As kids we were always taken to the cinema to see the latest Disney film. Back in those days the queues would run out of the cinema and tumble onto the street – the anticipation of the film and quality you knew would be delivered with one of their films.
Popcorn in hand, we would watch in awe as the screen came to life. A mixture of tears and laughter guaranteed as the story, always touched with a hint of tragedy and triumph, left you with a feel good factor after viewing it. The Disney magic is something that has never left me, I still feel the same when watching their films (I still cry too – was that a bit of pixie dust in my eye?).
The principles, work ethic and sheer will power of Walt Disney is something I personally respect and admire. After viewing many documentaries of his life and how he built the empire we see today, I am always left in awe at his strength of character as he persevered through life’s challenges.
From what I have learnt, he surrounded himself with the right people and brought out the best in their abilities. The success of the Walt Disney Company is down to not only Walt, but by the talented animators around him – who believed as much as he did that they were part of something special and were willing to take risks to achieve their dreams.
Having the opportunity to interview a PIXAR animator is a great honour for me and a first for this blog! Steve Segal has worked on Toy Story (the first full-length 3D animated movie) and A Bugs Life. He co-produced the avant-garde space travel film parody, Futuropolis and has won multiple awards for his work around the world.
Vikki: Was animation something you always wanted to do from an early age?
Steve: Yes, all kids like cartoons, why not want to make ‘em? I started with flip books in the margins of my school workbooks.
Vikki: Who were/are your inspirations in animation and film?
Steve: So many. Disney is the big one; Also Ray Harryhausen, Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Brad Bird, Robert Zemeckis, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Max Fleischer, Walter Lantz, Richard Williams, John Lasseter, George Pal, Norman McLaren, Oskar Fischinger, Frederick Back.
Vikki: What does animation bring to a story over any other form?
Steve: The impossible.
Vikki: You teach animation at the California College of Arts, are the basic principles of animated storytelling the same, or have they changed over the years?
They have not changed. But ideas that at one time could only be achieved through animation can now be done in live action (though the use of animated special effects).
Vikki: You’ve won awards for your work at the Cannes International Film Festival, Zagreb Animation Festival, Ottawa International Animation Festival, Nashville Independent Film Fest and the Los Angeles Animation Celebration film festival. Is there anything else left for you to win?
Steve: Oscar. That’s a long shot. All those awards were a long time ago it would be nice to get some festival acknowledgment now.
Vikki: You created Futuropolis with Phil Trumbo, can you tell me more about this film and the collaboration.
Steve: We started collaborating in art school, and went on the open a small studio together. We both like fantasy and science fiction and we had many ideas about what we could do if we made our own science fiction film…so we did.
Vikki: What are the most rewarding/defining moments for you personally in your career so far?
Steve: At the start of my sophomore year of college I showed my design teacher a film I had made over the summer break. When the film ended he didn’t say a word, and just left the room. He came back with every faculty member he could find and had me show the film to them. I had an indication that maybe I was good at this. That film won several film festival awards. Other milestones the first time I saw one of my commercials on TV, and the first time I saw my name in the credits (Pee Wee’s Playhouse, then The Brave Little Toaster) and when we premiered Futuropolis at a local theater we got a standing ovation. Also when I was accepted into the Academy of Motion Pictures and when I got hired at Pixar. Is that too many?
Vikki: You animated Pixar’s Toy Story and A Bugs Life, both incredibly successful films. Can you share your experience of creating the first full-length 3D computer-animated movie, Toy Story.
Steve: I had already made a computer animated short on my home computer in 1987 and had my eye on the company that made the best computer animation, Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Division which became Pixar. It also helped that I worked on The Brave Little Toaster alongside head of story Joe Ranft, who later became head of story at Pixar. When I joined Pixar the story was mostly finished and they had animated the army man sequence (they were still finalizing designs of the main characters). I thought it was very clever, and based on what I had seen and the screenplay I was sure it would be a hit. I didn’t think it would be the biggest film of the year. There were definitely challenges, the computers crashed all the time and the opening was animated three times. But everyone involved stayed calm, and fostered a feeling of fun and creativity.
Vikki: Do you feel that Walt Disney’s work ethic and principles are still seen in modern-day Disney films?
Steve: Oh definitely. Disney laid down the principles of animation in the early 30’s and they are still followed today. I think the work ethic is a little different, since technology takes some of the pressure off, if you get a glare or flaw you can fix it in post, but that was very difficult to do pre-computer.
Vikki: What attributes make successful animators, which go beyond talent?
Steve: Persistence, Storytelling, the ability to analyze and visualize action.
Thanks to Richard Lee Warren and to Steve for this incredible insight into animation!
PIXAR YouTube channel: Toy Story playlist
PIXAR animation studios
The Walt Disney Company