The team of software engineers, art directors, animators, engineers, tech directors, graphic designers, and writers at PIXAR does many things very well. And they’ve always done things just a little bit differently. It’s their calling card.
PIXAR’s animation abilities are stellar–just look at the water in any of PIXAR’s recent films; if you didn’t know you were watching an animated film, well, you might not know you were watching an animated film.
When PIXAR came into being in the late 1980s, animators were using techniques in animation never before seen in the industry. PIXAR even developed its own 3D modeling software, as well as its own rendering software, that would set the standard for animation.
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PIXAR has a unique expertise in storytelling, and part of that storytelling prowess includes the development of storylines and plots that keep audiences engaged. But PIXAR also understands that audiences engage more often and at a deeper level when the story’s setting is also engaging, whether it’s a real or fictional setting. One of the most interesting things about PIXAR’s approach to the settings of its films is the animators’ use of real-life settings to inspire the fictional ones in their stories. That’s right; every PIXAR setting, from the rocky, arid landscape in Cars to the movie house in the credits after Up is inspired by an actual place you can visit.
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Here are just a few in case you’re looking ahead and planning a road trip this summer (or an international jaunt to locations around the world).
Angel Falls, Venezuela (Up, 2009)
PIXAR’s Up tells the story of Carl Fredricksen and his wife Ellie and their adventures throughout their lives together. After Ellie’s passing, Carl is left to find his way in the world sans his best friend. He decides he will make the trip to the couple’s dream destination, Paradise Falls. After nearly being moved against his will to a retirement community, Carl inflates hundreds of helium balloons, affixes their strings to a component inside his fireplace and lifts off–house and all–for an aerial journey to the falls.
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Along the way, he discovers that the young Wilderness Explorer he excused from his front porch earlier that day is still on his porch, thousands of feet about the terra firma. Russell, the young explorer, travels with Carl to Paradise Falls where they learn the truth about Charles Muntz, befriend a giant female bird named Kevin, listen as a canine trio is able to “speak,” and take in awe-inspiring views of the falls, near where Carl had planned to land the house he shared with Ellie.
The falls are inspired by an actual location in Venezuela, called Angel Falls, and as you can see in the photos, they look very much alike.
Route 66 (Cars, 2006)
Lightning McQueen does his best “Ka-Chow!” along the dusty roads along the arid desert landscape, don’t you think? The setting and associated landscape in PIXAR’s Cars is an important part of the story about Lightning McQueen, Mater, Doc Hudson, Sally, and the rest of the Cars cast. And that landscape was inspired by the iconic and historic Route 66, as well as Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas and the Shamrock Inn in Amarillo, Texas.
Hidden City Cafe (Monsters, Inc. 2002)
A tiny cafe in Point Richmond, California, was the birthplace of such PIXAR films as A Bugs’ Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and Wall-E were born. But the cafe can even be seen at the beginning of the Monsters, Inc. film. Did you miss it?
Monterey Bay Aquarium (Finding Dory, 2016)
PIXAR’s Finding Dory is the sequel (of a different kind) to PIXAR’s Finding Nemo. And if you’re a fan of Dory and you’ve ever wanted to visit the Marine Life Institute, you needn’t go any further than the Monterey Bay Aquarium, located in Monterey Bay, California. PIXAR’s artists drew their inspiration for the Institute from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and in the photos below, you can really see the resemblance.
Gusteau’s Restaurant (Ratatouille, 2007)
Gusteau’s Restaurant is a fine dining location in PIXAR’s Ratatouille, and much of the movie takes place in the kitchen of the French restaurant. But PIXAR took inspiration from Guy Savoy’s Restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada, as the director of the film, Brad Bird, frequented the restaurant, and years before the film was begun, Bird asked Savoy if he and his team could bring cameras into the restaurant and take photos. (Those PIXAR guys are long-range planners when it comes to their film ideas!)
Each of these locations has a uniqueness that contributed to the creativity and imagination of the artists and storytellers at PIXAR. We’re still hoping to learn about the real-life locations that served as inspiration for Pizza Planet, Andy’s house, and Luca’s underwater home. We’ll let you know if we find them!