The idea for “WALL.E” came about in 1994 at a now-famous lunch that included Pixar pioneers Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and the late storytelling genius Joe Ranft. With their first feature, “Toy Story,” in production, the group suddenly realized that they might actually get a chance to make another movie. At that fateful gathering, the ideas for “A Bug’s Life,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” were first discussed. “One of the things I remember coming out of it was the idea of a little robot left on Earth,” says Stanton. “We had no story. It was sort of this Robinson Crusoe kind of little character -- like what if mankind had to leave earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off, and he didn’t know he could stop doing what he’s doing?”
Years later, the idea took shape -- literally. “I started to just think of him doing his job every day, and compacting trash that was left on Earth,” Stanton recalls. “And it just really got me thinking about what if the most human thing left in the universe was a machine? That really was the spark. It has had a long journey.”
Stanton says he was heavily influenced by the sci-fi films of the 1970s. “Films like ‘2001,’ ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Alien,’ ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Close Encounters’ – they all had a look and feel to them that really transported me to another place and I really believed that those worlds were out there,” he explains. “I haven’t seen a movie since then that made me feel that same way when we went out to space, so I wanted to recapture that feeling.”
In preparation for their assignment on “WALL•E,” Pixar’s animation team made field trips to recycling stations to observe giant trash crushers and other machinery at work, studied real robots up close and in person at the Studio, and watched a wide range of classic films (from silents to sci-fi) for insights into cinematic expression. Sticking to Pixar’s motto of “truth in materials,” the animators approached each robot as being created to perform a particular function, and tried to stay within the physical limitations of each design, while creating performances with personality. Alan Barillaro and Steve Hunter served as the film’s supervising animators, with Angus MacLane assuming directing animator duties.
Production designer Ralph Eggleston (“The Incredibles,” “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story”) drew inspiration for the look of “WALL•E” from NASA paintings from the 50s and 60s, and original concepts paintings for Disneyland’s Tommorowland by Disney Imagineers. He recalls, “Our approach to the look of this film wasn’t about what the future is going to be like. It was about what the future could be -- which is a lot more interesting. That’s what we wanted to impart with the design of this film. In designing the look of the characters and the world, we want audiences to really believe the world they’re seeing. We want the characters and the world to be real, not realistic looking, but real in terms of believability.”
Adding to the believability of the film is the way the film is photographed. Jeremy Lasky, director of photography for camera, explains, “The whole look of ‘WALL•E’ is different from anything that’s been done in animation before. We really keyed into some of the quintessential sci-fi films from the 60s and 70s as touchstones for how the film should feel and look.”
Stanton adds, “We did a lot of camera work adjustment and improvements on our software so our cameras were more like the Panavision 70 mm cameras that were used on a lot of those movies in the ‘70s.”