The Massie Twins sat down with writer/director Andrew Stanton to discuss his new computer-animated feature “WALL·E,” during the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con.
The Massie Twins: This is Pixar’s first foray into science fiction.
Andrew Stanton: It is and I’m so excited to be the first one to do it because I’m such a fan of that genre.
MT: How do you top Finding Nemo?
AS: You don’t try to. Every movie we’ve worked on has been a great idea but most of the time when you work on these films it’s in a puberty phase where it doesn’t look pretty, it doesn’t look like it’s going to work, so you sometimes don’t know until the last six to eight months if it really all came together right. You don’t really think about trying to top the last one, and the only thing I trust is that I’m as excited about the next idea as I was about the last one.
MT: Tell us a little about the story of Wall-E.
AS: It’s just really about how a little robot makes the whole world go round. It has space adventure, it’s a love story, and lot’s more, but I don’t want to give too much away so people can enjoy it when they watch it.
MT: Where did the idea for Wall-E come from?
AS: I just thought of it. (laughs). It came from that lunch (as shown in the previews on Ratatouille) with John Lasseter, Pete Doctor, and Joe Ranft, and we were sitting on a lot of ideas and some of them became Toy Story, Bug’s Life, and Monster’s Inc., and when they came up with the phrase “what if mankind left earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off,” it was such a lonely scenario. We had such a hard time trying to make Woody appealing and it took us a long time to figure out how to make a main character appealing and either not boring or unlikable, and it seemed like such an insurmountable thing to do in movies, and to suddenly have an idea where immediately you like the character it seemed like it’s there on a platter for you. So that stayed around with me for a decade and I couldn’t stop thinking about this little guy and what made him get into that situation and what made him get out of it. I think loneliness is everyone’s biggest fear whether they’re conscious of it or not, and I remember Tom Hanks telling us that when we were recording for Toy Story 2, and he was in the middle of doing Cast Away, and he said that the biggest fear people have is loneliness and that really struck me and I told him I think you’re right, and I think that’s why these kind of stories, when done right, really resonate with people.
MT: How did you come up with the character design for Wall-E?
AS: I was watching a baseball game with my friend’s binoculars, and knowing I wanted to make a film that made you feel the same way as when you watch Luxo jumping around, but also knowing I couldn’t do just a single-eyed character because you can only get so many expressions with just tipping the head, I thought about how you’re going to carry an entire movie. I ended up missing a whole inning because I started tipping the binoculars back and forth and started realizing how many more expressions I could get, and I thought “that’s it,” that’s got to be the face, and then things were just built off from there with a lot of other artists throwing in – he wasn’t created all at once – there were a lot of great artists all working together to get him where he’s at.
MT: You mentioned on the panel the phrase “R2-D2 the movie.”
AS: I wanted it to feel like R2-D2 the movie, because when I saw Star Wars and R2 went down in that trench on Tatooine when he met the Jawas, I couldn’t care less if we ever went back to anywhere else in the movie because I was so engrossed, and I wanted to feel like I was watching a character like that.
MT: Was it a challenge focusing on a character that doesn’t speak in a necessarily recognizable language?
AS: No, because we’ve been working with Luxo from day one and it’s so natural for an animator to know the power of what you can do with that. It’s one of those intellectual exercises – you can talk about it, you convince yourself to death that it would be hard but it’s easy, and it comes naturally to every animator I know. And maybe that’s what makes animators animators, because nobody needed to be convinced at Pixar.
MT: Are there any massive technological advances showcased in Wall-E?
AS: I think we’re in a place now where if you can think of it, it can be done. I think we’ve been that way for almost four or five years now. It’s like all the colors on the palette have been found, so now it’s up to how smart you are to be able to paint with those colors. We’ve had the same animators since Toy Story and they’ve just gotten better and better. That’s fifteen years of pros doing the same job again and again and they get better every year, and that’s one of the nice things of having the same crew.
MT: What did you want to do in Wall-E to show people something they haven’t seen before?
AS: Well, I think that way from an audience standpoint when I say “wow, that’s a place I’ve never been” or “that’s a character I’ve never seen”, and it’s kind of obvious but I felt I’d never been in the sci-fi genre in a non-mocking way and taking it seriously and respecting the worlds and the characters and truly believing they exist out there. That’s all I really want when I watch something of that genre. I want to believe it’s really out there and that it’s really happening.
MT: Did you look through cinema’s list of robots-done-right for inspiration?
AS: Yes, I kind of put them into two camps of just people that did it wrong and people that did it right, and for me it seemed that it’s either humans with metal skin or it’s an appliance with a character that you throw onto it. So the one thing I definitely knew I didn’t want to do was the world of the tin man, and that’s where I kept using R2-D2 because I felt he was the other camp. To me that’s a whole different place of appeal. I think that we pull from ourselves a different audience response depth when we look at a pet or an infant because they don’t fill the whole equation and can’t express to you exactly how they feel, so you’re forced to pull from yourself your memories and apply them to what you think, like “I think the baby is sad, or I think that dog is happy to see me.” You start pulling from personal emotional history to fill in those blanks and you get a much more impactful response when you’re looking at an inanimate object that you’ve thrown characteristics on. It’s gold when you can get someone to invest that much of their own personal emotional history into watching a film, and that’s why Chaplin or Keaton is still huge, and anyone can watch it now and be competely affected. Sometimes if it’s right on a deeper level than they’ve been used to for awhile in movies and that’s the pool I wanted to play in with this character and this world.