Early Pixar

 Last Saturday I caught a presentation by Pixar director Gary Rydstrom at the Chicago Film Festival. Rydstrom was giving the first public screening of his new short Lifted, and he opened the show with 4 early Pixar shorts: Luxo Jr., Red’s Dream, Knick Knack and Tin Toy (all of which were sound designed by Rydstrom). These films were all new to me, and I was surprised to discover that the first two films, Luxo Jr. and Red’s Dream, feature jazz scores. 

Luxo Jr., which is accompanied by a jazz piano trio, looks as great on the big screen today as I imagine it did 20 years ago – in fact, the only thing that might seem dated in the film is the electric bass in the piano trio (but that’s only to my ears). The musicians/composer go uncredited on this film. 

Red’s Dream is scored with a solo saxophone performance, conjuring a noir aesthetic. The music credit goes to Pixar’s current music editor, David Slusser. I’d be curious to know who the saxophonist is.  

The score to Knick Knack isn’t jazz, but it is completely improvised by Bobby McFerrin. According to Gary Rydstrom, McFerrin created vocal loops in the studio while watching the film in real time. During the credits you hear him say “Blah, blah, blah,” because during the recording session the credits on the rough edit literally read “blah, blah, blah.” In a medium where every last visual detail is painstakingly realized through hours of work, the improvised score creates a nice balance in the finished product. 

On an off-topic note, Rydstrom’s new short Lifted is fantastic. Every last visual and sonic detail supports the story in a thoughtful way. The score by Michael Giacchino is an unabashed nod to Speilbergian sci-fi. Rdystrom also showed a large amount of development/production footage, including Jeff Pidgeon’s storyboards, character studies by Bud Luckey, and a clip from Giacchino’s electronic mock-up of the score.

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