With the release of its next original film, ONWARD, Pixar is taking us somewhere we've never been before: a magical world with mushroom-shaped houses and stray unicorns roaming the streets. In a fantasy setting like this, anything is possible — which was both a great creative opportunity and challenge for the Pixar crew.
In an exclusive interview with AMC, director Dan Scanlon said, "I think one of the tough things with this movie was finding that balance between fantasy and every day." Image elves taking their kids to school and soccer practice, or a manticore serving other mythical creatures their meals.
To maintain equilibrium, the filmmakers set a rule: Every shot should be 30 percent fantasy and 70 percent familiar, though there are a few exceptions — including a pivotal scene that involves an old drawbridge. According to production designer Noah Klocek, "This scene is really the moment when we move from the familiar into the full fantasy world." And to build the setting, the artists used VR.
Pixar first used this technology in 2019 to visualize the antiques mall in TOY STORY 4. "I think for our movie, we just took it to the next level," director of photography Adam Habib told us. "Just the scale of the film and the places that it goes to, it gets really big," he continued. VR allowed multiple artists to step into and view the scene from the characters' point of views.
During our interview at Pixar's press day for ONWARD, we actually got to test the technology and "stand" on the suspension bridge, which hangs above an expansive, bottomless pit. Yes, it was as terrifying as it sounds! But for the artists, the experience helped guide the story and the emotions of elf brothers Ian and Barley, who are on an epic quest to bring their late father back.
For all of the fantastical elements, ONWARD is really about loss, family and finding your courage — valuable life lessons and resonating themes we expect from Pixar films. Make sure you get your advance tickets for the new magical adventure, which begins March 6 at an AMC near you.