Pixar draws talent to Canada, Katherine Monk

Extrait de : Pixar draws talent to Canada, Katherine Monk, The Gazette, October 31, 2011

Cars 2VANCOUVER – With corporate DNA from the likes of Lucasfilm, Steve Jobs and Walt Disney, Pixar Animation Studios has always been the prize thoroughbred of the digital entertainment stable, but increased competition and some less-than-spectacular reviews of recent efforts have taken the bloom off the winner’s roses.

The company that hopped onto the scene with a pathos-laden desk lamp took a critical hit with Cars 2, its last release that hits DVD on Tuesday. The movie performed well at the box office, racking up more than $191 million U.S. in domestic receipts (plus $360 million more overseas), but failed to ignite the same critical bonfire that propelled the likes of Wall-E and Up to Oscar’s red carpet.

None of that seems to faze the smiley-faced team of designers, technical wizards and creative gurus currently cooking up Pixar product at Vancouver’s Gastown Studios. Opened in late 2009 with the agenda of creating unique short films to support Pixar brands and franchises, Pixar Canada has been ramping up slowly, but brings the world its first completed short, Air Mater, destined for inclusion on the Cars 2 DVD this week.

Dylan Brown, Pixar Canada’s creative director, says the unveiling of Air Mater is what prompted the company to invite a crew of journalists to check out its Gastown digs last month.

“Look, we came here two years ago, and said we were here to create a small, boutique studio where we created work with legacy characters, and we’ve done that,”

says Brown, sitting in one of the smaller boardrooms within the sprawling loft space that overlooks the scenic North Shore mountains and Port of Vancouver.

“Air Mater marks the achievement of that goal, which is why we want to share that,” Brown says.

The enthusiasm is still palpable, and washes all over the three floors of office space filled with terabyte-chomping processors and a staff of some 75 employees, mostly male, who have gravitated to Pixar’s digital bosom from across North America.

We’ve actually repatriated a lot of Canadians who had gone down the U.S., but wanted to return to Canada. We’ve also hired quite a few locals,” Brown says. “We’re always looking for people who fit into the Pixar culture. And to me, that just means an ability to have fun.”

Brown sits back and surveys the open space filled with life-size models from Monsters Inc. “I remember when I was asked to set up this studio. ... I was so excited. Then it became very sobering, and I was thinking back to what Ed (Catmull), and John (Lasseter) and Steve (Jobs) built. And wow, I was being asked to bring that spirit up here with Darwyn (Peachey) and Amir (Nasrabadi), and I am conscious of that (responsibility) every day,” he says.

“I ask myself if there’s more I could be doing. Is there something that we’re doing that could be better?”

Because Pixar is steeped in the concept of technical excellence combined with emotional sensitivity, the entire workplace has to match the desired culture for the equation to work, Brown says.

“Even the cubicles were arranged so that it didn’t feel like there were walls. The spaces are open, and everyone can see out the windows.”

Sharing and caring are core ideas in the Pixar code, Brown says.

There were some who doubted if Pixar could maintain its boutique brand of ‘toon subversion when it was sold to Disney in a $7.4-billion (U.S.) deal in 2006, but not the people at Pixar Canada.

“We actually have very little to do with Disney directly,” Nasrabadi says. “Ultimately, we are all the same company, but Pixar (U.S.) largely deals with them on marketing. Our job is to make great-quality short films.”

For the principals of Pixar Canada, Air Mater is exactly that: a quality short film designed for ancillary packaging and potential theatrical.

From a purely critical perspective, Air Mater falls short of the genius of other Pixar vignettes. A rather flat script about the tow truck with buck teeth becoming a formation flyer for an air show, Air Mater lacks the charm of Presto (about a magician) or the classic Luxo Jr, (the squeaky desk lamp saga).

The film really does feel like more of a school exercise than a stand-alone piece of animation, but the Pixar Canada bosses say it’s just the beginning.

“In some ways, this was a dry run to see if we could accomplish the mission from a technical perspective,” says Peachey. “We proved we can.”

At the moment, there are no plans to expand Pixar Canada’s mandate to include theatrical shorts, or full-length features, which means the company doesn’t really generate revenue.

According to Nasrabadi, the worth of the company comes down to affirming proprietary intellectual property. “It’s good to keep the Pixar characters alive in a variety of adventures. When people fall in love with a character, there’s a desire for more stories. And that’s what we’re here to do.”

Preachey says the value of Pixar Canada’s presence extends far beyond the actual artifacts, as well. “Look, we are proud of what we’ve made here, but I think this is a creative milestone for Vancouver, as well. The city has a lot of technical expertise and visual-effects studios, but as far as animation studios go, we’re creating something pretty unique,” he says.

“And we’re very excited that we’ve become a part of this vibrant community.