From graffiti artist to story artist – Louis Gonzales, who started as a graffiti artist in the San Fernando Valley, has worked at Pixar Animation Studios since 2000. He takes on the role of story artist in the studio’s newest animated film “Brave.”
Working as a layout and story artist for Pixar Animation Studios over the last 12 years, Louis Gonzales has lent his artistic talent to a number of films including “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” and “The Incredibles.” As a story artist on “Brave,” Gonzales helped visualize the story of a princess who must break a curse cast on her family and kingdom.
Is it gratifying for you as a story artist to see the finished product when it looks a lot different than what you initially drew?
Yeah, it’s always good to see the film when it’s done, especially here at Pixar. We put a lot of work in at Pixar and everyone is really proud of it. Working as a story artist is considered pre-production, which is part of the planning stage. I haven’t been let down working here. I’m always proud of the movies we make.
How much research did you have to do on the country of Scotland before you started visualizing the setting for the film?
I’ve always felt it was very important to know your setting unless you’re talking about outer space or some kind of fairy land. I was lucky enough to be one of the first people with the film to go to Scotland. We were there for 10 days and soaked in as much of the culture and atmosphere as we could. We wanted to understand the country and the customs.
I read in your biography that you grew up doing graffiti art. Is that still something that interests you?
I still love it although I haven’t practiced it for a long time. It is part of the reason I’m here. Graffiti was an outlet to draw with like-minded friends. It was a big part of my upbringing. All of my friends would get together and do graffiti art. We encouraged each other to get better. It was like my own little art community since I didn’t go to art school.
Do you allow any of your graffiti to sneak into any of your drawings with Pixar?
(Laughs) I’d like to think my graffiti background is in all my art to a certain extent whether it is a direct representation or not. You don’t lose that. It’s something that will always be a part of me. But after all these years, I have evolved and grown.
Although his background is in engineering and not in animation, Inigo Quilez has found a home at Pixar.
In “Brave,” the studio’s new animated film about a young Scottish princess who must undo a curse that has been placed on her kingdom, Quilez was placed on an animation team in charge of creating the grass, trees, forests and all the other greenery seen in the film’s background.
During an interview with me, Quilez talked about his work with Pixar and what it takes to make an animated film come to life.
What has your experience been like working on your very first film with an industry giant like Pixar?
I have been working on “Brave” for three years. It’s amazing to work and make movies. I am an electrical engineer, actually, but I always wanted to do something a little more artistic. It was a dream to come to Pixar. It’s a really unique place where I can use my technical skills and help make something very beautiful.
As an animator on “Brave,” you have a very specialized job. Tell us more about what you do.
I am responsible for making everything that looks like plants or vegetation. I worked with a small team of three people. Normally, for a movie like this you would have to go to a computer and create every flower, but instead we approached it in a different way and used more mathematics. We taught the computer to create all these things for us. We developed a lot of new techniques to help with that.
In terms of research, did Pixar send you out to roll around in the grass?
(Laughs) Well, I joined the team a bit late, so I didn’t get to go with them to Scotland. They brought back a lot of images and real plants. We didn’t want to create reality, but we wanted something inspired by reality.
Over the years in animation, it seems like plants and trees and other objects in nature like water have gotten a lot more realistic. But that’s not what Pixar is trying to do?
Well, you have movies like “Avatar” where things look completely real. But that doesn’t really work for us because are characters don’t look realistic. They look more like toys. So, our backgrounds have to match with the characters. We want things to look complex and organic, but not really real.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles
Directed by: Lee Unkrich (“Finding Nemo”)
Written by: Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), John Lasseter (“Toy Story 2”), Andrew Stanton (“WALL-E”), Lee Unkrich (debut)
It’s difficult enough for some live-action films to express human emotion through human characters without sometimes crossing the line into melodramatic territory. Who knew 15 years ago it would be Pixar Animation Studios that would create a trilogy of films that would clearly defined the term “unconditional love” and convey it through a computer-generated boy and his plush, pull-string toy?
While the original classic “Toy Story” from 1995 was an exciting, nonstop adventure featuring a cast of uniquely-imagined characters, it was “Toy Story 2” that truly illustrated the intrinsic connection children and toys share with one another. In “Toy Story 3,” the significance of these relationships has come full circle in a sentimental and clever, but also dark and profound narrative undoubtedly worthy of being a part of Pixar’s growing distinction as the best animation house ever built.
With screenwriting duties going to Academy Award winner Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”), it’s evident Pixar – while a majority of its fan base are kids and families – isn’t simply playing for empty laughs. There is some seriousness in “Toy Story 3” from the very beginning.
It would have been easy enough to pick up from the same happy-go-lucky tone the last movie ended on, but instead Arndt and director Lee Unkrich take a realistic approach to the time passed. Andy (John Morris) is no longer the little boy who would play in his room for hours with the assortment of toys we’ve all grown to love. Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and most of the original toys are still present (others have met their fate by way of yard sales and spring cleaning), but at the age of 17, Andy hasn’t played with them in years.
Now, the toys long for the attention they used to receive when Andy was an imaginative grade-schooler. They also worry about what will become of them once Andy leaves for college. What will life in the attic be like once they’re placed in storage? Will any of them be given away or worse, tossed into the garbage?
When Andy’s toys are accidentally placed onto the curb for trash pick-up and subsequently donated to a local day care center, Buzz and the gang try to make the best of it although Woody is insistent about finding their way back home. But when a group of second-hand toys led by the a strawberry-scented teddy bear named Lotso (Ned Beatty) welcome them with open, fluffy arms and explain that “no owners means no heartbreak” the daycare’s newest residents are sold on the idea.
Playtime, however, doesn’t turn out to be what was expected. Lotso and his crew, including Ken (Michael Keaton), an octopus toy named Stretch (Whoopie Goldberg), and a lazy-eyed baby doll, run the daycare like a prison. While Woody is able to escape, he ends up in a whole new situation when he is found outside the day care center and taken home by Molly (Beatrice Miller), a shy little girl with her own collection of huggable toys, including Mr. Pricklepants (Timothy Dalton), a thespian hedgehog.
Created with any number of prison-break movies in mind, Pixar takes “Toy Story 3” and gives it enough visual flash and flat-out hilarious moments that rival anything the animation studio has ever done. The film’s success, however, doesn’t end at the flawless character rendering and production value. There is an innovative spirit to it that is rare for any animated film to generate. From moments of pure delight and chilling anxiety to one of the most heartbreaking goodbyes in recent memory, “Toy Story 3” wraps up the franchise in masterful fashion and once again proves Pixar is on a level all its own.