WALL-E: VisDev

 Posted by on November 26, 2016  Character design, Drawings, VisDev, Work
Nov 262016
 

This is some visual development for WALL-E drawn back in early 2005 while I worked under the great production designer RALPH EGGLESTON in the Pixar ART department, before working in the story department on the same project.

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In its very earliest incarnation, WALL-E started as an idea developed by PETE DOCTER, but when it went into production the director was ANDREW STANTON. By the time I worked on it, the basic configuration of WALL-E had been already been decided- a little robot that could fold in on itself like a turtle and walked on caterpillar treads.

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The story artists worked with this description while the art department tried variations. Before the great JAY SHUSTER nailed the final appealing design, I explored a few WALL-E ideas myself.

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In the early days that I worked with Pixar, I often freelanced in the STORY department AND freelanced for the ART department. It was while working in the ART department that I drew these ideas for both the interior and exterior of WALL-E’s home, the dilapidated truck full of junk.

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Over the years of freelancing for Pixar, I’ve spent more time in STORY, but the very first time I ever worked for them was doing ART department chores on FINDING NEMO (see here and here), and some very early visdev on RATATOUILLE (see here) and finally WALL-E. As the studio got to the size they are now, my inter-departmental mobility stopped and I worked solely in STORY from UP onward.

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Most professional animation artists have more than one string to their bow; many story artists are fantastic designers, many animators can storyboard, many people in the art department are wonderful storytellers too, but modern big studio pipeline production forces most of us to stay in our designated boxes.

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One of the main reasons I always opted to stay freelance is that it allowed me to move freely among the different job responsibilities I love, doing as much of each of them as I can. Even when certain studios have a rigid pipeline, being a freelance artist gives me the option of doing design at one studio and story at another.

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I finally got to go on a Pixar art department field trip on WALL-E. I’d often heard about these wonderful trips to research PARIS, or to drive along ROUTE 66, but my chance to be part of such an exotic mission was when we went to research a world covered in trash by visiting the OAKLAND CITY DUMP. We in the ART department also visited a Northern California seal colony, to research, well.. BLUBBER.

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In an early version of WALL-E, it was not immediately obvious that the inhabitants of the spaceship that EVE comes from were human. They appeared to be jelly-like aliens (during production they were simply called GELs).

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It was only at the very end of the story that the audience learns that these blobs of jelly are what the human race has eventually become. They were very fun to design, but this revelation of human devolution was a conceptual bummer at the very end of a cartoon, so there was a major story rethink.

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After a month or two in the ART department I did a few sequences in the STORY department under JIM REARDON. Storyboarding WALL-E was very challenging in its own way, simply because it required so many drawings to describe each idea and emotion.

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Without dialog, the only way to convey the meaning of each character’s intentions was a ton of drawings to elaborately pantomime each bit of business, so that it was perhaps the most ‘animated’ story reel I’ve ever worked on.

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However, all the work I did was in the earlier version of the story mentioned above, and my contributions were ALL subsequently redone in the story rethink of the movie.

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Learning to be philosophical about having much (possibly ALL) of one’s work end up on the editing room floor is a big part of working in the early stages of animation production.

  12 Responses to “WALL-E: VisDev”

  1. Loved Wall-E! Wow, excellent blog James, you’ve worked on some great stuff!

  2. Just fantastic – lots of good ideas here!

  3. LOVE these Jamie!! Couldn’t agree more with Julia!!! The first act with Wall-e on his own with Eva was one of the best opening acts to a movie ever!!! Sooooo beautiful!!! 😀

  4. Some really nice stuff there James,
    Looks like a lot of hard work and I bet that’s just the cream of it.

  5. Great stuff. Wish inter-departmental mobility was still prevalent

    • Me too. I think it is in disfavour at bigger corporate studios simply because it makes for complex BILLING (another case of tail-wags-the-dog corporate thinking). It is still the norm at small to mid sized studios, where multi tasking is still valued, but sadly smaller studios are rarer these days.

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