A Quest into the World of “Onward”

A Quest into the World of Onward

Back in October, I was lucky enough to attend an early press day for Onward at Pixar Animation Studios.  This two-day event was quite a learning experience as multiple journalists including myself got an in-depth inside look into at Onward complete with an exclusive sneak peek of the film.  There was a lot of information shared at the press day but luckily all of the information was broken down into multiple presentations which to me felt like a crash course as to what it is like to make a film at Pixar. I got to learn all about the magic of Pixar as well as what it was like to create the characters of Onward and building their story.

In one of the presentations, appropriately titled “Quests of Lore”, Onward’s Head of Story Kelsey Mann and Story Lead Madeline Sharafian talked about what it was like to be part of the project from day one and what the process was like to build the world of Onward from scratch. Another presentation called “Creating Reality in Fantasy” was all about how the characters in Onward were created and brought to life. The panel featured Jeremie Talbot (Characters Supervisor), Ana Lacaze (Character Shading Art Director), Allison Rutland (Directing Animator), and Sequoia Blankenship (Crowds Supervisor).

Below are fifteen of the most interesting facts that I learned about Onward during these two presentations:

Kelsey Mann pitches a sequence during an Onward story review, as seen on December 14, 2018 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

15. Kelsey Mann and Madeline Sharafian were involved in the making of Onward since day one. The film was greenlit on September 17, 2013.

14. Whenever starting a project at Pixar, it always starts with a blank story room. Mann and Sharafian pointed out that being part of this room is intimidating but incredibly collaborative as everyone works together to build a story team.

13.  There is a lot of reading and visualizing that goes on within the story room. Being part of this process requires working together in a “fish tank” or “fish bowl.”

12. There were 97, 759 storyboards for Onward.

11. After a scene is figured out that one of the story creators wants to be part of the film, he or she must create an interactive pitch that tells the story. This interactive pitch requires the person or persons involved to act out the scene in character.

10. During this presentation, Mann and Sharafian acted out a scene from the film where the lead characters Ian and Barley must tie a rope in order to get over a cliff.

Members of the braintrust and key film members and executives, including story artist Madeline Sharafian, meet for an Onward braintrust meeting on April 18, 2018 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

9. Each scene in Onward took anywhere from one to three weeks to bring to life.

8. When creating each scene there is a collaborative critique from many working on the film where people give their two cents in order to make the scene better.

7.  There are a total of eight screenings done through the production of a film at Pixar. These test screenings are done of whatever footage has been created during that specific time period. A test screening usually occurs every three months.

6. Within Pixar Animation Studios, there is an internal website for those involved in the making of a film to submit thoughts which are then organized into a top 10.

5. When creating a character at Pixar, you start from nothing and create concept drawings which then get put into a computer n can be resculpted to build upon the design of that character.

Onward story team members work in the “fishbowl,” a common work space for everyone to be together while working, as seen on November 8, 2016 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

4. The first sculpt for Onward was done in February 2017.

3. There were 13 different species created for Onward. In total, there were 240 characters created for the film.

2.  When creating the characters and the story the thought process is how the team can make the fantasy feel like normal life.

  1. When creating the character of Dad, the animators used a green screen to do screen tests to show how they can use legs to give the character personality. The movement of Dad’s legs such as taping his foot is all ways that the animators gave Dad a personality.

Onward  opens in theaters on March 6, 2020

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott "Movie Man" Menzel has been a film fanatic since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associates Degree in Marketing, a Bachelors in Mass Media, Communications and a Masters in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com, which he founded. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name changed occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

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