Q&A: How Does A Pixar Short Film Get Made?

Working in lighting department, Enrico found “finaling” a shot with a guitar riff, accompanied by a loud “F$#% YEAH!!!” to be the most effective and satisfying way to final something.

Question: Does this film advance any technologies?

Enrico Casarosa: Not specifically. We kind of tried… We were kind of given TS3 technology which it wasn’t even brave. In fact a couple of times we wished we had some brave technology, on the hair especially. That hair was a little difficult, because we wanted moving hair. We were kind of asked to… It hasn’t been as much a place where to do R and D just because it’s not a place where they want to put a whole lot of expense. So our way was like “How can we get a different look with what we have?” I really pushed for scanning a lot of real materials like pastels and water colors, so we really achieved a look that I hope feels different and I think it’s different through using way more media and kind of scanning it and putting it into the background, putting them on the textures on the characters, on the objects, but we didn’t necessarily introduce new technology.

Question: Is [Michael] Giacchino part of the deal? Was he your choice or is it like “He’s available for any Pixar…”

Enrico Casarosa: Well you know at first we weren’t even sure we could afford him, because again you are kind of trying to do things on a little independent short here and then John kept on with “I know an Italian guy that could do a pretty good job here…”

[Both Laugh]

Enrico Casarosa: I was like, “Well you know you’re right.” Then when we did end up working with him… We showed him the short and he was like “I want to do it” and so it was so great that he was so committed to doing it. I mean he’s done a ton of our shorts, almost everyone of the latest shorts, but I kind of bombarded him with the music that was in our scratch score and the music that I was listening to which was a lot of Nino Rota from Fellini movies like AMARCORD and 8 ½ and some folk Italian music and he was so game. I think some composers might not feel so great about just being told “Hey, this is what we are looking for,” but this was kind of more like “I hope you can kind of let this flow through your veins and see what comes.” He wanted to reach for his roots. His parents still speak Italian, so he’s I guess first or second generation you would call it. He was telling me his little town, whenever he goes back the Mayor wants to see him and it’s a big deal. He’s a storyteller. I almost feel he’s more of a storyteller than a musician at his heart.

Question: I think he’s going to direct some day. I feel like he will.

Enrico Casarosa: Yeah, he’s got it in him you know? That is a willingness to sacrifice anything for the right emotion in the moment. I mean when you communicate to a composer all you’re talking about honestly is emotion and he was so great at that.

Question: How long did you have to work with him on a short like this?

Enrico Casarosa: Very quick. It’s amazing how quick it is. Again in the spirit of making things quick and cheap, we ponied up on the CARS 2 score, so we get the last 45 minutes of the orchestra and in 45 minutes we got a great score. It’s amazing. And we worked with him for two or three weeks, but he’s one busy guy… I mean he probably worked just a few days. He’s very, very quick and that’s what’s great. (Laughs) I still remember this, I was on the phone with him and was like “What do you think…” I was giving him some notes on the temp score he gave us and I’m like “You know what? Here I was just feeling this and that” and he said “Oh, wait.” (Makes musical melody) “More like this?” and I’m on my cell phone and I’m like “I think so, yeah.” It’s just so great that he’s actually changing it on the spot as you are listening to it. He’s coming from TV I think that made him so “Go! Go! Go!” and no ego. We were toning down a little bit the mandolin. I had moments where I didn’t want to orchestration to feel in any way cliché, and he was like “You want the mandolin out? I could take it all out.” I was like “No, no just a little… More like pepper not like garlic in Italian food.” (Laughs) It was fun.

Question: How early does 3D become part of the process?

Enrico Casarosa: We started pretty early. On the first few shots that we had lit we started doing tests, so it was actually pretty early. You think about it when you start planning your camera, which is in layout. You know, we think about camera just like “Okay, how should the camera support your story?” For our movie for example it was like “Get a little more depth when you are on this new world. Stay a little flatter with your lenses when you are on the sea.” So it’s usually about getting the contrast you want for your story. Stereo is the same way. I used it very much the same way. I wanted a little more depth in some moments, and others I wanted a little flatter. I embraced it because there was something cool that I liked at first. It felt like I was looking at a diorama in an old viewfinder. My short wants to feel a little bit old, I thought it would be the 1920’s and 30’s. I thought I would love to see this in 3D with a little weird viewfinder old projector effect over it (Makes old film projector noises.) So I kind of embraced it that way and we avoided getting very much in front of the camera, because this is not really a short that would support that. Then there’s good contrast when you need towards the end without giving too many spoilers. That’s a cool thing about 3D you know. I don’t love how we lose saturation. We really looked for nice, beautiful saturated blues and yellows. So the stereo gets you this beautiful new depth when you want it, but if I had to choose I would probably go for the other one, but they are so different. They give you different feels, so it’s kind of fun to watch them both.

Question: The film’s been done for a while, right? I mean I saw it in Telluride.

Enrico Casarosa: Yeah, we finished it in the spring of this year [2011].

Question: So why wasn’t this on CARS 2? Did it just happen that way?

Enrico Casarosa: They already had HAWAIIAN VACATION. We finished HAWAIIAN VACATION and then we finished LA LUNA. And HAWAIIAN VACATION was scheduled to go with CARS 2, so there was going to be a little bit of shelf time, but then Pete Docter said, “Why don’t you just put it out?” I was very thankful because I was a little bummed out. So it seemed to make sense. It was about time. It was done so much earlier and it’s been great to have it have it’s own little spotlight.

Question: Well I can’t wait for everybody else to see and I thank you very much.

Enrico Casarosa: I know. Oh, thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Watch a clip from La Luna below:

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