First of all, I have to say that I have the BEST HUSBAND EVER. We were in San Francisco for a week, since he had a work-related training, and I had spent my days catching up on work on my laptop. On Friday, he told me that he had a surprise for me, but wouldn’t tell me where we were going. So you can imagine my surprise when we drove up and I saw this:
“Oh, look where we are!” He says casually. “I think we should go in, don’t you?”
At this point I should mention that Pixar DOESN’T offer tours to the public. You pretty much have to be invited to be able to get past the gates, so though it’s always been a dream of mine to see it, I never thought I’d actually get in there. So I was freaking out with excitement! It turns out that my husband used to go to the same church as Pete Doctor (the director of Monster’s Inc. and Up), and he’d had a tour once before back when he was at Berkeley. So he had emailed Pete, explained that he married an animator who reeeally wanted to see Pixar, and asked if he could bring me by. *excited squeal* Pete was literally booked up every 15 minutes that day (I would have loooved to meet him), but his assistant Victoria offered to show us around.
We drove through the gates and got our official guest passes:
Then we parked and walked up the beautiful sidewalks. It’s a nice campus; though it’s in the middle of a pretty crowded city, it managed to feel pretty secluded and quiet. There was lots of green grass, trees, and open space. I saw some employees playing Frisbee with a dog out on the front lawn, too. Of course I had to stop and take a picture with the iconic Pixar lamp and ball! Behind me is a lot of the front lawn, some outdoor tables, and a cute little amphitheater that I assume is for media events and announcements.
Next we entered into the lobby (I’m sure I was grinning ear to ear passing through those doors) and met up with Victoria, who was really great. She told us that she’s worked all over the company doing various tasks, having been hired on in the middle of production during Up. She was currently Pete’s assistant, but had also been John Lasseter’s assistant, and traveled all over the world getting recordings for the actors on various movies. What a cool job! She obviously knew a lot about the company and animation, so it was great to hear a lot of insider stories as we went along.
The atrium/lobby is HUGE. It’s really nice and open, with tons of natural light, which I think is important to an artistic environment. Artists tend to hide in their little cubbyholes, so it’s good to be able to feel like you’re out in the open! There was a large gourmet cafeteria to the left where you could grab a meal or drink any time of day. On the back wall is a big mural of Lightning McQueen, and also the doors to the theater, where they screen the “dailies.” They were currently holding a meeting in there, so we didn’t go in. Unfortunately, the studio store was also closed because it was after hours, drat. When we arrived, it looked like they were likely setting up for a big event, because they were putting out buffet tables and big pieces of art. My guess is that it was something to do with their upcoming “Untitled Movie About the Mind,” because we saw pieces like light bulbs and ideas hung on trees…hmm. I’m curious!
On the right hand side of the atrium was an alcove that had the picture of every employee that worked there, called “Pixar people,” and also the legendary cereal bar. Yum! In the picture, you can kind of see how some offices on the upper level look out into the atrium, which is kind of nice. There’s also computer labs and intern offices up there. When we were standing up where that red hallway is, we could see a big storyboard meeting going on across from us. I wish I was a fly on that wall! In the last picture, you can also see the trophy case with all their awards. Those were neat to see!
Next we headed up the stairs into the story department, which is where I would definitely have the most fun. I loved looking at all the original artwork and panels up there on the wall! Most of the artwork was from Cars 2, since that was their latest feature. They said that the artwork rotates around, so if we were to come back for another tour later, it’d probably be work from Brave on the walls (ooo, I want to see that!) I was constantly amazed at the detail in all the paintings and sketches. The artists really seemed to think out things on the architecture of each place in the film, like a “Car-ified” Notre Dame cathedral with lots of car parts instead of gargoyles. It was very cool to see! I didn’t take a lot of pics, because I was so busy looking at everything.
I had to take some time to pose with the Incredibles, though:
Next we went past some ropes into a “restricted” area…that was where production is going full-scale on “Brave,” which I’m really anxious to see. It’s about time they had a female lead! We were escorted through that hall pretty quickly, and I couldn’t take pictures, but I got a few neat glimpses of some Scottish things on the wall like a big boar’s head and some tangible hair studies of Merida’s curls. I would have loved to get a closer look at that, but everything is still top-secret! We did get to see the Renderfarm, too, which is their big server room. It’s full of lots of towers with blinking lights that do all the processing. It’s specially temperature controlled so it doesn’t overheat, because it works so hard. When I do 3D work on a short scene, I usually have to let my computer run overnight and even then it still takes forever to process, so I can’t imagine what those servers are loaded with from all the different departments! I also found it kind of funny that as we passed through there, a few employees were sitting on a couch having a conversation in front of a roaring fire…on a tv screen. 😀 Guess they don’t get out much! Haha.
Finally, we got to go see the recording booth, which was definitely different than I expected. It was larger than what you’d think a typical recording booth might look like, and didn’t have that tiny boxed-in feel. Instead, it was a big room with a microphone, big table, monitors, camera, and chairs. This allowed the actors to move around freely and even see their scenes in rough form as they act. The chairs and camera were for the artists to sketch the actors and capture their expressions. It was also decorated in a nice sage green color that I liked, and felt inviting. I know I took some pictures of it, but I can’t seem to find them on my camera, grr. In the hallway outside of the recording studio, there’s a big red wall covered with signatures of all the celebrities that have done the voices. I found my alter ego, young Ellie from “Up.” Did you know that her name’s actually Ellie, and she’s Pete Docter’s real life daughter? How cute is that?
So that brought us to the end of our tour, as they were closing up for the night and had a lot of work to do. It was really a lot of fun to see the inner workings of this place, though, and the people were so nice. We promised to send them pictures of our “Up” themed nursery we’re decorating at the moment. 🙂 Thanks so much to the staff at Pixar, especially Victoria and Pete…we really appreciated it!
Here’s some closing pictures we took with Sully and Mike from Monster’s Inc. and more with the famous lamp before we left.