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The Cinematic Side
Director Lee Unkrich and the Pixar Team Push the Boundaries of the Medium with Cinematography, Editing and Lighting

With the arrival of "Toy Story” 15 years ago, Pixar Animation Studios broke new ground for animated features not only with its landmark use of computers, but also by bringing traditional filmmaking techniques to the medium. With John Lasseter at the helm and animation newcomer Lee Unkrich on the team in the editing room, the 1995 feature was hailed for its brilliant storytelling and cinematic sophistication. Over the course of the next nine features, Pixar continued to stretch the limits of the art form. With "Toy Story 3,” Unkrich takes the keys to the car and drives the film to some exciting new dimensions in his role as director.

"With ‘Toy Story,' we pioneered the notion of using traditional cinematic grammar to make an animated film,” says Unkrich. "And that's what everybody does now. I was very instrumental in designing the camera work and, of course, cutting the first and second film. So there's a continuity heading into the third film. From a cinematography perspective, we had an interesting challenge on ‘Toy Story 3' because the tools and the technology have advanced quite a bit since ‘Toy Story 2,' and the artists at the studio have gotten so much better. When you look at the first ‘Toy Story' now, it's relatively crude. After all, it was the first CG film, and we've since made a lot of advances in terms of using depth of field and more sophisticated lighting to help tell our stories. For ‘Toy Story 3,' I didn't want the film to feel like it was from a completely different design universe. We wanted it to still feel like a ‘Toy Story' film, but we also wanted to take advantage of the technology and the artistry that we're capable of now. I believe we've created a film that sits nicely alongside those previous films, but it just looks exponentially better in so many ways.

"The lighting is gorgeous, and the shading and textures have gotten much more sophisticated,” continues Unkrich. "The editing, for me, is always about how to best tell the story. Stylistically, we wanted to keep this film very much in the same wheelhouse as ‘Toy Story' and ‘Toy Story 2.' At the end of the day, the important thing was to make the world feel believable, especially since we're telling a story that's set in the human world, but from the toys' perspectives.”

As director of photography: camera, Jeremy Lasky worked closely with Unkrich on blocking and staging the shots. "We tried to keep our cameras grounded in what people are used to seeing historically in cinema,” Lasky says. "This isn't a video game. This is a story, and things need to feel believable. You need to feel like you're in this world, and it all makes sense. You want to focus on the story and not on what the camera's doing. You want to get lost in the characters and their feelings.

"Our cameras have a lot more grace, and more realism in how they move, so we can add that into our bag of tricks when we're thinking of certain scenes,” Lasky continues. "We're much better at handheld shots than we ever were before, and depth of field has gotten a lot richer. Our use of it is broader than in the previous two films, but we still used a little restraint to keep it in the same realm as its predecessors.”

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