Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Visit From Pixar


Earlier this week, some of the folks from Pixar's sets department came to visit the studio where I work.  They're semi-neighbors, being based just one town away, and had hosted our props artisans a while back.  We were returning the favor, by opening up our studios for a tour.

The Pixar group got to see where we engineer and build the scenery we put on stage at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, our prop shop and also my scenic painting studio.

The tour was running behind, and the person keeping the schedule was determined that we wouldn't serve our guests a late lunch, so the Pixar folks got a ridiculously fast whirlwind tour of my workspace.  Despite this, I think it was time well spent.

In preparing for the visit, it had occurred to me that what my scenic artists and I do is sort of the inverse of what the Pixar sets people do.  They enginee graphic images, based on some wonderful version of the real world. We are given pictures and create real things, solid, structural, tangible objects. Flip sides of the same coin, really.

At the time of the visit, we were working on some clapboard siding for what's supposed to be a modest home in a working class neighborhood of Rhode Island.  I showed the artists from Pixar how we were applying a subtle texture of fake woodgrain to the boards, to give them a bit more verisimilitude.

It would be totally unreasonable to imagine that any person who came to see our upcoming show would consciously notice the faint woodgrain on the house.  But if it wasn't there, it wouldn't look quite right. Something would be missing. As I spoke about this to the Pixar group, I was amused to see all their heads nodding up and down in agreement.  They totally understood.

It's those little details, the subtle things, that add up to a complete visual experience. 


Lunch was fun, too.  And not just because we suspended our buffet table on the arms of our forklift.

We had a lively discussion about the time it takes for each of our companies to realize a project, the pesky laws of physics, and how our work has given us the opportunity to really look at the world around us.

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