Monday, 9 June 2014



27. THE ADVENTURES OF ANDRÉ AND WALLY B (1984, dir. Alvy Ray Smith)


Pixar Animation Studios are perhaps expecting a deluge soon. Having recently announced that RenderMan, a visual effects and animation software program of their design, will be made free for non-commercial use (but still $495 if you are planning to release the work you have made with it), it will be possible for anyone, provided they have a powerful enough computer, to make their own little films with the same tools that helped Pixar to become successful to the extent that they were taken over by Disney.

Computer animation gives the impression that it is extremely complicated, or automatic, requiring only a thought of where you want the computer to take you, whereas hand-drawn animation, and the models of Aardman Animations, makes clearer where human hands have created what you see. However, the further back you go, the more the building blocks become clear.

"The Adventures of André and Wally B" was the first short film, all of two minutes, from The Graphics Group, the division of Lucasfilm that would be spun off as Pixar. It has a simple story, involving a character being awakened in a forest by a bee, which is then distracted so the character can run away - the bee still catches up, stinging his target off-screen, but is then hit by a hat as revenge. This could have been a short film from around 1900, when people were still working out what they could do, but that was exactly the situation here.

John Lasseter arrived at Pixar, having been fired by Disney over "The Brave Little Toaster," which Lasseter proposed to animate with computer-generated backgrounds, a cost too large for Disney to contemplate, with the final film winding up being hand-drawn by another group. Using an established background in animation, it was easy to see how a humanoid character, and a beed, could be created using geometric shapes, and how the computer can turn squares, circles and triangles into boxes, spheres and cones, but Lasseter wanted the kind of squashing and stretching of limbs you see in a cartoon...

It may be only two minutes, but "The Adventures of André and Wally B" contains the first ever use of stretching and squashing of geometric shapes in a computer animation, and the first use of motion blur. Complex 3D backgrounds were used, and particle systems developed to create shadows. At the computer conference where it was first shown, the film was reported as bringing the house down, despite wire frames being used in two scenes as the final animation was not yet finished. 

Nothing like this had ever been seen before, or thought possible, but it worked because, as Pixar show time and again, if you have a good story, and if you believe the characters, you don't think about the animation at all, and their giving away RenderMan for free makes this all the more remarkable.

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