My journey to Pixar began on the afternoon of April 9th and my 4-hour flight seemed like a dream, I couldn’t believe that I was going to enter Pixar Animation Studios later that afternoon. Once the plane landed I had to find my shuttle group to the hotel for registration and check-in. My shuttle group consisted of 3 other film bloggers from all over the US – it was nice to spend the travel time to the hotel getting to know one another and discussing our websites.
The shuttle arrived at The Four Seasons San Francisco and the group of us continued to check in and register with part of Pixar’s “Smile Squad” (Monsters University-related) where we were informed that the bus to Pixar would leave at 4:30 PM. This gave us just enough time to unwind from our flight and grab a quick bite to eat before departing.
When the bus pulled into Pixar Studios the crowd hushed and peered out the windows in the hope of getting a glimpse of what was to come. As I walked off the bus I could see the enormous Monsters University (MU) archway that seemed to be plucked from the trailer itself. After walking under the MU sign, we were greeted by Luxo Jr. and the Pixar ball – I know it sounds crazy, but it still didn’t feel real to me yet.
Before we get too much further, be sure to check out our five-minute high-definition (1080p) video highlighting our adventure (including pictures, video, and an interview clip) to prime you for the rest of our two-part writeup. Then, be sure to tune in the week of May 5th when we will also upload episode 11 of the Pixar Post Podcast with a ton of additional details and over an hour of audio from Pixar discussions and interviews.
Standing in front of Luxo Jr. and the Pixar ball you could see the outdoor amphitheater to one side and the incredible Brooklyn building (the second animation building recently added on) to the other side. A large field with a soccer goalpost separated the amphitheater and Brooklyn building – it’s just a simple reminder of the fun Pixar employees take part in after (or in between) work.
After a moment of taking it all in we walked into The Steve Jobs building and into the atrium – many bloggers were already in line waiting to take a photo for our custom Monsters University ID. I just stood there in the foyer of the atrium and looked all around from the wood flooring, to the steel beams, to the amazing natural light that was shining through the ceiling windows. This is the moment that it felt real to me. I was standing inside Pixar Animation Studios, a place that is full of incredible artists that I’ve looked up to for years, and there I was standing in the foyer of greatness – it was a feeling that can’t be explained or duplicated, it was amazing.
Once I took my ID photo we were ushered to the Pixar theater where I met fellow Pixar bloggers Greg, Samad, and Derrick – all of who are so wonderful and shared with me their previous experiences of being in the Pixar theater. The four of us sat together in the cozy theater and the first presentation was The Blue Umbrella. Director Saschka Unseld and Marc Greenberg were also on hand to present the film and give a quick insight into the film.
Before the feature short began, the theater went dark and the ceiling turned into a beautiful night sky (complete with shooting stars), but my favorite feature was the chirping crickets that could be heard around the room – the ambiance really added to the excitement of sitting in the official Pixar theater.
T.J. and I were lucky enough to view the short prior to interviewing Unseld back in March but to see it in the Pixar theater with an audience who had not seen it was magical. We never gave details about the short before but eluded to the photorealism and the gasps from the crowd gave me chills. At one point, I glanced around the room and saw a room full of smiles as the screen flashed bits of light on the crowd’s faces. We still won’t reveal the details of the short yet, but it is an artistic masterpiece with a beautifully simplistic story that carries you through “Blue’s” journey seamlessly.
After The Blue Umbrella ended the audience erupted into applause which was so heartfelt. On June 21, you are definitely in for a treat with Pixar’s latest feature short.
Immediately following The Blue Umbrella, Monsters University Director Dan Scanlon and Producer Kori Rae approached the front of the theater and spoke about the background between Mike & Sulley and what we could expect in the 40 minutes of footage we were about to see. The theater went dark and Monsters University began. This review will NOT contain any spoilers of the film – from the moment the film began the audience was engaged and everyone was rooting Mike Wazowski along on his journey as Monsters University is really Mike’s movie. The music, the lightning, and the character designs (old and new) are all amazing and completely on par with what we’ve come to expect from Pixar. There are so many things to note, but all I can really say is that this is a hilarious and heartfelt Pixar film.
After the 40 minutes were up, the screen faded to black and the audience let out an audible groan as we were all hoping to see more of the film. Keep in mind that after this event, we were also lucky enough to catch one of the MU Pre-screenings in Ann Arbor – be sure to check out some more details here.
Following the groans, we were informed that we would be treated to a The Blue Umbrella-themed reception in the Brooklyn building and we filed out of The Steve Jobs building. When we were leaving, I noticed the three large Monsters University concept art hung around the atrium.
The Brooklyn building was just a short walk away and is stunning and regal. We stayed in the atrium on the first floor but were able to glance up and see the open floors above.
During the reception we were treated to delicious hors d’oeuvres and were able to mingle with Directors Saschka Unseld and Dan Scanlon as well as Producers Kori Rae and Marc Greenberg – this was a surprise that was unexpected, but one that I completely appreciated. I enjoyed my talk with Dan as we spent most of the time discussing the lighting and technical points that I had noticed in the Monsters University footage. Scanlon was so gracious and was able to share some insight into one of the biggest technical challenges on the movie – the student’s backpacks!
I was also surprised by the fact that I was able to meet Director Mark Walsh (PartySaurus Rex) who greeted me as we talked like old friends. Mark was another amazing surprise on this mind-blowing day and I couldn’t believe I was actually talking with the originator of the PartySaurus Rex short!
As the first night came to an end we were ushered back to the buses with the promise that the next day was going to be the BIG event. How do you top this day? Be sure to read our review of the second day of the MU press event.