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Last Updated 19.08.2019 | 5:57 PM IST
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Decoding the magic: The 11 techniques that make Pixar films so successful


We’ve all heard and even seen films, made by the infamously notorious Hollywood animation production house, Pixar. Unlike Pixar, other animation studios have faltered, but only in regards to the successful films they produce time and again. The animation studio has constantly managed to entertain us successfully with all their endeavors.

The second day of FICCI FRAMES at the Renaissance Hotel in Mumbai concluded with an epiphany of sorts attached with, a comical embarrassment of biblical proportions. The sweet epiphany was that, the session was based on the 11 ‘concealed’ techniques used by Pixar which churns out successful films. But the farce that came with the package was that not only did the session start a good twenty minutes late because of technical failure with the projector, but the session hall with a seating capacity of only 60, housed over 150 attendees most of whom incredibly stood with devout attention, for the whole two hour session listening to eminent screenwriter and development teacher, David Freeman host the session.

David’s session spanned, from the subtle use of lighting and shapes to the more intuitive and subconscious levels of perception. Here we break down these techniques listing the subtle nuances that can differentiate between being just mediocre to that one streak of absolute intelligent magnificence.

1. High concept story

How many times have films failed due to the reticence of distribution houses to actually venture with a film like that? For instance a film like, The Incredibles, a complete family entertainer was equally hard to market, the reason being, the selling point of the film, and ‘a story of retired superheroes’. Pixar instead concentrates on developing content that’s intelligent rather than just plain marketable.

2. Visual story telling

A film basically relies on a few key aspects like sight, sound and light to create the ultimate visual experience. Pixar has given us a brilliant example in subtle use of light and shapes with the film Up. The use of square shapes in a rather bleak light has gone a long way to portray the sadness of the man as compared to the bright and rounder shapes that were used for the kid. This emphasized that without dialogue, your set should visually portray ingredients that make up the story.

3. Feature real underdogs

What can connect better to an audience more than having an underdog win? The catch here is to make him not only have a tough time, but in fact have all the odds in the world stacked against him and yet have him emerging as a winner in the end. An interesting example was a visual clip of a scene from Pixar’s 1998 classic, A Bugs Life where a character based on an ant, Flik overcomes the greedy grasshoppers but only after he’s taken a brutal beating.

4. Artful use of empathy technique

The empathy technique is basically allocating certain traits to a character that make him endearing. This enables the audience to empathize and connect to character on screen, as though they were watching something they can relate with genuinely.

5. Set and tasks

This may be one of the most subtle references that can be made in film; it refers to the display of seemingly inconsequential articles that later on play an important role in the film.

6. Sophisticated psychological insight

Never talk down to the audience, a rule that is grossly overlooked. Sophisticated psychological insight would encompass making references to certain aspects that may not necessarily make sense to one section of the audiences while on the other hand it drives a point home with the rest.

Another aspect that comes into play under psychological insight is the use of false targeting. With this we develop a fake target to focus our hatred or any other emotion while subconsciously replacing the target with ourselves.

7. Let it get ugly

Do not protect the audience from the harsh reality; let them experience the pain, trauma, grief or any other emotion first hand. This shocking display of emotions almost always helps the audience develop a bonding with the character on screen.
This technique can further be amplified with the use of a panoramic crowd reaction shot.

8. Echo the central issue

More often the central aspect of the film is mirrored in various characters (may be not directly though) the more effective it becomes for the audience to develop a bond with the characters.

9. Poignant and funny aspects

The use of emotion and rapid transition from one emotion to the other enables the audience to experience a varied field of emotions in a short span of time.

10. Group working technique

The use of a community as a whole to depict a mass emotion always helps, the reason behind this is that with the community, the audience feels like they are a part of the crowd and begin to respond and react with them.

11. Brad Bird variation

The Brad Bird variation refers to the way a person can be uniquely himself and yet be part of a family. In simple terms an individual can have his share of uniqueness and quirks while being accepted by the community at large.

On a final note, David emphasized on a certain fact that we all embody at a subconscious level but we fail to apply it in our films, which is “Toss in something unexpected, for the unexpected gives birth to delight.”

The session was a revelation for many and concluded with a screening of a French film ‘Nuit Blanche‘ made by Arev Monoukian, which literally left the audiences walking “two feet above the ground” as described by David prior to the screening. The short film showcased a visual understanding of the points he made touching upon the subject of love.

P.S. Pixar guys too attended this session.

More Pages: Rocky Box Office Collection

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