Pixar animators = Renaissance masters?

Posted by · 2:55 am · June 24th, 2010

I’m not saying it — Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones is. In a brief but gutsy blog post, Jones adds an alternative (but still admiring) view to the past week’s pile of love letters to “Toy Story 3,” focusing less on their storytelling and more on their value as fine art pieces.

In so doing, he concludes that Pixar and its fellow digital animation studios are artistic innovators equivalent not only to the artists of Disney’s golden age, but Renaissance masters like Leonardo da Vinci:

If you watch the “making of” features on your DVD of the original Toy Story you will be told the story of a modern Renaissance. The Pixar team did not accidentally hit on a new way to make toys apparently come to life on screen. After seeing earlier attempts at digital animation they actively theorised that it was possible to perfect this technology, and to use it to create “real” animated worlds of an intricacy and vitality that would amaze and move audiences in a completely new way … Toy Story and its successors are colossal artistic achievements.

I won’t argue with that last sentence — though I’d have welcomed this discussion more around the time of the genuinely ravishing “WALL-E,” as opposed to the familiarly blocky, pastel-toned aesthetic of their last two features. (I also question Jones’s implication that verisimilitude represents the pinnacle of artistic achievement: artists like Henry Selick are pushing the boat out on a technical level as much as Pixar, but the objective isn’t the same.)

Meanwhile, I’d suggest that for the “real” animated worlds of which Jones writes, no film studio can compete with the cream of the gaming industry. Still, the Guardian piece is a great conversation starter … where do you stand?

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8 responses so far

  • 1 6-24-2010 at 3:31 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I’ll finally see it in just over an hour. The two most respected (cultural) newspapers gave it both 5/5, which is supremely rare for a Hollywood film, last time I can remember was a Coen brothers film or even a longer while ago with Lord of the Rings. This raises the bar even higher. CAN NOT WAIT!

  • 2 6-24-2010 at 6:20 am

    Rafael said...

    Toy Story 3 is a masterpiece indeed. I hope it gets Best Picture nomination and a win next year. Why not?

  • 3 6-24-2010 at 7:17 am

    James D. said...

    Does the digital animation even matter? Couldn’t it be a traditionally hand-drawn film and still have the same draws?

  • 4 6-24-2010 at 7:57 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Of course, but to be fair, that’s not the point Jones is making — he’s talking specifically about technical and artistic advancement.

  • 5 6-24-2010 at 8:40 am

    Colin Low said...

    The original article submerges a worthy point under a deluge of “topicality” and overstatement. Its thesis is actually “Pixar and other studios at the forefront of digital animation and effects are dealing with something very comparable to the problems solved by artists in 15th-century Italy,” (boldface mine) which is itself rather unimpressively true. (Though you’re right, Guy, that the cream of the gaming industry should be included.) But of course given Toy Story 3‘s and Pixar’s current critical standing, the focus of the article seems to ends up on them, and where I’m concerned that’s overstating Pixar’s contribution to the field considering how many animators are working to advance the field, including the experts at WETA and ILM.

  • 6 6-24-2010 at 10:14 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Isn’t it far more relevant to compare this to the start of Disney managing to introduce animation into the mainstream of film? By using the elements of live action cell animation also mimicked live action films but with slightly overblown and larger-than-life effects.
    So technically and artistically they’r both just continuations of general development and evolution in film and technology.

  • 7 6-24-2010 at 12:10 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***…as opposed to the familiarly blocky, pastel-toned aesthetic of their last two features.***

    That’s totally unfair, and that’ s not what makes PIXAR’s films so amazing in the first place. Either way, they do CG animation better than any other company out there.

  • 8 6-27-2010 at 8:14 am

    red_wine said...

    ” the familiarly blocky, pastel-toned aesthetic of their last two features. ”

    The animation in Toy Story 3 is rather outstanding. Almost perfectly photo-real and infinitely expressive. And there are many dazzling sequences particularly in the opening and towards the end which showcase their technical acumen.

    Up was a step-back from Wall-E but that was what the film needed, no point in showing off your visual virtuosity if its not in the service of the story. But even in Up, they just hit the ball out of the park with their grandiose landscape shots.