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Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1(1984-2006)
A collection of 13 Pixar shorts: The Adventures of Andre & Wally B, Luxo Jr., Red's Dream, Tin Toy, Knick Knack, Geri's Game, For the Birds, Mike's New Car, Boundin', Jack-Jack Attack, Mater and the Ghost Light, One Man Band, and Lifted.
For more about Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 and the Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 Blu-ray release, see the Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 Blu-ray Review
Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 Blu-ray Review
Even short films shine in high def on this thorough studio compilation disc.
Reviewed by Lindsay Mayer, February 25, 2008
Art challenges technology, and technology inspires the art. You know, and that's... that's it, in a nutshell, the way we work at Pixar.
So says John Lasseter on the early days of the Pixar studio, now a household name among animation enthusiasts and families alike. Owned by Lucasfilm, Pixar was initially nothing more than a computer graphics research and development facility, dominated by an impressive force of men with doctorates in physics, computer science, and the like. Brought on as a student schooled in traditional drawn animation in the early 80s, Lasseter was the much-needed "right-brained" individual who almost singlehandedly animated much of the early experimental work at Pixar.
From these humble beginnings, as well as a mix of great luck and extraordinary talent, Pixar would soon surge ahead to become the premiere animation studio in all of the "Western world," renown for its well-spun tales and pioneering animation techniques. Few seem to realize, however, the significance of the studio's short films, and the important mentality behind shorts production that continues to this day. The Pixar Short Films Collection is a veritable time line spanning nearly 25 years, and upon a consecutive viewing, the studio's maturation is evident in the animation itself.
The entertainment value of this BD title depends on audience "demographic," as it were. A substantial portion of the included shorts were meant for early computer animation research purposes, as well as a flashy demonstration of the Pixar Image Computer's capabilities at industry conventions like SIGGRAPH and the like. Lasseter's first effort, The Adventures of André and Wally B. is a brief vignette which demonstrated the possibility of character animation within the still-rudimentary computer system's rendering restrictions. Basic geometric shapes had been developed for use, but nothing more sophisticated was possible in 1984. Lasseter was able to inspire the programmers to develop a bendable tear-drop shape, and this became André's main body structure.
Following André was the iconic Luxo Jr., another short demonstration of current computer capabilities, finished in 1986. Featuring what would become the company's mascot, a "parent" Luxo lamp is harried by a rambunctious and insatiably curious "child" lamp. The lighting effects, motion of toy balls, meticulous animation of ripples in the power cords, and (not least of all) the emotive character animation were the first of their kind to be seen, and it caused a sensation within the burgeoning computer graphics industry.
Red's Dream a year later would show further advances; a complex cityscape, rain effects, 3D bicycle models, and primitive organic models (i.e. a clown figure) were all used to great effect, and provided even more experience for the growing studio. By this time, Apple Computers had purchased Pixar from Lucasfilm and Steve Jobs personally invested in the studio's projects - he believed they had great potential.
Tin Toy would prove to be an even greater challenge for the team. The short tale of a musical tin toy harassed by an infant within a furnished indoor environment meant tricky soft shadows, textures, and a complex human baby figure which required a whole slew of new software to be written in order to make the final model passable onscreen. Tin Toy's story elements were strong enough, however, that it earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1989. After the marathon that was Tin Toy, the animators wanted to lighten things up a bit, inspired by the very cartoony Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which had just been released at the time. Thus, the winsome Knick Knack was produced - even rendered in 3D for an eye-popping experience.
It was around this time that Pixar converted solely to an animation facility and abandoned its hardware business; the Pixar Image Computer had suffered continuously poor sales despite enthusiastic use within government agencies and medical imaging. The Walt Disney Studios had also been a client of the Image Computer during their development of their in-house CAPS system, a computer coloring program that eliminated the manual ink-and-paint process. Having been impressed with Pixar's work on shorts in the past, Disney struck a deal with the studio to produce a feature-length, fully computer-animated film. The result was, of course, the wildly successful Toy Story. During the latter's production, work on shorts ceased. But even following the dizzying triumph of their first feature film, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull agreed that Pixar should still produce shorts. It gave the opportunity to experiment on new techniques, as well as letting young and less-experienced crew try out their wings by heading projects themselves.
Thus, Jan Pinkava began this trend by directing Geri's Game, which experimented with cloth elements as well as creating more plausible human character designs. The importance of story was taking precedent in this later crop of shorts however, and it was evident in the whimsical storyline of Pinkava's short, which featured the old man Geri playing chess - with himself - on a bright autumn day. Attached to the front of Pixar's sophomore film A Bug's Life, Geri's Game began the now-established Pixar trend of showing in-house shorts before every feature film during their theatrical run. For The Birds was a short, but sweet, piece effectively utilizing visual gags and sound design for characterization. Boundin' had a unique stylistic flair to it, having been influenced by the more cartoony, abstract designs of Bud Luckey and Mary Blair. One Man Band and Lifted used music and sound design as their main storytelling medium, respectively.
Additionally, Pixar has produced shorts available exclusively with the home video release of the feature film to which they extend on. These shorts - Mike's New Car, Jack-Jack Attack, Mater and the Ghostlight, and Your Friend The Rat are all, save for the latter, included on this release. The direct-to-video shorts stand well on their own, even if one has not seen the original feature film they came from.
Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 Blu-ray, Video Quality
This set does not disappoint in terms of picture quality. It can easily function as a "snippet" of demo material to show off Blu-ray's capabilities. 9 of the 13 shorts are simply gorgeous, and the detail is utterly beguiling. The individually moving feathers in For the Birds, or the minute floating bits of debris in Lifted, for example, show a rare attention to detail for which Pixar is renown. Averaging 25 mbps, the AVC encode is utilized to great effect to make these shorts shine.
Four of the shorts, Pixar's earliest from the 1980s, may disappoint due to their apparently less-than-pristine presentation. One must remember, however, that André, Luxo Jr., Red's Dream,, and Tin Toy were produced during computer animation's very infancy, and rendered at a relatively low resolution in comparison to today's slick CG features. These shorts may have been stored on analog devices, additionally. Every single one of the latter shorts boast the same bitrates as those of the subsequent shorts from the mid-90s and onward, though in the case of this early work, there just wasn't much there to "spruce up" in the first place. The exception to these 80s shorts is 1989's Knick Knack, which pops off the screen like the best of Pixar's contemporary work, but this is due to the studio re-rendering the short for release with 2003's Finding Nemo. The cartoony short had featured two well-endowed female figures, who subsequently underwent breast reduction in order to avoid any outcry from overly-sensitive "family" audiences.
In terms of aspect ratio, all shorts are presented in their original, intended composition. This includes direct-to-video short Mike's New Car, which was produced at 4:3 due to the often small monitors that it debuted on. With its light, cartoony feel, the short even seems reminiscent of old Academy ratio Merrie Melodies, or the like.
Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Keeping pace with the release's excellent video, Pixar Shorts Volume I boasts impressive PCM uncompressed 5.1 audio. Since these shorts often utilize music and sound design for - as an example - comedic effect, the uncompressed audio makes a world of difference. The unofficial litmus test for just how convincing said high definition option is to the ears, the twittering For the Birds quite thoroughly captivated this reviewer's cat!
In addition, Pixar's latest shorts One Man Band and Lifted are completely dialogue-free, and rely on music and sound design, respectively, to tell their stories and punchline their humor. The included PCM track allows the shorts to be realized to full effect.
Standard definition audio included on this Blu-ray release are Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes each of English, Spanish, and French. The disc also includes the option of selecting your menu and display languages upon initial playback. The English commentary tracks have been subtitled in Spanish and French, and even a select few shorts (i.e. Boundin' and For the Birds) alter their title cards to the relevant language.
Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
By far the most substantial supplement on this release is the 23-minute overview "The Pixar Shorts: A Short History." Filmed in high definition, the featurette contains interviews with many prominent veteran Pixar staff, including John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, and Eben Ostby. Reminiscing on the studio's humble beginnings and focusing mainly on the stories behind Pixar's first five shorts, "A Short History" plays almost like an annotated version of Leslie Iwerks' recent documentary, A Pixar Story. Concise and candid, it is by far the best extra feature included on this release.
In addition, every short, save for Jack-Jack Attack, is accompanied by an optional commentary track with the short's relevant filmmakers, usually the director and/or producer. Mike's New Car proves the exception, as director Pete Docter's two young sons babble on in the only the way kids can during the short's playback. As New Car is a fun, inconsequential vignette to begin with, the inclusion of kid commentary is almost fitting... and rather cute, besides.
The remaining listed extras are four short interstitials (presented in 480i) that Pixar created for the children's show Sesame Street in the 1980s. Demonstrating simple concepts, "Surprise," "Light and Heavy," "Up and Down," and "Front and Back" place Luxo and Luxo Jr. in a humorous-yet-educational situation catered to the series' preschool audience.
There is also a small handful of Easter eggs included on the Blu-ray, and can all be accessed from the main menu. Scrolling through the title cards of the shorts using the up arrow key rather than right or left will reveal two test films from 1986, "Beach Chair" and "Flags and Waves," as well as an entire "rough draft" pencil test of Luxo Jr.
Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Pixar is to be commended for their studio's "business model." Not only do they continue to push the capacities of current computer technology, but their dedication to the art of animation, as well as simply telling a good story, is phenomenal. Using a shorts program to develop new techniques and break in some of the studio's less-experienced animators is not just following animation tradition; it's a dead useful, low-risk tactic. And the finished products of these efforts have been highly enjoyable. This Blu-ray Disc release, with its stellar picture, sound, and substantial extras, has even had enough foresight applied to it to be labeled "Volume I," though no new shorts yet exist to compile a Volume II. Pixar will most definitely be producing shorts for years to come; Lasseter has even extended this process to the Walt Disney Animation Studios, fostering shorts development of every "cartoon" medium. It certainly is refreshing to see something show in front of the feature besides 30 minutes of commercials and bad trailers; I, for one, appreciate this resurrection of old animation practices.
For the animation enthusiast, Pixar fan... or even as short, sweet demo material for the high definition nut, this release is much recommended. Being as most of the feature films with which these shorts were packaged have not yet made it to Blu-ray, this volume offers further material to "tide over" until the day the beautifully rendered Finding Nemo or masterfully crafted Toy Stories, for example, are pressed into high definition.
Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1: Other Editions
Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 1 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Pixar Short Films Collection Dated - July 27, 2007
Buena Vista Home Entertainment has announced that the 'Pixar Short Films Collection' will make its way onto Blu-ray this November 6th. This disc will feature all 13 of the Pixar short films, including those which premier before Pixar films, and those that ...
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