Pixar and Luxo Jr.: the art of emotional storytelling

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Pixar Luxo Jr.

The last years in the ‘80s decade were the digital experimentation golden age: just think about videogames like Pac-Man, a worldwide success. In those days 3D Computer Animation was already on the rise, mainly due to technical engineering experiments, whose objective was to demonstrate the innovative potentiality of new kinds of software. But these had little to do with animation intended as entertainment. In this scenario, just think about what a short film like Luxo Jr. could do at SIGGRAPH Conference in 1986.

As Ferruccio Giromini’s words, a journalist and visual arts scholar, perfectly describe, in the preface to Pixar Inc. – 2000’s Disney by Gianluca Aicardi:

Luxo Jr. was not a little exercise in style, though amazing, that IT guys were used to. Damn, that was a film. A (short) story. Some actors, though unanimated, that were acting, and acting well. A real emotion. A technical marvel presenting for the first time in the world in a round way as an expressive marvel, as well. Something never seen before.

Luxo Jr.: how Pixar started

This artistry and technology jewel came from the vivid imagination and hard work by John Lasseter and his team. Today, it officially belongs to United States National Film Registry as “cinematographic treasure”. It also was the first computer-animated film to receive an Academy Award nominee.

The short film’s plot is very simple: a lamp-parent looks at his lamp-kid while playing with a colored ball. Even though the lamps are unanimated objects, Luxo Sr. and Luxo Jr. have human traits: by their movements, the spectator can detect their personality, even their facial expressions. Technology and algorithms behind this movie are at the service of naturalness, so that the great studio work behind every meticulous detail gets overshadowed by the story plot.

Jim Blinn, a graphic computer pioneer, had an interesting reaction at the end of the first screening, which confirmed the short film success to John Lasseter: he asked him if the lamp-parent was a mother or a father. This simple question was a confirmation to John Lasseter because the most important thing was evident: the story plot and the characters were the first and only thing to grab viewers’ attention.

Storytelling is Pixar baseline

This storytelling approach became part of Pixar itself. Today, beyond super-advanced computer graphic and 3M modelling, Pixar keeps amazing people for its genuinity and ability to create deep emotions with movies.

Piper is the last Pixar short film, realized 30 years after Luxo Jr. by Alan Barillaro. In this short film too the plot is based on the parental relationship with a son, but the main character is a small seagull afraid of water.

In order to realize this short film, every detail was meticulously studied, thanks to avant-garde technologies and to a very specialized team. The backstage video can make you understand the complexity of every single frame. The output does not look like an artificial cartoon movie, but rather like a very accurate naturalistic documentary.

And also in this case every technical detail is at the service of the storytelling: a simple story, taken from a common life experience, with a change of perspective that lets the viewers identify themselves with the situation.

It looks like Pixar did not lose sight of its main objective.

Emotion is what is left. 

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