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One need only look back at the original Toy Story, and then compare it to last year's Toy Story 4, to see how far Pixar has truly come as an animation studio. These days for Pixar to continue to be the studio to beat in animation, they need only outdo themselves, and quite often that's exactly what Pixar does. With each new project, Pixar finds themselves with a new challenge to overcome, be that a better way to reproduce the look of water or mud or, whatever else it might be. With Soul, however, one of the most difficult things to create was something everybody usually learns, or more likely already knows, on the first day of art school, how to draw a simple line.
In Soul, the audience will be introduced to a collection of ethereal characters that the film's main protagonist Joe will find when his soul reaches the afterlife. These counselors help prepare new souls for their life on earth, and they're actually incredibly simple characters, in that each one is made out of a single line. However, while the core of these characters came from the very simple, actually making them work in Soul was incredibly complex. As Soul animation Supervisor Bobby Podesta recently explained to me...
Everybody can draw a line, right? It doesn't look like it's rocket science to anybody. But for us to create unique characters, unique performances, something that looks like almost a living piece of art, out of a line. To work with our technical folks in a way to do this in a way that made their heads spin, that works in a 3D space with this membrane that disappears and appears as it crosses shapes. When you're watching the film, hopefully, you don't think of any of that. You look at it, you get that they're these great ethereal characters; you see the beauty of the art of it and the line. People should go, 'I could do that.' Then it worked.
And as somebody who had the chance to watch a decent amount of Soul already, I can say that these characters are all the more impressive because they are "technically" so simple. The fact that each of these characters is made of identical building blocks, but each one looks and feels so different is a remarkable accomplishment. Of course, at the same time, Soul isn't really about these characters, which means Pixar put a lot of work into perfecting these details on characters you would only see for a few minutes of the overall film.
It's that sort of attention to detail where Pixar excels. As with most great strides from Disney and Pixar, what Bobby Podesta describes is the sort of thing that most audiences will never really notice. Unless you truly understand computer animation you don't see the complications that went into the creation, just the final product which is very nearly always flawless.
Soul arrives on Disney+ on Christmas Day.