Read a new Interview with WALL-E Director Andrew Stanton

     November 17, 2008

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

With “Wall-e” arriving on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, it’s time for me to post a ton of new interviews with the creative people behind one of the best films of the year.

But before jumping into the interview with “Wall-e” director Andrew Stanton, here’s Cal’s review of the DVD and Dellamorte’s review of the Blu-ray. Both really loved the movie and they each have a lot to say.

Anyway, the interview you’re about to read was done at the end of September when I got to visit the Pixar campus in Emeryville, CA. Later tonight I’m going to post a full recap of what it was like to go there and I even have some video for you all to watch… so check back later….

But as you might imagine, going to Pixar was like visiting Santa’s workshop. Everyone there seemed in great spirits and I got the sense they all know how special it is to work there. We got to see the entire campus, we took a tour of the indoor facilities, and we got to watch an amazing Ben Burtt presentation on how he made the sounds of “Wall-e”. I actually posted a video of the presentation so if you missed it click here.

Anyhow, below is a new interview with “Wall-e” director Andrew Stanton. If you’re a fan of the movie this is absolutely worth reading as we talked a lot about the behind the scenes stories of how they made the film. And like I always do, if you’d rather listen to the interview you can click here for the audio.

And one last thing before the interview. While I promote a lot of movies on Collider, “Wall-e” is one of those films that’s so good that you really have to see it. I know you hear that all the time….but this one is another level of awesome. Seriously. One of the best films this year. Go buy it tomorrow when it gets released on home video…

Look for more interviews and my recap of going to Pixar later tonight.

Question: There has to be a little bit of pressure on every director at Pixar to not be the one who screws things up.

Andrew Stanton: Well, to be fair, there is just as much pressure as you think, but that’s way down the line on the list. Just to make these things, pretty much consumes every cell of your body. You feel like you’re pretty much just fighting to make whatever the issue of the day or week is, work. You don’t’ have time to think beyond the next week so you don’t really get that wide perspective, thinking about what the other films you’ve made when you’re almost near the finish line. Frankly, I work with the most intelligent, funny people that I’ve ever met in my life that I think are pretty much smarter and funnier than I am. You feel like you have to show up and hold your own every day here. That’s a more immediate personal pressure and it eclipses everything else on the day-to-day.

How is it, as a filmmaker, getting the DVD and Blu-ray done, coming out in the same year as the theatrical release?

Andrew Stanton: Well, it gets tougher and tougher because it seems, I don’t know if it’s true, but it seems that the window between when the film comes out and the DVD is released has become so much shorter that you almost have to do all your DVD stuff in parallel before you finish the film. I don’t mind the behind-the-scenes stuff and it makes sense to capitalize off people getting interviewed right fresh when they’re in the middle of it, because it’s a journal of the moment and they’re going to remember the details better than if you ask them later. You can actually maximize some of the work force. What I don’t like is talking about it like it’s done when it’s not done. That just seems weird. I tried to push off doing the commentaries as late as I possibly could, because I just felt superstitious like I’m not going to talk about it like it’s done or it’s any good, when the jury is still out, we’re still finishing it. That’s awkward. I don’t like that.

The film looks fantastic. Can you talk about the contribution of Roger Deakins?

Andrew Stanton: He would, if you ever get the opportunity to interview him about it, he will always be self-effacing and say, ‘I was barely here. I had nothing to do with it, practically.’ But I think he had way more of an impact than he’ll ever realize. We’ve been working in the virtual world and most of us have never had the chance to experience physical moviemaking, in real spaces with real cameras and light. What it initially was, we heard he gave a weekend seminar, a sort of hands-on seminar of showing how he works, just the basics. We thought that would be great and we thought we would hire him to come up and do it for our crew. He came up on a weekend and it was so inspiring. I know, for him, it’s just like A, B and C, but for us, I think that’s his gift because he’s able to take very complex problems and sort of find a simple solution for them. It’s so deceivingly simple, these answers. Just put the light here, put the camera there. We were so inspired we asked him to stay for a couple more weeks and advise our director of photography, which is actually separated by two roles: the camera and the lighting are two different people, Daniel Feinberg and Jeremy Lasky. They basically hung out every day and any meeting that I was in with them, just to get a gist of how they work. He got it very quickly and really gave these, ‘Well, if it were me, this is what I would do,” kinds of things in conversation. It was really really helpful and we were at a point where we were not tying it down yet but trying to figure out what the look and the feel of the movie should be, and it was just this perfect sweet spot that he visited. It was great.

We read that Steve Jobs’ designer, Jonathan Ive, had some input.

Andrew Stanton: Well, what happened was, I had two things. One, I had the making-fun- of-the –iPod joke, I was having the Apple sound joke and I also had decided that if I was going to make the prettiest robot in the world, for a machine, what would that be and we all agreed that, currently, Apple products are the most gorgeous looking machines in the world. They could be art objects without adding a function. We didn’t want to literally make her be Apple, but we wanted her to feel that same design sensibility, where the functions are hidden. It’s a mystery and you’re not exactly sure how it all works, but it seems almost magical and everything is almost perfectly molded into one another. It became obvious to us, but I wanted Steve to be comfortable with it and he said we should have Johnny Ive come over and see what he thinks, because he designs everything for Apple. He came over and pretty much fell in love with immediately and it was the biggest shot in the arm. He didn’t have anything to approve on, he just said, ‘I love her.’ It was a great afternoon with him that was pretty much the stamp of approval.

What qualities do you think someone needs to work here at Pixar?

Andrew Stanton: Well, that depends on the job because we’re so huge now, it just depends. If there’s one thing that is universal though, we don’t suffer fools lightly. We were just talking about this the other day. For as much as we’ve grown, we’re not really set up to work in an apprenticeship kind of mode, where somebody has to be coddled and handled. We work really well with very pro-active people, people that you almost have to get out of their way. We pretty much expect that once whatever is your job is handed to you, within the pipeline of making the movie, you will try to plus it without anybody trying to egg you on. Nobody is going to get mad at you that you added a better idea. When we were small, everybody was like that and we all sort of just found each other and we relied on that plussing to just happen when we worked on something. So, as we’ve grown, we sort of realized that is a quality that we kind of expect out of somebody who comes here. That’s about where it stops. Everywhere else is just unique to the job.

This is obviously coming out on Blu-ray, but what about your first film, Finding Nemo? When will that and other Pixar films be coming out on Blu-ray?

Andrew Stanton: Well, I know that Nemo is slated to be one of the other films to eventually come out on Blu-ray. I’m not sure. I know we’ve done a lot of content for it so I know it’s in the pipeline. I just don’t know the release date.

Can you talk about 3-D-ing your older films for re-release?

Andrew Stanton: They’ve talked about Toy Story and Toy Story 2 being in 3-D to also sort of herald the coming of Toy Story 3 in 3-D.

Have you seen the footage of what it looks like in 3-D and what are your thoughts on the entire process?

Andrew Stanton: I have not, actually. I’m one of the few that have not in this building. I was so busy getting Wall-E out the door that I could never take the time for the meetings that they had to look at this stuff. I’m a little in the dark.

What’s your feeling though, as a director, with Pixar moving into 3-D?

Andrew Stanton: Well, I have no problem with 3-D but I don’t think it’s necessarily a blanket requirement for every film. I think some films are more conducive to it than others. It demands different things of your eyes and we work very hard to control, on all the other factors of making a movie, where exactly your eye is and when. Suddenly, to slap 3-D on something, you have to control this and the depth of it and if that’s just running amok, it’s going to frustrate filmgoers. I think that people are working very hard to make that controllable element that they can put into the process. It’s not built into the process of making these films right now and I think once it is, we’ll probably see more 3-D films that are more enjoyable to watch. Again, I chalk it up to an aesthetic choice, that I’d like to think that a director would feel either conducive or not conducive to the subject matter.

Now that we can see Wall-E on DVD and Blu-ray and pause and review it, what scene would you recommend to our readers to see it again?

Andrew Stanton: It’s similar to all of our other movies, in that we had so long to polish these frames. There are millions of things to look at and there’s so much detail. The thing I love about the Blu-ray is that it’s the first time you’ll be able to watch our movie exactly as good as we see it every day in this building. We always used to complain like, ‘Well, this is the best it’ll ever look for us. Everybody else it will always look worse,’ the minute it leaves the building, whether you see it on LaserDisc or DVD. Even though it’ll look good, nobody knows how much was really in there. Now when you watch the Blu-ray, it’s pretty darn close if not exactly how good it looks for us.

Is there an extended version?

Andrew Stanton: No, but there are deleted scenes and two of them are actually finished scenes, which is actually rare for us, which means I screwed up because I really didn’t see the problem until I got it all the way through the pipeline. The reason we’ve worked in storyboard form for so long, and most of our deleted scenes are storyboards, is because it’s so expensive and so time-consuming to animate and finish it and you don’t have time, nor do you want to spend the money to be wrong. You pitch it again and again in the drawing form, until you see that it exactly works. Then you animate it in CG. Usually, it’s a one-to-one ratio. You get it right when you animate it. That’s it. That means, that wasn’t it, for two things that I did (Laughs). That’s a testament to Pixar. We’ve always claimed that if we’d make 11th hour changes, we knew it would make the film better and that’s exactly what happened with two moments. That’s a real testament to my crew, who were very tired, almost at the finish line and I said, ‘Guys, I screwed up. There are two things that…’ What I love about it is they’re so in it for the film. They’re not in it for the paycheck. They really believe in the film so I knew that if I honestly explained to them why this would make the film better, that would give them the desire to keep going and it did. They all said, ‘Oh my God, that’s so much better’ and they ponied up and did a miracle. They really turned it all around.

Were these changed scenes or could you tell us what these scenes are?

Andrew: Well, one was a scene where Wall-E, after they flew around the ship, Wall-E didn’t give Eve the plans and tried to propose to her until they were hidden in this little sort of supply closet. It all happened there and it slowed the picture down. It was a necessary thing that had to happen between them, but just the pacing of the film slowed down. It suddenly dawned on us that he could quickly show her the plan up in space and it would motivate her to fly the ship much better. That would delay the proposal until when they were hiding behind the towel racks. There’s a whole scene of events that you’re used to seeing, but in its own scene, all animated and finished. We ended up using the set very quickly somewhere else. Then there’s a bigger one where I actually had it flopped wrong. I had Eve hurt and sent down to the trash and Wall-E rescued her. It suddenly hit me that it would be much stronger if Wall-E got incapacitated and everybody else had to rise to the occasion and made a stronger moment for declaring that she cared more about him than her directive. That was a sequence that was completely finished, so it’s kind of wild. You see like a parallel universe, like, ‘Am I drinking something?’ They’re exactly flopped and the little moments are a little different. It was kind of cool. There are a couple of gags that we did with Wall-E that had to go when I fixed it and now you finally get to see it at least in the deleted scenes.

Obviously you can pause the Blu-ray it and it will still look amazing. Are there any single-frame things that you want to tell fans about, that you might want to be on the lookout for?

Andrew Stanton: I don’t think we’ve done these – not that I know of.

What about that collection of objects that Wall-E has on his shelves?

Andrew Stanton: To be honest, everything you see on those shelves are real stuff, because when it rotates, we couldn’t control how we were going to see, so we had to model everything that’s in those shelves. There’s no trick. That was a brain-teaser that drove people nuts. There’s stuff even I don’t know that’s in those shots, because we never really focused on them.

You guys are known for putting in little easter eggs to previous films.

Andrew Stanton: Yeah. There’s definitely… if you look in the truck you’ll find Mike Wasowski, you’ll find Buzz Lightyear, you’ll find Rex. The Pizza Planet truck is in the film, very prominently in a main scene. No one ever sees it. It has its own shot, actually, and no one ever sees it, which I guess means we’re doing our job because we’re making them focus on something else.

You guys are obviously developing films years in advance, as we’ve learned through the storyboard process, takes about four to five years. What films are in Wall-E that are coming up that fans don’t know what the characters really are yet?

Andrew Stanton: Usually we only put an element of the very next upcoming movie. I’ll be honest with you, I can’t remember if we held that tradition with Wall-E and put something from Up into Wall-E. I guess I should be better prepared. We did drop the ball on that.

I remember in the original teaser trailer for this it said that Wall-E was one of the original ideas when they were dreaming stuff up. Was this kind of the end of maybe the first generation of Pixar?

Andrew Stanton: I don’t know. I mean, that lunch got a little mythologized once we got the fully-formed ideas, like it was the only lunch we ever had. But it is funny that, out of that lunch, came A Bug’s Life and Wall-E, but there were many other lunches and meetings that, eventually, those seeds turned into Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. It sounds sexier to say, ‘Oh we walked up with finished scripts written,’ but no. We eat every day together so there are a lot of meals where there are a lot of good ideas, a lot of lists of things. It’s fascinating that this idea in particular came from that far back.

So what are you working on next?

Andrew Stanton: I think it’s all out there. I’m working on a film, it’s actually based on a book called The Princess of Mars and it’s re-titled to be John Carter of Mars, for now. We’re just writing right now, me and Mark Andrews. We’ll get all serious next year about when its schedule is and all those other details. It’s a big sci-fi film.

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