Everyone has a special film they look forward to every year. For our illustrious Executive Editor Neil Miller, it was Iron Man. For me, it was another guy made of metal, but one much more lovable. Ever since the early shots from the latest Disney/Pixar film made it my way at Comic-Con last year, I have been excited to see WALL-E.
Recently, I had a chance to chat with WALL-E director Andrew Stanton and find out a little more about this little robot that could.
But first, I had to ask about the internal rivalries at Pixar. After all, when you’re working with Brad Bird (The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and John Lasseter (the Toy Story films, A Bug’s Life and Cars), there’s got to be some pressure. Sure, Stanton made some noise with Finding Nemo, but does he loft some WWE-inspired taunts to his co-workers that he’s going to crush them with WALL-E?
“It’s actually very much the opposite. We are always egging each other on to make the best film possible,” Stanton told Film School Rejects. “If the whole team wins, then a place like Pixar will not have to go away because we all realize we’re in a very special place that will probably never occur again in our lifetimes.”
To achieve this success, the Pixar team gathers together every four to six months to look over each other’s process. “It’s honestly almost like a writer’s room sort of feel. You get a chance for objectivity because that’s the first thing that goes out the window,” Stanton said.
Of course, no one is forced to take anyone’s suggestions, but it’s hard to ignore a meeting of the minds like this. “We assume that you’re smart and that you’re either going to come up with a better answer than what we’ve suggested or you’re going to see the light and realize that everybody’s giving you the same note,” Stanton said.
In fact, it’s this collaborative effort that brought about the creation of an adorable little robot like WALL-E. Way back when the team was working on Toy Story, they came up with this nugget of an idea about a little robot that was left on Earth after humans left the planet. It was that sort of idea that stuck with Stanton all these years. Once Pixar was strong enough to make its own movies without having to answer to bigwigs above that he brought the little guy from storage and began to form a story around him.
Initially, Stanton didn’t think anyone would let them make a movie like WALL-E because it was so unconventional. Fortunately, the Pixar team set a precedence years ago with Toy Story. “We had been trying for the first half of its conception was to please all these executives at Disney, and it failed,” Stanton explained. “And this last ditch effort if for fear of having the film shut down, we just sort of locked ourselves in a room and made what we would want like to see and suddenly it set us on the path of the Toy Story that everybody knows.”
Ever since, the Pixar team decided to listen to their own wants and desires as moviegoers. Stanton, a self-proclaimed “movie nut” said, “I’m just going to make the movie that I want to see, and if it doesn’t match perfectly for somebody else, so be it. But at least it’s an artist being pure with their vision about making a movie, and we’ve all pretty much applied that rule ever since and ignored the outside world.”
To bring to life WALL-E’s voice, Stanton turned to legendary sound designer Ben Burtt, who gave a voice to R2-D2 in the Star Wars films. By bringing him onto the film two years early, Stanton was able to craft an entire language of noises for the robot.
“It was a little bit of an awkward process. We weren’t sure how to work together because he hadn’t been brought on so early as a sound designer so early in a process,” Stanton explained. “He would just soak in all the stuff that we were writing and all the stuff that we were designing. And then I would have these weekly meeting with him, and he would play me tons of sound choices. It was like an audio Rorschach test.”
In addition to the sound and the story, the look of the film was a huge deal for the Pixar team. Stanton envisioned the movie to pay homage to the hyper-reality of science fiction films of the 1970s, and to do so he went back to his film school days and incorporated the types of cameras and lenses that were often used in that era. “The look of the film is a huge advancement that we’ve made over the course of while Ratatouille was being made,” Stanton explained. “If there was one technological advancement on the film, it was that we improved all the software for our camerawork and our lighting a bit.”
After seeing the film, it’s hard to not want to see more of WALL-E. But Stanton treads likely on the subject: “It’s a double-edged sword because I would love as an audience member to see more of these characters in some of our movies, but as a filmmakers you’ve been four years just completely insanely close to these characters and building their world. That’s like going to high school, and I’m ready to graduate by the end of high school.”
Disney/Pixar’s WALL-E opens nationwide on June 27.