The Best of Both Worlds

Teddy Newton’s exquisite new 3-D short Day and Night blends 2D and CG in a way we really haven’t seen before’and it has a great message too!

Twelve drawings and a simple animation test’that was all it took for animator Teddy Newton to sell the idea his innvoative new Pixar short to Disney/Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter back in November of 2008. Titled Day & Night, this clever short centers on the conflict between two simple, hand-drawn figures’one featuring 3-D, CG-animated scenes of daytime and the other with night-time images.

Newton, a CalArts character animation graduate and Pixar studio veteran who has also worked as a storyboard artist on The Iron Giant and Cartoon Network’s Dexter’s Laboratory says the idea for the short came together after he drew a pair of eyeballs on a keyhole. ‘It was a series of gags based on that simple drawing, and I showed it to the team at development,’ he recalls. ‘Then I started playing with colors, and that’s when the whole concept of night and day started to appear. I began to play with the idea of seeing the same horizon in different time zones. It wasn’t really any more complex than that. So you riff on this idea and before you know it, you have a theme in front of you’which is about differences, people having different perspectives on things.’

When Newton and producer Kevin Reher shared their handiwork to Lasseter and discussed adding the characters’ walk cycle in 3-D, he didn’t even have to finish his presentation. Lasseter loved the idea, and Disney/Pixar president Ed Catmull suggested that his short should be put in front of Toy Story 3. The team, which also included Up‘s art director Art Shank as production designer, started storyboarding the short that month and embarked on the complicated animation process in January of 2009.

‘I find it very effective when you juxtapose flat objects in front of dimensional things just like Viewmasters used to do,’ says Newtown, who has also worked on Ratatouille, Up and the acclaimed 2008 short Presto. ‘It really makes the 3-D more interesting. ‘Initially people were saying that John Lasseter wouldn’t go for this idea, because it was too far out, or too hand-drawn, but it turned out to be the exact opposite. Some people were even saying ‘Hey, what does this have to do with Toy Story 3? But when you think about it, this short is a reminder that we like to make things that are innovative and new. We couldn’t have done this if we didn’t have movies like Toy Story to lead the way.’

Although originally the short was supposed to be three-minutes long, the running time ended up being double that. While 2007′s Your Friend the Rat was Pixar’s first foray into traditional animation, Day & Night is especially noteworthy because of the innovative way it blends 2D with 3-D CG. In fact, the studio had to come up with a new pipeline that would accommodate the needs of this particular project.

Newton recalls that initially, they decided to do the computer animation first and then add on the hand-drawn elements. ‘Originally, we thought we were going to do it the way they did on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but that was incorrect, so we had to switch. Hand-drawn had to lead the way,’ he explains. ‘In many instances, it felt like we were working on these large-form sculptures. We had to have a a lot of artists eyeballing it throughout its many stages to make sure the different sides of this Rubik’s Cube were lining up. You had to use your artistic sense. Does the timing work? Does the background framing work? Everyone’s animating blind. Plus, we had 18 sets, which is a lot more than we’re used to in a short.’

Luckily, the hand-drawn characters were simple figures that are reminiscent of the guys from 1950s-era UPA TV ads created by John Hubley. ‘These were the simplest characters we could draw that could be used as windows to the world of daytime and nighttime,’ notes the director, who sites Chuck Jones’ The Dot and the Line and Duck Amock as two of his favorite toons of all time.

The short also uses natural sounds like birds singing at dawn or wolves howling at night to further distinguish the two worlds. There’s also an interesting audio clip from popular author and speaker Wayne Dwyer, about why people are resistant to change and afraid of the unknown experiences. ‘My mom had this tape of his, and I remembered hearing him 20 years ago, and thought that what he had talked about was perfect for our short, so we went back and listened to it and picked the best part of it, and it kind of stuck!’

Looking back at the experience, Newton says he’s really proud of the way his team was unafraid of trying new things. ‘I really feel that they best exemplified the theme of the short’they were truly always open to try unused strategies, without any complaints. They really lived the message of the movie.’

Pixar’s Day & Night plays before Toy Story 3 in theaters, beginning June 18.