The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - COR­RIE PERKIN meets EL­YSE KLAIDMAN

O NE morn­ing not long af­ter she started her new job teach­ing art at Pixar an­i­ma­tion movie stu­dio in 1995, El­yse Klaidman wit­nessed a curious thing. From her of­fice win­dow she saw a small group of peo­ple creep­ing slowly through the cor­po­ra­tion’s shrub­bery. Later she dis­cov­ered they were part of the an­i­ma­tion team work­ing on a new film, A Bug’s Life. ‘‘ Their ideas and draw­ings came from what they ob­served out­side,’’ Klaidman re­calls.

The group had a tiny de­vice they called ‘‘ a bug cam’’ at­tached to the end of a stick. ‘‘ They walked around out­side, into the weeds and grass, to see what the world of a bug was re­ally like,’’ Klaidman says. ‘‘ I re­mem­ber think­ing ‘ wow, th­ese guys re­ally go to great lengths to get it right’.’’

The an­i­ma­tors, Klaidman re­mem­bers, spent a lot of time ob­serv­ing in­sects and draw­ing them. The ‘‘ bug cam’’ also pro­vided de­tails, as well as the ex­tra­or­di­nary spec­trum of colours found in dense scrub.

‘‘ They dis­cov­ered the beau­ti­ful translu­cency of colours and leaves and the world of colour that bugs see,’’ she says.

‘‘ The art­work in A Bug’s Life is so beau­ti­ful, it re­ally shows that.’’

The movie, which was re­leased in 1998, is a high­light of Pixar’s reper­toire. It was also one of the first projects Klaidman, a trained artist, could ob­serve from con­cept stage to world­wide re­lease, a process that usu­ally takes four years.

The San Fran­cisco- based Klaidman was in Melbourne for the open­ing of the ex­hi­bi­tion Pixar: 20 Years of An­i­ma­tion, at the Aus­tralian Cen­tre for the Mov­ing Im­age, which is on un­til Oc­to­ber. She is dean of art at Pixar’s on­site univer­sity, and is also cu­ra­tor of the stu­dio’s vast vis­ual his­tory: the sketches, draw­ings, paint­ings and com­puter- as­sisted de­signs that go into mak­ing fea­ture- length an­i­ma­tions.

The Pixar ex­hi­bi­tion is a gallery of images from films such as Toy Story in 1995, A Bug’s Life , Toy Story II ( 1999), which won a Golden Globe for best com­edy/ mu­si­cal, Mon­sters Inc ( 2001), 2003 Academy award win­ner Find­ing Nemo, The In­cred­i­bles ( 2004) and Cars ( 2006).

When it first opened at New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in 2005, Klaidman was struck by vis­i­tors’ re­sponses. ‘‘ The ex­hi­bi­tion is such an eye- opener for peo­ple. They think of Pixar as com­puter- gen­er­ated an­i­mated films. Hope­fully, they also think of Pixar in terms of good sto­ry­telling, which is our first goal. But this idea of th­ese beau­ti­ful images be­ing seen as art, and putting them in a gallery, it’s won­der­ful. They be­come art in their own right.’’

Klaidman, 46, was born in New York at a time when car­toon cul­ture was start­ing to evolve through television. She has no favourite an­i­ma­tions from that time but re­calls the vivid colours and pop style of the 1968 film Yel­low Sub­ma­rine star­ring the Bea­tles.

Klaidman’s mother Kitty is an artist, her fa­ther Stephen is a jour­nal­ist. She and younger brother Daniel, who is man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of Newsweek , ‘‘ al­ways laugh and say we are the chil­dren who had no imag­i­na­tion be­cause we fol­lowed our par­ents’’.

Dur­ing her child­hood, Klaidman’s fam­ily moved around Europe and the US. At an early age she be­came en­thralled by art. ‘‘ I kind of grew up on the stu­dio floor draw­ing and paint­ing,’’ she re­mem­bers. ‘‘ I com­plained at one point ‘ I don’t have dolls like other chil­dren, I only have crayons’.’’ Be­com­ing an artist ‘‘ was a pretty nat­u­ral place to go’’.

She even­tu­ally set­tled in Cal­i­for­nia, work­ing as an artist and art teacher ( she has a univer­sity de­gree in fine art). From 1987 to 1992 Klaidman ran a com­mer­cial gallery in Los An­ge­les and dur­ing this time met and mar­ried her ar­chi­tect hus­band, Blyakim Ri­nat.

The cou­ple has two boys, Liam, 12, and Itai, seven, and now live in San Fran­cisco’s Bay area, not far from Pixar’s head of­fice in Emeryville, about 12km from the city.

Klaidman’s warmth and easy hu­mour defy con­ven­tional images of tough, power- suited fe­male movie stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives. ‘‘ I def­i­nitely don’t think of my­self as a movie ex­ec­u­tive, that makes me laugh,’’ she says with a chuckle.

‘‘ I’m an artist and I get to do th­ese amaz­ing jobs at a won­der­ful film com­pany work­ing with beau­ti­ful art­work.’’

Af­ter Liam was born, Klaidman taught art to adults. One of her stu­dents worked at Pixar and, un­be­known to Klaidman, men­tioned her teacher’s name to Pixar boss Ed Cat­mull. Cat­mull called Klaidman and asked her to the stu­dio for a chat about work­ing at Pixar.

‘‘ Never in my wildest dreams would I have imag­ined I’d be do­ing what I’m do­ing now,’’ Klaidman laughs. ‘‘ In fact when I was called by Ed to come in for an in­ter­view I wasn’t even aware of Pixar, or what they did.’’

From their first meet­ing, Klaidman was drawn to the com­pany and its vi­sion.

‘‘ I’ll never for­get meet­ing Ed, he was pres­i­dent of this ex­tra­or­di­nary com­pany and he greeted me at the door, then spent an hour show­ing me around. He told me all about the his­tory, in­tro­duced me to peo­ple, and told the story with such pride and joy.

‘‘ That kind of men­tal­ity and that re­spect is the thing that makes Pixar so ex­tra­or­di­nary. It starts at the top with Ed and [ chief creative of­fi­cer] John Las­seter, that re­spect for the in­di­vid­ual and for cre­ativ­ity.’’

Cat­mull was look­ing for some­one who could teach draw­ing to his staff, which then num­bered about 150 ( Pixar now has more than 1000 em­ploy­ees). ‘‘ The view was, if you could teach draw­ing to ev­ery­one work­ing for the com­pany then ev­ery­one would be able to vi­su­alise the world in a dif­fer­ent way. They would have a greater un­der­stand­ing of what an­i­ma­tion was all about, and what cre­at­ing was all about.’’

Klaidman’s art ses­sions are open to all staff, al­low­ing de­part­ments to come to­gether, meet and share.

‘‘ In my first year Ed [ Cat­mull] took ev­ery class I ever took, so you had the pres­i­dent next to the guy from the mail­room, next to some­one who in­vented com­puter graph­ics. It still hap­pens like that, and I love it.’’

Her classes also high­light the im­por­tance of ob­ser­va­tion, a vi­tal in­gre­di­ent to Pixar’s sto­ry­tellers and artists. ‘‘ Learn­ing to draw is re­ally learn­ing to see, and learn­ing to see al­lows us to take in more about our world,’’ she says.

‘‘ That’s very use­ful in telling sto­ries, ob­serv­ing peo­ple and com­ing up with char­ac­ters, or ob­serv­ing the world as we see it, the colours and moods.

‘‘ What we try to cre­ate are be­liev­able sto­ries rather than re­al­is­tic sto­ries. Fish don’t re­ally talk but if you cre­ate a world that peo­ple be­lieve in, then they don’t ques­tion that the fish are talk­ing.

‘‘ It’s to­tally be­liev­able.’’

Pic­ture: Stu­art McEvoy

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