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The three golden rules that drive Pixar filmmaking are: Story, Story, Story. That and a preparedness to ‘kill your babies’ – to ditch ideas if they don’t work out, as Pixar short makers Andrew Jimenez and Osnat Shurer tell Andrew L. Urban.

The irony is delicious: two of Pixar’s hot shot shorts makers, writer/director Andrew Jimenez and executive producer Osnat Shurer, have just come all the way to Australia to present the studio’s latest four minute film, the wonderful, dialogue-less One Man Band (which could also be called Battle of the Buskers); but their message is that Pixar is anything BUT a one man band – and neither is making films there.

Following the film’s presentation at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, Jimenez and Shurer flew to Sydney and during a lunch on the Fox Studio lot, talked about the Pixar culture of making short films as a part of the ‘playing’ that informs and drives creative filmmaking. Recognized as leaders in creative digital animation, Pixar is unique in that it puts a lot of effort into shorts. But this is where the filmmaking mantra is massaged: “the golden rule is story, story, story,” says Jimenez, biting into a bacon and egg roll.

“You have to know what are the details that don’t matter, and you have to make sure there is a payoff.”

The remarkably warm winter sun bounces off the café table outside the Frank Hurley Grandstand as Osnat Shurer, chomping crisply into a chicken Caesar salad, takes up the theme: “If you’re making a short film, make it a short story, not the first chapter of a novel.” But the most important message about the way to work is: “get feedback…find collaborators. That’s the secret at Pixar. Everyone, including John Lasseter (the creative boss, officially Executive VP) gets notes. Find the weakness and improve on it.”

"If it doesn’t work, let it go"

A part of this philosophy, this worship of “better ideas”, has another secret: “If it doesn’t work, let it go,” urges Jimenez. “About 90% of what we story boarded for The Incredibles is on the floor. Ditch it …make room for a better idea. We call it killing your babies.”

Jimenez started at Pixar as a background painter more than a dozen years ago. “Now that’s the last thing on my mind. With One Man Band, we started with an idea to write a story about music, and had lots of different pieces. Over daily lunch sessions (don’t think silver service, think canteen) we would develop forty ideas and then whittle them down, either by ourselves, or with input from others.”

They killed a lot of babies, but ended up with one that could walk and talk and run and laugh with the best of them at Annecy, the world’s leading animation festival, where it had its world premiere, prior to its Melbourne screening.

One other secret to Pixar’s success, claims Jimenez, is the company’s clearly defined topline structure, with Lassiter as head of creative, Dr Ed Catmull, President, as head of technology and Steve Jobs, Chairman and Chief Executive, in charge of the money and business.

“Unlike most studios, Pixar doesn’t buy properties,” says Shurer. (So no point going there trying to sell your movie ideas.) “Pixar invests in people, and encourages them to develop their ideas. If one doesn’t work, they’ll have another one. It’s an auteur studio … the idea is to let our people create.”

In this creatively invigorating environment, says Shurer, the work benefits, and because everyone is supported and encouraged, morale is high and job satisfaction intense.

One Man Band: written and directed by Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews, produced by Osnat Shurer, with superb music by Micahel Giacchino, is a beautifully animated story about a little girl who is about to throw her coin in the fountain in an old town square, where a one man band is busking. He tries to win the gold coin, but a second busker arrives, playing violin. Torn, the girl is witness to an ever more fierce competition between the two until …..

Based in Northern California (away from Hollywood, that is), Pixar has produced six of the most popular and creatively admired animations of all time: Toy Story (1995); A Bug's Life (1998); Toy Story 2 (1999); Monsters, Inc. (2001); Finding Nemo (2003); and The Incredibles (2004). These six films have earned more than US$3 (AUS$3.9) billion at the worldwide box office to date. Pixar's next film release is Cars (June 9, 2006).

The Pixar animated lamp on its logo     (Luxo jnr) is familiar to all: new shorts from Pixar include Jack-Jack Attack (baby and babysitter) and Boundein’ (country wisdom for sheep), as well as the latest, One Man Band. Previous shorts include Tin Toy, Knick Knack (the snowman in a snow globe), Mike’s Car, For the Birds and the multi award winning Geri’s Game.

Andrew Jimenez
Director, Shorts Group
Andrew Jimenez is the co-writer and co-director of Pixar Animation Studios' latest animated short film, One Man Band. He also served as co-director of photography on Pixar's most recent computer animated comedy-adventure, The Incredibles. With Pixar since 1991, Andy collaborated as a digital artist on Finding Nemo and Monster's Inc.

Prior to Pixar, Andy worked with Sony Studios as a digital storyboard artist and story reel editor on Spider-Man. Together with Brad Bird, director of Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Andy developed the use of pre-visualization, using 2D and 3D story board animatics, a technique used on both these films. While at Warner Brothers Feature Animation, Andy worked on scene planning, digital effects, and as a storyboard artist on Iron Giant and Osmosis Jones.

Andy is a graduate of San Diego State University's Film Department. He is also a writer and composer and currently lives in Piedmont, California.

Osnat Shurer
Executive Producer Shorts Group
Osnat Shurer is the executive producer of the Shorts group at Pixar Animation Studios. Her department is responsible for Pixar's short films, as well as all DVD bonus materials. They also produce interstitials, outtakes, and all other original animation Pixar creates for the release of its movies.

Prior to joining Pixar in 2002, Shurer produced and directed film and television in various mediums - live action, animation, live television, and various interactive presentations for museums. She worked on documentaries and narrative films throughout the world, in such places as India, China, Tibet, Japan, Africa and Europe, with directors ranging from Michelangelo Antonioni to Alfonso Cuaron.

Shurer was born in Israel, and as the child of an airline executive grew up in many parts of the world. She received a degree in Film from New York University in 1983. Shurer currently resides in Berkeley, California.

Published August 18, 2005

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Andrew Jimenez

Osnat Shurer

Stills from One Man Band courtesy Pixar.

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