Creators of Pixar's 'Soul' share their vision

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 5, 2020
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Creators of "Soul" shared their creative ideas and process of making this visionary story at a forum titled "Creative Storytelling and Expression of Emotion in Animation Filmmaking" at the 23rd Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF).

A poster of "Soul" [Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios]

Pete Docter, the director of the film, found "Soul" challenging to draw. "If we're going to make a film about the soul, the first question we're going to face is what does the soul look like? Therefore, we have done a lot of research."

"Soul" is an animated film produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios to be released worldwide sometime within this year. The film tells the story of Joe, the hero who has long dreamed of becoming a jazz pianist. He meets the world-weary soul 22, and they return to the real world to find the meaning of life. 

Such a plot can easily remind the audience of Pixar's "Coco." Both films use the "soul" to create the characters' self-dialogues.

"We have studied the philosophical thoughts of many schools and studied many traditions. There are several common ways to describe it: like smoke, like fog, non-material form, no fixed form, breath, and air. They all sound interesting, but they are not helpful to our creation. How can we draw air? If we want to show it on the screen, we have to draw it," he said.

Pete Docter, also the chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, directed animated films, such as "Monsters, Inc.," "Up" and "Inside Out," which received rave reviews and broke box office records. As for the creation of "Soul," he said that it originated from his self-doubt. "I have always felt that creating animated films is my destiny, but sometimes, I would hesitate to doubt: is animation really my pursuit in my limited life?"

He believes that people's souls can determine their personalities, hobbies and even fates. "Although it sounds like I'm talking about a big concept, in Pixar, we do similar thinking and exploration as in any filmmaking. That's why Pixar's films are unique and deeply rooted in the hearts of the people."

Dana Murray, the producer of "Soul," revealed that many Pixar artists contributed their unique ideas to the question of what the soul looks like. "We hope to present a more humanized form, and we hope that it has easily distinguishable facial features and can convey expressions and emotions." The creative team tried different colors to express the rich levels of the "soul" and even developed an "unprecedented" line drawing technique to complete the screen image of the "soul."

A photo of Pete Docter, the chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios and director of "Soul" [Photo courtesy of SIFF]

However, in Pete Docter's view, these efforts are only the first step of creation, and the characters and stories are the essence of the work. "Our leading roles must live a real life," he said. 

Then, the creative team began to give life to the characters, such as making Joe a musician. Kemp Powers, co-director and screenwriter of the "Soul," revealed that in order to make the characters more vivid, he wrote some of his personal experiences into the script. He visited barber shops, tailor shops, schools, and jazz clubs and did a lot of field research. 

He added, "For me, Joe's life is concrete and most resonant, but to create any story, we need to transcend the simple personal experience and reach a higher level. Therefore, we need to make the story more extensive." This method of dealing with both the virtual and the real makes the film balanced, which can not only make the audience clearly associate with real things in the real world but also feel the unprecedented novel experience.

"Soul" is a highly anticipated animated feature. Its original release date was June 19, 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the release date was pushed to Nov. 20. No China date is set yet. But Disney/Pixar's "Coco" was re-released on the first day Chinese cinemas reopened, July 20, and it has been steady in terms of box office revenue. Disney re-released "Zootopia," the highest-grossing foreign animated film in China with a total of 1.53 billion yuan, on July 24 and further re-released "Big Hero 6" on July 31.

Besides the "Soul" team, the Shanghai film festival forum held on July 30 also invited the creators of "Wish Dragon," an animated film set in Shanghai, to share their creative experiences and insights. They brought practical inspiration to their peers and the audience. 

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