Up: Taking Computer Animation to a Whole New Dimension

“Up,” written and directed by Pete Docter, is Disney-Pixar’s latest release, coming out May 29, 2009.

“Up” adds a whole new dimension to experiencing a Pixar film by being the first feature from the studio to be released in Disney Digital 3D. It ushers in a new era of exciting possibilities for the animation studio that brought moviegoers the first computer-animated feature 14 years ago and is recognized throughout the industry for its great storytelling, technical virtuosity and attention to detail.

“We look at 3D as another crayon in our crayon box,” says Pete Docter, Director/Writer.

According to director Pete Docter, it was John Lasseter who suggested they make “Up” in 3D. “So we set up a whole separate division,” says Docter. “This new department took a lot of the same storytelling elements that we were using and tried to use depth as another way of telling that story.
“For example, at the beginning of the film, Carl is stuck in his ways and he’s living in this little house,” continues Docter. “We wanted it to feel claustrophobic so we flattened everything—we made it purposely less deep. Contrast that later when he gets to South America. We wanted this expansiveness—we wanted you to feel the wind in your face, so we really pushed depth there. We look at 3D as another crayon in our crayon box,” says Docter.

Heading up the effort to make “Up” the first Pixar feature to be presented in Disney Digital 3D™ was Bob Whitehill, a veteran layout artist who came to the studio five years ago. His title on the film was stereoscopic supervisor.

“I think that ‘Up’ may quite possibly be one of the greatest 3D movies ever made, simply because the layout and composition is so good and so solid,” says Whitehill. “The lens choices and blocking really take advantage of the Z axis to and from the camera, and there are these wonderful sequences in the jungles of South America where they’ve set dressed these out-of-focus leaves, bushes and vines in the foreground. It creates this wonderful window through which you can look into this world and watch these entertaining characters.”

Working with the filmmakers, Whitehill and his team developed a “depth budget” to figure out the optimal and most effective use of 3D throughout the film; 3D became a visual cue to help the filmmakers tell the story and involve the audience with the characters.

“When Carl loses his wife, he retreats from life, and the film’s compositions become very flat,” explains Whitehill. “The lenses are a bit longer, and Carl is framed tight to the top of the frame so that it looks like he’s closed in and claustrophobic. In those sequences, we dialed down the depth budget. We’re using that Z-axis depth to help tell the story of a man who’s really lost the center of his life and so is retreating from us. When he and Ellie are younger, we dialed it up so that you feel this sense of room and freedom and adventure. And then when he goes on his big adventure, we really ramp things up. It’s quite staggering to go from a sequence with Carl trapped in his house, so to speak, to deep in the jungle in the heart of this big adventure.”