It was crowded in the small movie-theater-like room in the History corner, and I snagged a seat in the front row. I waited to be dazzled: by Pixar, by the dreams of Hollywood. I was not disappointed. In fact, the footage from The Good Dinosaur, Pixar’s latest feature, that was screened last Wednesday may have been inspiring to a fault.
It started with the speaker – Rosana Sullivan, a character I found to be as quirky, lovable, and charismatic as those she vivified in her role as storyboard artist for Pixar’s newest creation. With the fervor and investment of a parent reading a children’s book, Sullivan offered The Good Dinosaur to a receptive crowd of, well, not children, but an audience with ears just as impressionable. Over the course of the one-hour presentation and discussion, Sullivan was able to elicit without fail (from me at least) tears of sadness, sighs of empathy, peals of laughter, and ultimately snaps of unanimous approval with the stunning slides she showed.
Speaking of slides, Sullivan did something unusual; in fact, she did exactly what we’re always told not to do in school: she read directly from her slides, the whole time. But it worked – it completed the effect in which I was a child being read a children’s book. In said book, I learned about the storyboarding process and Sullivan’s experience to get there. I learned that, even as a gifted artist, she endured five years of rejection from Pixar before receiving an acceptance, and even still she sometimes doubts her abilities, especially when things start to get tough. For instance, Sullivan mentioned that for one of her ideas to be realized, it required multiple reworkings and constant pitches to the director. These pitches almost always led to the rejection or necessary revision of her drawings. With a wide smile she admitted that for one of the clips that was less than two minutes, she made more than a thousand drawings, which ultimately were pared down to around 300 or 400 for the final movie. But still, I couldn’t comprehend the effort and patience and persistence required to reach that desired destination.
“A marathon,” I remember Sullivan saying, “not a sprint.” That’s what being a storyboard artist was like. Indeed, it was for the four years from April of 2011 to April of 2015 that Sullivan worked on The Good Dinosaur, which is set to release the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (on November 25, 2015). “If nothing else, go to see it just because of how long it took” she joked, effectively highlighting the prodigious investment required by the groundbreaking movie.
Groundbreaking? Well yes, at least it seemed that way from the preview we got. It follows such a simple plot: Misfortune separates Arlo, a young dinosaur, from his family. In trying to find his way back home, Arlo meets a boy named Spot, they become friends, and ultimately – we assume – Arlo is reunited with his family. But in just the few minutes of clips that Sullivan presented, we got an enticing complexity that allows the film to transcend its more naïve colors and plot arc (if colors can be naïve). What appeals to the angsty teenager, the young adult, the middle-aged doctor, the sixty-year old professor, and the retirement home tenant – as well as the wide-eyed child – is the packaged discussion of loss and death and insecurity and tenacity and friendship that Pixar is brilliantly delivering. Through realistic animation, meticulous visuals, and sincere voice acting, an unexpected realism inscribes itself upon a fantastical setting, which results in the film’s uncanny power to inspire and suspend disbelief. Well, at least that’s what I got out of five minutes of preview that Sullivan showed. Who knows the effect the whole film will have.
Indeed, Sullivan left arguably everyone in the audience wanting more, with the anticipation of the full production to come. Adding to this effect, Sullivan flipped through hundreds of drawings she made for the movie. While clicking through, she narrated the happenings as she would when pitching the idea to a superior. Following this demonstration, she played the final version of the same scene as seen in the movie. It was the unprecedented opportunity to see the before and after that piqued the curiosity of the viewers. This curiosity then manifested itself in the abundant questions that followed Sullivan’s presentation. It became obvious that many individuals in the room were too trying to reach their own desired destination, and were trying to learn what it takes to get there.
When the moderator announced that there was only time for one more question I audibly expressed my disappointment. Rosana Sullivan inspired me. Not just as a participant in the making of The Good Dinosaur, but also as the embodiment of a fellow artist who is able to securely practice her art because she had the strength of passion to pursue it unquestioningly. In a story mirroring Arlo’s, Sullivan overcame the odds in order to work on the biggest project of her life, one that will reach millions. To the multitude of similarly aspiring artists in the packed house, her example becomes an inspiration. But is it unrealistic? Am I fooling myself believing that like Arlo, like Sullivan, that destination I desire will present itself? Hopefully not.
Photo courtesy of here