Animating ‘Soul’: Our Conversation with 3 Animators From the Film

Animating Pixar’s Soul was about creating authenticity – watch our interview discussion with 3 animators from the film & check out a new featurette.

It should come as no surprise that Pixar’s Soul offers a powerful emotional punch (as so many Pixar films do), but, it also continues another great Pixar tradition — authenticity. As you get ready to watch Pixar’s Soul streaming December 25, 2020, exclusively on Disney+, we wanted to share some more specifics on how the animation team brought such a high level of authenticity to Soul.

Back in September, we were lucky enough to chat with Jude Brownbill (Animation Supervisor), Bobby Podesta (Animation Supervisor), and MontaQue Ruffin (Animator) about four main topics surrounding animation — creating “character beats”, defining the animation supervisor role, using reference footage, and the area that really was a “wow” moment was diving into the technical details behind accurately animating the piano playing in the film.

Pixar Soul Concept Artwork by Kyle Macnaughton
SOUL – Concept Art by Kyle Macnaughton. © 2020 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

We’ve seen accurate instrumentation in other Pixar films for sure — the guitar playing in Coco for example. But, in Soul, the team utilized a new method due to the speed with which the film’s jazz composer, Jon Batiste plays piano in the score. How do you animate something you can’t even see when you go frame-by-frame on the reference footage because it’s so fast?

MontaQue and Jude dove into the specifics of how it worked. Jude mentioned, “we took a lot of reference from multiple angles of [Jon’s] hands, but of course his fingers are like lighting. Even the motion blur, you would frame through it and you couldn’t tell which key he pressed, so we needed a way of knowing that. All that music that he wrote, it was taken down into MIDI and one of the character artists figured a way of feeding that into the piano so the keys would light up, so we could have that visual representation of which key was being pressed.

MontaQue noted that once the notes were visualized on the piano, “we had to match it and try to make it even better. That’s a tough bar to hit especially if it’s Jon Batiste.” We couldn’t agree more.

Check out our video interview below (or directly on our YouTube channel).

We’re also thrilled to be able to share a new featurette with Jamie Foxx introducing the music-loving main character of the film he voices, Joe Gardner. Watch it embedded below.

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