Wall·E: Pixar's Most Thoughtful Film to Date
- Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Pixar animators also had the daunting task of creating characters that show emotion without using traditional dialogue or facial movement. According to Stanton “the characters seem robotic because they don’t squash and stretch. That was really a brain tease for the animators to figure out how to get the same ideas communicated and timed the way it would sell from a storytelling standpoint, yet still feel like the machine was acting within the limitations of its design and construction.” Yet with simple movement and excellent sound editing the animators did just that.
This is a challenge that Oscar-winning sound designer Ben Burtt and his team struggled to overcome. In a fantasy film, Burtt believes that sound acts on people invisibly. Sound becomes the aspect of the film that holds everything together, he says. Burtt’s goal is to convince the audience that what they see is dramatic and real, based simply on what they hear.
“For Wall·E, I think the team has recorded every motor we ever came in touch with … from appliances to jet planes,” says Burtt. “The idea of taking natural sounds and imposing them into a fantasy world gives the illusion that these things are real. We kind of recognize these sounds even though we can’t identify them fully.”
According to Burtt, Wall·E has more sound files than any single feature film he’s ever worked on—over 2500. “Every character has a set of sounds; there is lots of movement, lots of dense activity.” And rather than rely on computer-synthesized sound, Burtt’s team used mostly real, man-made sounds from motors and equipment. For example: Wall·E’s treads, when moving slowly, are an old fashioned hand electric generator; for his treads moving fast, a higher-pitched energetic sound that Burtt recorded from an old biplane inertia crank starter. Wall·E’s eyebrows are a Nikon camera shutter; his arms sounds are the azimuth motor on a tank cannon.
“Wall·E has lots of little motors and squeaks and clicks of his hands; those are all mechanical sounds that come from many different sources,” explains Burtt. “The idea is to orchestrate all those bits of sound to also be a part of his character. So he can cock his head and look at something and you hear a little squeak. In a way that’s an expressive sound effect. That array of sound is used to find his character.”
Despite the film’s amazing technical proficiency, it is still the story above all else that those associated with Wall·E are proud of the most. Actor Jeff Garlin (Curb Your Enthusiasm) says he didn’t have to be asked twice to work with Pixar and Andrew Stanton, who also directed Pixar’s Finding Nemo.
“Pixar works on their stories harder than any other place around,” says Garlin, who provides the voice to the Axiom’s Captain in the film. “They will not move forward unless they’ve got the story right. They also have great constructive criticism … and they are really kind to one another. … They take what they do very seriously. In many other studios laziness runs amuck and dollar signs run amuck. Not that Pixar doesn’t want to make money … they just want to make a great movie first and believe the money will follow.”
Actor John Ratzenberger, who has had some sort of role in all nine of Pixar’s feature films, agrees that with Wall·E Pixar once again outdoes itself. “I’ve got [compromising] Polaroids from a Christmas party …” he jokes when asked how did it happen that he’s been in every Pixar film to date. His voice has been used so much that Pixar jokingly refers to Ratzenberger as their “good luck charm.”
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