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GR Goes To Pixar

Posted on Monday, April 14 @ 16:01:57 PST by windy
GR writer and intrepid reporter, Windy, took the opportunity to go to Pixar Studios the other day to check out Wall-E and some games from THQ. She returns with the tale.

My day at Pixar Studios was filled with contrasts. The event was co-hosted by THQ, introducing the multiple-platform video games based on Pixar's new movie, Wall-E.

You know those companies that make top ten lists? Companies that push the envelope as far as employee freedom and creative work strategies? Well, Pixar is that company. Yes, they have a full-time on site masseuse. Yes, employees tool around the complex on Razor scooters. Every associate, from the cafeteria dishwasher to the CEO can devote a tenth of his work week to art, directing, and other enrichment classes offered at Pixar University. Everyone, even that lowly dishwasher, is named in the credits of every movie they make. I didn't ask if it was an officially sanctioned program, but I might even have seen a few people napping behind their desks. By all outward appearances, employees at Pixar are a happy bunch enjoying an open, creative and all-inclusive work environment. Judging by Pixar's $4.3 billion box office gross for their last eight films, they are doing everything right.

Unfortunately, that utopia did not extend immediately to us. As “Strangers from the Outside” - really, that's what our name badges proclaimed us to be - the press were exposed to the seedy underbelly that can be found on any great beast. The closest we would get to a massage would be a probing frisk from a hyper-alert security guard. We were subject to what might possibly be the most thorough security check this side of Buchenwald, circa 1939. Granted, I was with Joe, Blake and Chris, who, on a good day and under the best of circumstances, tend to rouse suspicion. But this was not the best of circumstances, here there were assets to protect, screen shots to suppress, and secrets to keep.

It probably didn't help that most of the press around us had come across oceans for this event and were dressed the part, when all we'd done was roll out of bed and drive the 3 miles to Emeryville. As foreign languages and exotic accents chattered away around me, Joe Blake and Chris played typical crude Americans by taking questionably posed pictures with the statues scattered about the vast reception lobby. These were the likenesses of some of the most beloved characters from past films, characters you associate with innocence and children. You should see what they did to Mike, the green cyclops form Monsters Inc. Shameful. I guess I'm not completely innocent in the whole thing. I was picking Sully's blue hair out of my mouth all day. We'd probably been tagged as trouble makers from the start.

When it came time for the presentation to begin, everyone lined up. Bodies were scanned. Electronic devices were seized. Bags were searched. Pockets were emptied. Joe had two cigarette lighters with him, which apparently is code for something very bad in the world of terrorism. This outrageous behavior sent up a red flag to the guards. I watched as Joe's bics were flicked and flicked again to test for actual flame, until the guards were reassured that they weren't actually James Bond-like recording devices. Or cameras. Or bombs. It was touch and go there for a minute, but finally they let him pass. I told him he needed a haircut. All in all it took over 30 minutes to get the 80 or so guests through the security check and seated in the plush velvet couches of the screening room.

Once inside, we were all friends again. We enjoyed four short clips from the movie. Tom Porter, the film's Associate Producer, explained that Wall-E is in its final stages of production, and will be released in June. With his calm and positive demeanor, Tom set up each clip and gave it context, since the film has no actual dialogue. There were even contrasts within the film; low-tech boy robot meets high-tech girl robot. A silent movie set far into the future, made in the time of THX and Dolby Digital sound. I had my doubts about the film abandoning traditional voices for the characters at first, but by the end of the 12 minutes, I was sold. I was lulled into that Pixar – induced state of tranquility and contentment, the feeling that all the ills of the world will be erased and no matter how wrongly things may go, there will always be a happy ending.

Then THQ took over.

Lyle Hall, developer in charge of the Wall-E video game lead the discussion. His workmate Keith manned the controls. If Lyle's energy was any indication, one can assume there are no massage rooms over at THQ. Lyle gave a brief introduction covering the basics. The game will be coming out on all platforms. The Wii version has been specially designed to take advantage of the hardware. The XBOX version will be in HD, offering a much more layered and saturated look to Wall-E's world. PS3 and XBOX versions will be virtually the same. The pair proceeded to demonstrate the game on the Wii and XBOX. The levels are not completely finished and there are bugs to be worked out. One expects that to be the case when previewing a game, but poor stressed out Lyle took every glitch as a personal affront.

One level had spotty sound, so Lyle pointed out tattle-tale style that the sound wasn't finished on the movie either. Another level caused the 360 to crash, and Lyle pretended the big blank green screen was all part of the game. The batteries in the 360 controller died, which, at that point was pure comedy. Finally, fully functional new controller in hand, pushing the 'A' button garnered no response, and this sent Lyle right over the edge. He blamed Keith for his ineptness at pushing buttons. His voice ratcheted up an octave and started to crack. Throbbing temple veins were visible even from my seat in the fourth row. I thought I might be witnessing the start of a psychotic break. Everyone squirmed in their seats, uncomfortable watching Lyle's tantrum. Keith should be applauded for his patience and ability to stay calm in an unnecessarily stressful situation. And Lyle should realize that his game will be no better or worse than any other hastily assembled game based on a movie geared for 8-12 year olds on the market today, and take a chill pill and relax.

Both companies came together for the final part of the formal presentation. Representing Pixar, Angus MacLane, directing animator, and Jason Deamer, character designer joined Lyle and Keith for a panel discussion about the film, the game, and the synergistic relationship the companies shared in creating their respective products. The discussion was engaging and enlightening, offering a peek into processes of the creative juggernaut that is Pixar.

After a quick Q&A, the event coordinators buttoned things up and escorted everyone back out to the lobby. Blake and I signed up for a personal interview with Angus MacLane. My day of stark contrast was winding down. As I reflected on the heavily guarded open environment, the silent film about robots, and the stress brought about by playing games, a fabulous spread was being laid out for us. I won't forget the gigantic chocolate covered strawberries. They tasted like they'd been prepared by the Merovingian, and the stiff green stems on the fleshy red fruit reminded me that opposites bring harmony and balance.

Many thanks to our fine hosts at THQ and Pixar, and to the security staff... we were only kidding. Please don't hunt us down and hurt us.

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