Q&A: Jim Morris

Pixar's Morris talks animation, VFX and stereo 3-D

With "Wall-E," Pixar Animation Studios executive vp production Jim Morris has completed his first animated feature in the role of producer.

Morris joined Pixar in 2005 after serving as president of Lucas Digital, where he managed its two divisions, Industrial Light + Magic and Skywalker Sound.

During his tenure, ILM created the VFX on films including Oscar winners "Jurassic Park," "Death Becomes Her" and "Forrest Gump." The Hollywood Reporter talked with Morris about the state of VFX and his involvement in "Wall-E."

THR: What attracted you to "Wall-E?"

Morris: Pixar president Ed Catmull said they were looking for someone to do "Wall-E." When ("Wall-E" writer-director) Andrew Stanton pitched me the story, he started with a one-liner: "What if everybody left the Earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off?" It had so much stuff that I found appealing. It had a science-fiction flavor and kind of a lonely, haunted flavor.

THR: Something that was talked about a lot during last year's awards season was the line between VFX and animation. How does that apply to "Wall-E?"

Morris: In the CG world -- versus live action -- VFX is not that different. When we talk about VFX in "Wall-E," we are talking about a lot of the same things -- the addition of atmospheric haze, the creation of water, that sort of thing. We have two categories of VFX in "Wall-E." The kind of VFX that you have in an animated film -- rain, dust storms -- are things that we did at Pixar. In "Wall-E," there is also a bit of live action. The live action has some VFX in it. There are some characters that are composited. We created the backgrounds, but we turned the elements over to ILM.

THR: What are some trends you are seeing in animation and VFX?

Morris: One thing getting a lot of attention is stereo 3-D. Certainly the sheer volume of VFX work that we are seeing in live-action films now, and the quality of it, is remarkable. I think we are just going to be seeing more of the types of films that we couldn't even have made 10 years ago. I'm hoping we are starting to see the end of FX for FX sake. In the animation arena, there are a number of things going on. I think in a film like "Wall-E," it is certainly a more photorealistic film. We wanted to make it believable. We wanted to make it engaging visually. We went to great lengths to make it feel like it was film. That's an area certainly open to more exploration.

THR: What is the next advancement that needs to occur in stereo 3-D production?

Morris: I'm not sure it is a technological advancement as much as an aesthetic advancement and starting to use it in a way that more clearly supports the idea of the stories and characters. Until the past few years, the idea of stereo was to do in-your-face gags. I think the question is: Does it enhance the moviegoing experience and support story and character? Did you use it in a variety of ways, some of which may be very subtle?

THR: Is the animation pipeline growing at Pixar?

Morris: Yes. With "Wall-E," it's the third film to come out a year apart. Before, we were on an 18-month schedule. We've been growing and increasing our output. In 2011, we're planning to have two films ("Newt" and "The Bear and the Bow"). We'll be going to a picture and a half a year. It's gradual growth. It's hard to make these movies, so it is challenging enough to get one out. But we've got a lot of directors here with ideas they want to make, and we are trying to support that as best we can.
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