I wanted to look further into the making of Wall.E (2008) through the use of Pixar’s production notes. It is amazing to see how much has been altered or changed to fit the director’s original vision.
“One of the things I remember coming out of it was the idea of a little robot left on Earth,” says Stanton. “We had no story. It was sort of this Robinson Crusoe kind of little character — like what if mankind had to leave earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off, and he didn’t know he could stop doing what he’s doing?”
Years later, the idea took shape — literally. “I started to just think of him doing his job every day, and compacting trash that was left on Earth,” Stanton recalls. “And it just really got me thinking about what if the most human thing left in the universe was a machine? That really was the spark. It has had a long journey.”
In the foot notes I found it interesting that the team studied giant trash compactors and other machinery such as robots up close and in person. They also watched a huge variety of classical films for insight into cinematic expression. Pixar follow the line “truth in materials”- the animators using this in each robots design. Each had a function, and designers had to try and stay within the physical limitations of each design, while still creating personality.
“Our approach to the look of this film wasn’t about what the future is going to be like. It was about what the future could be — which is a lot more interesting. That’s what we wanted to impart with the design of this film. In designing the look of the characters and the world, we want audiences to really believe the world they’re seeing. We want the characters and the world to be real, not realistic looking, but real in terms of believability.”
I thought this was very relevant to the story of my own robot- the robot teacher/ professor. In a time were robots became the reliant source for anything, until a revolt leaving many of them (A.I.s) without jobs, kind of working for slaves.
Jim Reardon, head of story for “WALL•E,” observes, “What we didn’t want to do on this film was draw human-looking robots with arms, legs, heads and eyes, and have them talk. We wanted to take objects that you normally wouldn’t associate with having humanlike characteristics and see what we could get out of them through design and animation.”
Stanton explains, “We wanted the audience to believe they were witnessing a machine that has come to life. The more they believe it’s a machine, the more appealing the story becomes.”
Stanton notes, “In the world of animation, pantomime is the thing that animators love best. It’s their bread and butter and they’re raised on it instinctually. John Lasseter realized this when he animated and directed his first short for Pixar, ‘Luxo Jr,’ featuring two lamp characters who express themselves entirely without dialogue. The desire to give life to an inanimate object is innate in animators. For the animators on ‘WALL•E,’ it was like taking the handcuffs off and letting them run free. They were able to let the visuals tell most of the story. They also discovered that it’s a lot more difficult to achieve all the things they needed to.
“I kept trying to make the animators put limitations on themselves because I wanted the construction of the machines and how they were engineered to be evident,” he adds. “The characters seem robotic because they don’t squash and stretch. It was a real brain tease for the animators to figure out how to get the same kind of ideas communicated and timed the way it would sell from a storytelling standpoint, and yet still feel like the machine was acting within the limitations of its design and construction. It was very challenging — and completely satisfying when somebody found the right approach and solution.”
The rest of WALL•E’s design stemmed from functionality. “How does he get trash into himself and how does he compact it?” Deamer asks. Field trips were made to recycling plants to see trash compacting machines in action. “We knew he needed treads to go up and over heaps of trash,” he says. “He also needed to be able to compact cubes of trash, and have some kind of hands to gesticulate.”
The case of Wall-E is very different than Robots (2005)- due to the back story being entirely different. In robots- the characters are a separate sub section entirely, living as an entire robot society so are entirely human like in motion and nature, but with the robotic extras added. However, with Wall.E, it is apparent that this animatronics are built solely to be subservient to humans. I wanted to go with a mix of both of these plots, as if Robots were built to serve humans but also integrate with them in society- like iRobot (2004) or Bicentennial Man (1999).
“Andrew came in one day with the inspiration for WALL•E’s eyes. He had been to a baseball game and was using a pair of binoculars. He suddenly became aware that if he tilted them slightly, you got a very different look and feeling out of them. That became one of the key design elements for the main character.”
I liked the idea of using everyday items for inspiration- to give the character the feel he does not need added extras, but what he is built from gives the personality.
One of the big points of discussion in creating the character of WALL•E was whether or not he should have elbows. “Early in the film, we had designed WALL•E with elbows,” explains supervising animator Steve Hunter. “This gave him the ability to bend his arms. As animators, we were fighting for it thinking he’s got to be able to touch his face, hang off a spaceship, and have a wide range of motion. But when you really looked at it, it didn’t feel right. He’s designed to do a task, which is to pull trash into his belly. Why would he have elbows? It didn’t make any sense. So with Andrew’s help and an inspired idea by directing animator Angus MacLane, we gave him a track around his side which allowed him to position his arms differently and give him a range of motion. It helped us flesh out the character a lot more. Something like elbows may seem kind of trivial but the way we solved the problem makes you believe in WALL•E more because we didn’t take the easy way out.”
Elimination of elbows was something I found intriguing and something barely noticeable in the film until you go back and actually look at Wall.E. I 100% agree with the design decision as the lack of elbows works much better.