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The journal of an aspiring animation filmmaker. Inspiration, Film Analysis, Animation Art, Student Work, Book Notes, Book Store, Composing Pictures, and much more!

Jun 26, 2008

Siggraph: Sharon Calahan Comes to Vancouver

Last night Siggraph hosted another local chapter event entitled, "Teasing the Senses," featuring Sharon Calahan, the Director of Photography on Ratatouille at Pixar. This was perfect timing. I had only just read The Art of Ratatouille, and Sharon's work was fresh in my mind for this presentation. It's was also just days before Wall E will be released, and I'm sure I'll be buzzing after I see that. I can't wait!

Sharon, despite her admitted nervousness, did a fantastic presentation. She showed us her process, and the way she tackles every new project, trying to make it different every time. A painter at heart, she's on a four month leave of absense from Pixar in which she just paints every day. This reminds me of the Lou Ramano episode of Toon In, in which he talks about taking regular leaves of absense to explore his artistic education more. Pixar sounds like such a wonderful place to work. The more I hear, the better it sounds.

Sharon went through her research process, showing us pictures from her trip to Paris with Production Designer, Harley Jessup, who's work is also heavily featured in the aforementioned Art of book. The two walked everywhere to get a feel of the city for the movie, and brought back a lot of really nice photos.

She went on to describe how they wanted the movie to look from a lighting standpoint from the very beginning. She said she's a pure spot lighter, a self professed, "control freak," and she doesn't like using global illumination at all. Adding that the lighting of the film was geared towards making the food look good first, and everything else was taken down a notch here and there respectively.

A list of her, "Lighting Army," flashed on the screen for a few minutes. Long enough for me to pick out Jeremy Birn from the list of forty or so lighting artists. Jerermy is the author of, "Digital Lighting and Rendering." I remember reading through this book when it first came out about ten years ago. This was when I was first getting into computers, and thought that becoming an animator meant learning software. Sigh...Anyway, I had no idea that he was at Pixar now, but I'm not surprised. This memory, along with the presentation as a whole, made me realize that I really need to brush up on my knowledge of Cinematography. Sharon listed off so many films she used for inspriation because of the cinematography, and I was pretty impressed. I really need to start mentally cataloguing these things for my own film ideas.

The presentation went on for about an hour, after which was a book signing, and a screening of Ratatouille. I didn't stay for the screening, but I did manage to get my book signed, and shared a few words with Sharon. I asked her a question I've always wondered, but never been able to find the answer to. I've read, and heard much of the directorial switch on Ratatouille 18 months into production. And in the Art of Book, Brad Bird says he felt uncomfortable about taking over the project at first. So I asked Sharon, "Why was there a directorial switch?" Call me intrusive, I could only assume it came don't to story complications, but I just had to know for sure. After a brief conversation about the brilliance of Pinkava, she bascially answered, "Brad's a heavyweight." Pixar does whatever it takes to make a good movie, even if it means basically doing it twice (Toy Story, Ratatouille).

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