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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Q & A with Pixar's Ronnie del Carmen and Pete Sohn - Part 2

By E. Corrado

Here is Part 2 of my three part interview with Pixar's Pete Sohn and Ronnie del Carmen. You can read Part 1 here.

What would you suggest for people who want to go into art for animation? Ronnie del Carmen: Well for one thing, you want to study animation, you got to know how to do what you want to do. But there are lots of jobs in animation. Not just being an animator, or being a story artist, or any of the other more known jobs. Mostly, people ask me what I do, and I used to say ‘oh, I’m a story artist’. And then they’re like, ‘what’s that?’ So, I explain, and by the end they’re like, ‘oh’. So now, I usually just say ‘I’m an animator’.

Definitely though, just do what you love. Draw, write - always find new ways to express the world around you.

Pete Sohn: It's like that saying, 'If you do what you love, you won’t have to work a day in your life'.

Ronnie del Carmen: Now, that doesn’t mean everything is easy, there are challenges with everything, but part of what you learn to do is problem solve, which is really important in a studio. You have to be flexible with ideas in order to make them better.

How long have you each been at Pixar? Ronnie del Carmen: We both came around the same time actually, it was around 2000... I started work as a story supervisor on Finding Nemo.

Pete Sohn: Yeah, it was around then, I think I started a couple of months later... I was working in the art and story departments for Nemo as well.

Now another question for Pete Sohn: Back for Ratatouille, you provided the voice for the character of Emile. How did this decision come to be? Pete Sohn: Well, before the voice actors are cast, we do these scratch voices, so they were looking for people to do the different voices for the tests, and I guess they thought I would be perfect for the character...

Would you ever want to do more voices for movies? Pete Sohn: Oh yeah, definitely! It’s a lot of fun, but you know it has to do with if the right character comes along... The voice for Emile just really worked I guess, because I ended up getting the part in the actual movie.

Ronnie del Carmen: Pete actually provided the scratch voice for Russell in Up as well, and the stuff he would come up with - a lot of it was really funny. We were actually sad when we had to recast the voice, at first we were like, hmmm... do you think we could raise up his voice on the computer? But really, the answer was no. But then they found Jordan [Nagai] and he was just perfect for the character. The thing is with the initial scratch voices is that we kind of get used to hearing them, and sometimes attached to them in a way, but most often they have to be changed. We would love Pete to do another character that will be in the finished product though.

How was Jordan Nagai cast? Ronnie del Carmen: Jordan was the kind of voice that Pete was looking for. Now he didn’t know about Jordan - in fact they had a casting call of hundreds of kids around the country and people scouring schools, with explicit instructions to find a kid that doesn’t sound like an actor kid. Because most actor kids have this kind of peppy, ‘I can deliver that line however you want’, and Pete always said, ‘I don’t want that kid that whenever you call him to the microphone, he’s automatically in actor mode - I want a real kid.’

So there was this kid that they had brought in for an audition, and he started reading for the part and when he was reading for the part, people were looking like, ‘Who’s that other kid?’ and they said, ‘Oh, that’s his little brother.’ So they said, ‘Can you ask him to read?’ So they asked him... and that was Jordan. They asked the little brother to talk about what he did, stuff that he liked... So he started talking about Judo, what he did in school, what his friends were like, and Bob and Pete were looking at each other like, ‘listen to this kid’. Because beside from his voice, you see, that’s the kid. He was just like any regular, natural kid. And that’s what really worked for the character.

What was it like seeing both Partly Cloudy and Up for the first time with an audience? Ronnie del Carmen: It’s one of the most rewarding things. These films go through test screenings, and there the people just know that they are going to be seeing a movie in development. They don’t tell them what it is until just before the movie starts, and then it’s like you hear everyone get all excited when they hear that it’s a Pixar movie that they are going to be seeing. Now when these kind of screenings happen, the animation is not finished. It is a real vote of confidence when we see people reacting to it, even just like that on the screen, laughing, crying - it’s really great.

Then, after they watch the movie, we get to ask them questions. ‘Who’s your favourite character?’, ‘Did you understand this?’, ‘Did you not understand that?’ ‘What would you like to change?’ Certain questions that make you try and diagnose, because we all have different ways of understanding the movie. We’ve already let a lot of things fly, but they’re where the proof is. But they loved the movie. They loved the characters, and a lot of it was, this was one of those screenings where most of it was still in storyboards, so we were kind of really nervous. But, they loved it. It’s a great journey - there’s an awesome journey of just testing your ideas, all the while, preparing to be wrong, because along the way, that’s how you get things right.

But then, later on, once the film is done, it’s great to see everyone watching the finished product. Actually, sometimes you just go and watch the audience by turning around in your seat. Because, I mean, we’ve already seen these films so many times that we know what’s going on on screen by heart. Seeing the audience react how we wanted at all of the right moments is just indescribable. It’s just amazing.

Pete Sohn: Oh yeah, I definitely agree with what he just said. Seeing Up, and Partly Cloudy, and any of these films, it’s just great to see everyone having such a good time with something that you helped make. Watching them connect to something that you, and so many people, worked on for so long - it’s why we love to make these films! It's amazing.


UP NEXT: An interview with Ronnie del Carmen and Peter Sohn - Part 3...

Just a couple of the questions in the next installment include: 'What's it like seeing these films going through their development stages?', and 'Now that you've each done a short film, would either of you ever be looking to direct a feature film?'.

Look for Part 3 tomorrow.

UPDATE: Part 3 here.

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