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Animation Graduation



Animation Graduation

Summer 2012 sees the sun rising for another former protégé rising through the ranks of the animation world and bursting out onto the live-action scene. With exciting output releasing on all fronts, step forward Mr. Andrew Stanton, the latest of Pixar’s rising starlets to ascend to the blockbuster limelight, following in the footsteps of fellow former prodigy Brad Bird to fly the coop.

Ever since it formed in 1979 as Graphics Group, the company has built a strong core foundation (and reputation to boot) on bringing through ‘homegrown talent’ so to speak. Sapping up the finest in their field out of college and blooding them in gradually for the long haul. Stanton began his career as a team animator and co-writer on everybody’s favourite animated 90’s feature Toy Story. Starting out on such a high-profile and hugely successful project that entailed such a high team ethic and group mentality can only have served him well as he went on to be further involved with future projects like A Bug’s Life and Monster’s Inc. helming various roles, writing, animating and producing before eventually making his directorial début with the widely celebrated Finding Nemo in 2003.

Stanton’s keen sense of warmth and compassion for human emotion resonates throughout all of his work, appealing to young and old alike like all Pixar work truly does. Growing up as a young cinephile, Stanton retains that childlike wonder and grand-scale imagination that allows him to trawl the depths of feeling and sentiment to truly touch audiences.

I used to make movies all the time with my friends. I was definitely one of those kids running around with a camera and Super 8 film, then going on to video. Putting on plays and shows and stuff. I missed it a lot. I got some of that out by working with the most talented people on the planet at Pixar.”


Another quality that makes Stanton so likeable, as well as successful, is his humble-nature and humility. He is quick to credit everyone involved on projects and remains firmly entrenched in the Pixar ethos of giving all of their guys chances to work at every role on different projects. Stanton returned to the director’s seat with another of the studio’s biggest hits WALL-E, the heart-warming tale of a small robot trash-compactor who defies his own programming and purpose to find love. Something so small that manages to discover something perceived as being such a human quality. The tale transcends any petty notion of man and machine and takes us on an emotional ride with our robotic hero. Few other studios would be able to forge such a deep, personal connection between character and viewer, but despite his rusty metallic shell, WALL-E has a ton more heart than many other well-known characters.

And so following in this history of success, Stanton began working on a project under the Disney brand for John Carter, an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 11-volume series of sci-fi adventure novels, Barsoom. Sadly the film could not match the success of projects with Stanton’s imprint on them, releasing to mixed reviews from critics. However the film is receiving plaudits on at least one front. This project had been on the backburner for years, never really getting started due to technological issues. But with the times finally catching up to the demands of Burroughs’ creations, his vision could finally be interpreted on the big screen. The result is a visual colossus, a world apart from anything we’ve known before and a world to marvel at. It remains to be seen whether John Carter will hold candles to the animated genius of his prior work, but it is definitely a great stepping stone to the future and further showcases Stanton’s visions for vibrant, appealing cinema.

Preceding Stanton was Brad Bird making a similar leap up to the big leagues with his foray into live-action territory as he directed fourth in series Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. Following a similar career route to his friend, Bird’s previous directorial efforts include The Iron Giant, Ratatouille and well-received family action flick The Incredibles. Finding success here was definitely the game-changing factor for Bird, allowing him to freedom to play around with and create dynamic action set-pieces within the comforting realms of animation. Whilst not being a training ground exactly, directing The Incredibles definitely allowed him that sort of freedom to learn in. And given that Paramount snapped him up on Tom Cruise’s personal recommendation, I think it’s safe to say they were paying attention to this.

Bird won the Best Animated Feature Academy Award for both The Incredibles and Ratatouille and was nominated for his screenplay on the former. Like Stanton, this high-level of production across the board stood him in good stead for Mission Impossible and the future with the action-epic being hailed as one of the best action films in years and arguably the best in the series.

There’s a similar outlook between the two young directors that perfectly illustrates a mantra of just how much their work means to them. They want to make meaningful, heartfelt products that reach out to all viewers.

People think of animation only doing things where people are dancing around and doing a lot of histrionics, but animation is not a genre. And people keep saying, “The animation genre.” It`s not a genre! A Western is a genre! Animation is an art form, and it can do any genre. You know, it can do a detective film, a cowboy film, a horror film, an R-rated film or a kids` fairy tale. But it doesn`t do one thing.”

(From the audio commentary on the DVD for The Incredibles (2004))

And it’s this open and accepting attitude that has allowed for these acclaimed filmmakers traverse the boundaries between animation and life-action. Perhaps so far the transitions have had slight varying degrees of success, but one thing is for sure… don’t expect them to stay nestled in one niche for too long, no mission is too impossible for Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird. The future is bright, the future is Pixar and beyond!

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