Entertainment :: Movies

Pixar Short Films Collection - Volume 1

by Jan Hammerquist
Contributor
Tuesday Nov 6, 2007
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In 1984, long before the huge success of Toy Story, a small team of computer animators (members of a computer-hardware company known as Pixar) made a short film called The Adventures of André and Wally B. Next to the digital realism and surrealism of computer animation today, it looks rather archaic, but then it represented the maximum exploitation of current computer technology.

This DVD’s mini-documentary (a Special Feature) about the history of the Pixar team informs us that a computer convention in 1984 received the short film with a standing ovation. The cheerers were no kids with Toy Story lunchboxes or Finding Nemo pajamas, but fastidious geeks and nerds (though admittedly toting the same accessories via Tron or Star Trek) who were surely up on all the best new technology: to hear they were impressed with these basic 3-D tricks reminds us of the slow and painful evolution towards the hyperreal digital animation we experience today.

The DVD is ordered chronologically, beginning with André and Wally B.’s idyllic woods, concluding with Lifted’s two green aliens in a spaceship: to bookend the collection with a forest and a UFO underscores Pixar’s progression from simple to complex, as if a team of computer animators can recapitulate man’s journey from nature to spaceship.

In between, there are sentient lamps, a dreaming unicycle, a sheep that dances, babies wreaking havoc, a grampa playing chess against himself, and many other creatively inane characters.

The narratives usually focus on two competing characters or forces. Thus when a group of small birds push a bigger bird off the power-line there results an irony predictable by simple physics. In One Man Band, two men claiming this title (with a variety of instruments strapped to themselves) compete for the money of a little girl. The narratives unfold from very simple premises, and tend not to complicate themselves very much.

Just so, the short films do not contain alluring subject matter so much as showcase the tricks of a trade. The details of birds’ feathers; a rolling rubber ball; the complex gleams of water; vibrant tongues of flames: these are extremely difficult visual phenomena to recreate-- in any medium, let alone in computer language. The short films are brief experiments in form -- études composed by practicing masters. If you are not expecting much in the way of content, they are enjoyable to watch and always aesthetically impressive.

Educational short-films produced for Sesame Street.

Short History of Pixar.

Audio Commentary.

Jan Hammerquist is a writer currently living in Philadelphia.

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