LOS ANGELES: First announced at Disney’s fan expo, D23, “Onward” was teased as a “suburban fantasy,” taking place in a world that was once filled with swords and sorcery that have been replaced by technology.
Set to be released in March, Arab News took a studio tour to go behind the scenes of Pixar’s latest flick.
The tour began with a photo of members of the “Onward” production team on the first day they began working on the film in 2013 — and since then, the team has faced more than a few hurdles.
“To create a story from nothing is just hard,” said Kori Rae, the film’s producer. “We don’t start with a script already. We literally start in that room with four white walls and we have to do a lot of talking to even come up with a kernel of an idea.”
The film centers around Ian and Barley Lightfoot, two elf brothers based on director Dan Scanlon’s experiences with his real-life brother.
The boys lost their father at a young age but were given a tape recording of his voice saying “hello” and “goodbye.” Scanlon describes the experience as “magical,” and brought that magic to life in “Onward,” by giving Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) a spell that lets them meet their father for one day.
With the idea kernel pinned down, the team was ready to take the first steps toward making the movie. Concept artists began drawing ideas for the fantastical creatures that populate the movie, totaling around 240 characters and 13 species, ranging from elves to dragons to centaurs.
Meanwhile, the design team was figuring out how to make a fantasy world into a modern one.
“The question was how much fantasy and how much familiar do we want to bring to that,” designer Noah Klocek said. “It took us at least a year-and-a-half to figure out the ratio we wanted.”
They settled on a 70-30 split of a very familiar world with hints of magic and began fleshing out the story. According to the head of story, Kelsey Mann, the early drafts of the movie were drastically different from what audiences will see in theaters. But the idea they came up with back in that empty room kept the theme of the movie consistent.
“The one thing that’s constant is the ending. We boarded this emotional climax and that has remained the same since screening one. And that’s pretty unique.”
Head editor, Catherine Apple, said that the film was fully recut eight times, with many more edits in-between. Each of the eight versions of the film were screened for members of the Pixar staff working on other films to critique. While the first day may have been the hardest part, for many of the staff showing a work in progress to your peers was the most nerve-wracking.
“Really what they’re trying to say is ‘you’re not making your point,’ ‘you’re not being clear,’ or ‘this isn’t happening in the most entertaining or original way.’ So, seven years of that is exhausting,” said Scanlon. “It’s done with love and we trust each other. Everyone has the same goal which is to make the best film possible.”
This spirit of creative camaraderie among the crew of “Onward” seemed to permeate throughout Pixar. For a studio that is constantly innovating, raising the bar for itself and the industry at large, Pixar is also creating a community for its filmmakers.
As we left the Pixar campus and headed for the airport home, we were left with a feeling of wonder as we reflected on our peek into the fantastic and familiar world of “Onward” as well as the filmmakers’ reminder to treasure family.