Pixar's Soul Shot Progression

Pixar’s Soul will be arriving on Disney+ on Christmas Day instead of getting the theatrical release that we all were hoping for at some point. That’s truly disappointing, because the animation in this movie is absolutely stunning, from the photorealistic New York City to the ethereal planes of The Great Before and The Great Beyond.

If you’d like to see how a shot evolves from the very basic early storyboard drawings to the incredibly detailed final animation, we have a series of images showing how a single shot progresses during Pixar’s production process.

Pixar’s Soul Shot Evolution

Soul Progession Image - Storyboard

Storyboard – To create a sequence in Disney and Pixar’s “Soul,” one of the early steps in the production pipeline is building storyboards. Artists sketch the key beats in a sequence, suggesting possible set positioning, camera angles and character poses.

Every shot in a Pixar movie begins with a storyboard like this. Sometimes the drawings are even more simple than this, but this one done by story artist Jamie Baker has a number of details included. This sequence involves Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) watching a busker performing in a New York City subway station as a cat looks on, and there were around 1,341 storyboards used to plan this entire scene.

Soul Progession Image - Concept Art

Art – Once the storyline for a sequence is determined, concept art is created by the production designer and art department to determine the look and feel of the film.

Storyboards are used to help plan the progression of a scene with regards to the story. Once that is determined, concept art is created to start exploring color and design for the characters and environments. This is where the movie starts to get its visual style.

In this case, you can see plenty of changes in the representation of the New York City subway, and the original sketch is given some real style. The appearance of the busker has changed completely, and the orientation of the characters within the subway has also been changed, included the cat, which is now lingering in the background behind the little girl.

Soul Progession Image - Layout

Layout – The layout department uses the principles of cinematography and film language to translate each moment of the hand-drawn storyboards into the three-dimensional cinematic shots that make up the finished film. This team determines the compositions of each shot, as well as the choreography of camera movement and character blocking within the virtual sets.

Here’s where the shot starts to take form in computer animation. As you can see, much of the imagery from the concept art has been translated into 3D, though there are more characters standing on the subway, and the cat has been made a little easier to see. As you can see, the animation is still rough and doesn’t have much definition as far as textures and detail. That helps keep the animation as simple as possible in case any changes need to be made before more detail is added to the shot.

Soul Progession Image - Animation

Animation –To create a sequence in Soul, the animation team works with the suggested layout and recorded dialogue to create the physical and emotional character performances.

The actual animation phase of production is where the physical and emotional performance starts to give the shot some life. This is where the detailed facial expressions and body movement are added to a scene. You’ll notice that Pixar describes the previous phase as “suggested” layout and recorded dialogue, because even when a shot reaches this moment, animators might figure out that certain elements need to be reconfigured in order to make a shot work. This includes the movement in the background, where you can see that the characters waiting for the train have changed.

Soul Progession Image - Lighting and Final

Lighting and Final Image – The lighting department helps to integrate all of the elements –characters, sets, effects, etc. –into a final, fully visually realized image. The lighting process involves placing virtual light sources into the scene to illuminate the characters and the set. Technical artists place the lights to draw the audience’s eye to story points and to create a specific mood. The lit images are then rendered at high resolution.

Here’s the completed shot with all the detail you’re used to seeing in the final cut of a Pixar movie. When you compare this image to the previous one, you’ll see that the lighting gives the scene a completely different visual style. The lighting has made the scene feel so much warmer. These light sources not only come from the lights within a scene’s setting, but sometimes also from off-camera in the virtual set.

Pixar tries to be as realistic as possible with lighting, but sometimes external sources are needed in order to assist with the focus of the story. For example, you’ll see the lighting makes Joe and the busker much brighter while the background characters are in more dim lighting. But even so, you can still see the textures that have been added in the background, such as the slight shine on a subway rider’s leather coat.

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For more from Pixar’s Soul, be sure to check out our reaction to roughly 40 minutes of footage that was shown to us by Pixar earlier this year. You can also get some insight into the making of the movie with our report from Pixar’s special press presentation. We’ll have more on Pixar’s Soul in the weeks leading up to the film’s release at Christmas, so stay tuned.

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