watch a whole movie of some thing that did that to you” That’s really what was driving the desire to make WALL-E… was having that effect on top of this space genre.
Quint: This is the first time Pixar has gone out into space right?
Andrew Stanton: Yeah.
Quint: You’ve done inner space with NEMO…
Andrew Stanton: I’ve even said Dan, I said “look, when I was a kid and I saw STAR WARS and R2 was alone going through Tatooine before the Jawas… I didn’t care if we ever went back to anybody else again.” I said, “You could have stayed right there and...” I thought a lot of people, and this is not a criticism of the movie, no we love it, but I’m saying like how much it made you want to know more about just that world and that character and the power that carried.
Quint: And doing that in animation, I can only imagine is the perfect medium to translate that …
Andrew Stanton: It has caught up. Again, you know like I said, WALL-E has been, well at least the nugget of it, around since before TOY STORY was done and I always felt like “I want to believe that I’m really there and I want to believe that box is really there. I just don’t want it to be… I don’t want it to be photorealistic, but I want to believe it’s really there and so I was very psyched when we finished NEMO and I felt like we had really achieved the physics of believing you were really under water, so I said “Hey, let’s do that with air.” I said, “Let’s do that with air. Let’s fix our lenses, let’s get the depth of field looking exactly how anthropomorphic lenses work and do all these tricks that make us have the same kind of dimensionality that we got on NEMO with an object out in the air and on the ground. I felt like if we can get that, then we’re going to get him to that sort of Tatooine-esque, you know, first STAR WARS movie feel of something out there, that is really out there.”
We are really embracing our inner geeks on this one. It’s been a real enjoyable ride.
Quint: Was it always from the very beginning that you wanted to have a completely electronic dialogue?
Andrew Stanton: Yeah, because to me I wanted R2.
Quint: You want the bloops?
Andrew Stanton: It’s not even… I just wanted logic if you really want to break it down. I wanted to just buy that that thing was just doing what it was built for and then evolved a need to communicate beyond what it was built to do, so that was really the drive.
It always felt like that was what you got from R2, a limited vocabulary and you had to translate and I just… I knew from day one that’s what I wanted to do with it. I didn’t know what I wanted it to exactly sound like… what exactly the vocabulary would be and what exactly it would look like, but it really helped to be able to make those choices, because I just knew that was the goal.
Quint: I remember when, I think it was Disney, when they did DINOSAUR and that was the dream of that teaser, that we were going to see this beautifully animated movie…
Andrew Stanton: Yeah.
Quint: … that was completely told without a traditional…
Andrew Stanton: It kind of killed it, didn’t it?
Quint: It did. It really… because that teaser, to this day, in that original poster are still brilliantly perfect.
Andrew Stanton: I agree. I got dinked too.
Quint: It’s really fascinating, it’d take having Pixar to have the balls to go through with, so…
Andrew Stanton: You know, it’s one of those things where when you talk about it, it seems like some huge challenge, but when you watch it, it’s so obvious, especially if you go back and… you know, we went back and watched all of our favorite movies that where pre-sound and God, there were things you could do then that you can’t do now, because of sound and there are scenes and ways to do scenes that get you engrossed in ways to express character’s moments that just aren’t a choice anymore, because you know people could just say something. It’s great to be able to dip a little toe into that pool and pull from some of that. I mean, there really is a lost art form that went out with Keaton and Chaplin and all of those guys.
Quint: Well, I mean visually to me and what I love about movies is the visual storytelling. It’s like, sure I love a great Tarantino dialogue or I love a great Woody Allen dialogue, but you look at… it’s always the visuals. That’s the first thing, because you can read good dialogue, but seeing somebody else’s vision is really what pushes the movie, so that’s what I think is kind of fascinating about this.
Andrew Stanton: It is a fascinating experiment, but I don’t plan to ever make a movie like this again. It’s a one of a kind time and opportunity and we are all embracing it.
Quint: Do you have anything else kicking around for… I mean you’re still working on this for another full year, right?
Andrew Stanton: Yeah, I have no time to do anything else but this, but you know, I’m always procrastinating, so…
Quint: Do you think you will continue to do more animated films?
Andrew Stanton: Possibly… I would want to do whatever would make the next idea I have sell, like be realized on the screen and I’ve been saying that since TOY STORY. I said, “as soon as I run out of fully CG realized ideas, I’m just going to do whatever it takes to make that next idea work,” so it’s always been idea driven. I don’t think I’ll ever leave PIXAR, because it’s the safest creative environment you could ever be in. Why would I want to leave it? But I may try to convince people to dabble in other things, to be able to get ideas realized, but that’s already happening with people like Brad (Bird) and stuff…
Quint: I’ve always wanted to go out there. I’ve talked to them occasionally and I grew up in the Bay Area, so…
Andrew Stanton: Oh yeah? Where?
Andrew Stanton: Oh yeah, you’re not too far… like an hour.
Quint: Last time I was out there, I went to ILM… on a visit for a really crappy movie, it was for VAN HELSING, but…
[Andrew Stanton laughs]
Quint: … but I couldn’t turn it down, like… and it was for the DVDs, so it was even after I knew it was a crappy movie…
Andrew Stanton: Still got to go…
Quint: But they said “You get to tour ILM” and I was like “I’m there.” I was talking to the PR people from Pixar, but I heard back just the day I was leaving and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. I’ve always wanted to go visit the campus…
Andrew Stanton: It’d be great to see you when you come up.
Quint: Well thanks so much for talking to me.
Andrew Stanton: Sure man.
I have to say that Stanton was one of the nicest people I’ve ever interviewed. There was a boyish excitement about him, no sense of any stress or cynicism showed through the entire time we talked. He spoke quickly, so excited to share his project with anyone who would listen.
I really can’t wait to see what they have in store for us on this one.