Pixar techie shares experience

Imagine working in a building with a NASCAR car in its main atrium and aquariums filled with clownfish throughout its offices. For Rob Cook, vice president of advanced technology at Pixar Animation Studios, this is reality, not fantasy.

Cook spoke to a standing-room-only crowd about his experiences working with Pixar and in computer animation in general at a Saybrook College Master’s Tea on Tuesday afternoon. Cook, who studied physics in college, said despite his lack of schooling in computer graphics, his background in science has helped him succeed in his field by making him adaptable to changes in the medium.

Rob Cook, a vice president at Pixar, speaks at a Saybrook Master’s Tea on Tuesday. Cook spoke about the technology of computer animation.
Chris Young
Rob Cook, a vice president at Pixar, speaks at a Saybrook Master’s Tea on Tuesday. Cook spoke about the technology of computer animation.

Cook predicted that the growing use of computer graphics will fuel a shift from high-budget to lower-budget films. The increasing availability of technology, which reduces production costs, will allow filmmakers to focus on telling the best story rather than raising the most money.

“Films won’t be limited by budget,” he said. “They’ll be limited by their ability to tell a story.”

But Cook said the recent shift from the use of hand-drawn animation to computer graphics has not always been for the best.

“We miss [drawn animation],” Cook said. “I think people who decide what movies get made don’t understand what makes a movie good. It would be great to see 2-D back.”

Cook said Pixar’s collaborative approach to filmmaking has been helpful to the company. Physicists and artists work together to create a project, he said, resulting in a unique partnership.

Ming-Yee Lin ’10 said she attended the talk because she loves Pixar movies. The talk allowed her to see beyond the script and plot and encouraged her to think about the details of an animated film’s production, she said, such as the amount of work required to make one T-shirt in “Monster’s Inc.” move realistically.

“I really liked when he talked about the technology that they used and the problems that they have,” Lin said. “I had assumed that there aren’t that many problems, like when he talked about … the problems they had with that one T-shirt [in Monster’s Inc.] — it’s a problem you wouldn’t normally think of.”

But some students said they wish Cook had elaborated more on some of his experiences. Marisa Poverman ’10 said she was confused by his seemingly-contradictory descriptions of the long time required to make an animated movie and the studio’s ability to make significant changes in “Toy Story II” only 10 months away from its release. She said she would have liked to learn how “Toy Story II” was altered so quickly while the process of making a digital film typically takes about five to seven years.

Pixar’s next film, “Ratatouille,” is scheduled to open in theaters on June 29. The film features a sewer-dwelling Parisian rat who dreams of becoming a famous chef.

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