Friday, July 18, 2008

Color and Payoffs in Wall-E


I know I’m late talking about this, but I like to wait a couple of weeks before seeing a Pixar film (so all the little kiddies won’t bother me).

Okay, three points I’d like to make about Wall-E.

1) WORDLESS INFORMATION

As far as I’m concerned, the first 20 minutes of that film are worth the price of admission. It’s magnificent the way they created this story with very little dialogue. These guys at Pixar truly understand the language of film, too, the way you tell stories through images. Of course, the finished result always looks so deceptively easy. You better believe, though, that every shot and every moment was carefully conceived, discussed at length, and at times redone.

But consider all the information that’s told to us without words. What happened to Earth and why. The way they impressed upon you how Wall-E is truly alone on Earth. The point of Wall-E’s job. How people got off Earth. How they establish the cruise ship. Wall-E’s fascination with Earth. Wall-E’s inner needs, that is, his desire for companionship and love, human-style. This was especially true when he repeatedly reached out for Eve’s hand, which brings me to…

2) SETUPS & PAYOFFS

There is a simple motif throughout the film in which Wall-E continually tries to hold hands with Eve (or as he calls her – “Eeeevaa!”) This motif illustrates the point of great setups and payoffs, which is crucial in screenwriting. The setup: he wants to hold hands. The payoff: they hold hands. Simple, right? The holding of hands is a great choice for this story, because it visually and externally illustrates Wall-E’s inner needs about Eve. He wants to connect with her, like humans. Plus, we know that when the moment comes that they actually hold hands, they will have connected and Wall-E will be happy.

There are billions of setups and payoffs to choose from for stories. So, on the one hand, what you choose as a setup and payoff is important because it has to be essential to your story. On the other hand, what you choose as a setup and payoff isn’t enough. It’s how well you handle the setups and payoffs in your script that determines how effectively you’re communicating with your audience. One of the big unspoken aspects of screenwriting is that half the battle is mastering the fine art of setups and payoffs and making them work, which takes time, practice, and lots of feedback.

Sometimes I think amateur writers I’ve reviewed in the past tried to have too much in the way of setups and payoffs in order to impress people. It’s as if it’s beneath them to work in SIMPLE setups and payoffs. But, hey, that’s screenwriting. If you have too many setups and payoffs, they’ll just fly by the screen and won’t be effective. You need to stick with fewer setups and payoffs in order for them to be fully felt, which means you have to choose wisely and make them work. Less is more. What’s more impressive in this medium of films is how well you handle a few, simple setups and payoffs like Wall-E.

How did they do it?

* Wall-E repeatedly reaches out to hold Eve’s hand, which fails.
* Eve rejects him. She doesn’t understand what he wants.
* At a crucial moment, Eve is made to understand. She cares.
* She tries to hold hands with him, but it’s too late.
* Then, as they hold hands, Wall-E comes back to his old self.
* They finally connect, and it’s happily every after.

On paper (or mysterious blog article) that sounds too simple for a great film. But it’s not so much WHAT happens but HOW that happens and WHEN that happens that creates an emotional impact. He had to reach out for her hand at just the right moments to be effective. It’s like what Ebert says: “It’s not what it’s about but how it’s about it.”


COLORS

I also wanted to talk about the colors of this film, but Jim Emerson
beat me to it. I’m glad, too, because Jim pointed out a great interview with Wall-E director, Andrew Stanton, on Fresh Air in which he talked about a lot of the brainstorming that went into Wall-E:

"I geeked out at the idea of being able to do a much more monochromatic palette. That's not usually associated with animated pictures because there's this stigma of it being a babysitter or family fare and it has to have every color of the rainbow in it, and all that stuff -- which really makes me want to go in the other direction when I hear that. And I loved that just the natural setting [Earth as a big dump] required a monochromatic bent to it, at least in the beginning of the film. So it's dealing with a lots of yellows and tans and browns. It made anything primary, like even the chipped-away red circle of Wall-E's "E," or the one time you finally see something real like a plant, really stand out. It's almost like having the restraint of using a close-up and not using it until the very right moment. It suddenly has a huge impact when it's used.

Jim wrote, “How cool is that? An animator who understands the psychologically effective uses of color... and close-ups!” I would just add that the contrast of the monochromatic exterior of the Earth made the rich interior colors of Wall-E’s home feel that much more special, just as special as it must’ve felt for that little robot.

-MM

9 comments:

VELMA SABINA!!! said...

God, Wall-E was amazing. I agree with you about colors in the film. The christmas lights strewn on Eve were so visually stunning. Her blue "eyes"(sensors?) were outstanding, too. I couldn't take my eyes off her gleaming white body, either. It stood out in the desert wasteland on Earth.

hell, EVERYTHING in the CGI animation was just great.

I was also very impressed by how the film didn't need much dialogue.

Do you know if there was an actual screenplay? I wonder if it was mostly filled with action sequences to describe the story.

Anonymous Production Assistant said...

Why would you be surprised that an animator understands color and close-ups? Nobody studies their shots more closely than an animator. They take too long to redo! They want to get it absolutely right.

Rob:-] said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob:-] said...

I loved Wall-E but I still had several story issues. I'm really surprised that you're giving it a get-out-of-jail-free card.

1. Why was Eve so quick to use her weapon? Any explorer sent to look for life should not be blowing away anything that moved.

2. Why would a robot tremble when frightened? That's a human reaction, and a stereotype at that.

3. How would a green plant grow inside a closed refrigerator with no light or air?

4. Why was the president of Buy-n-Large (Fred Willard) a live action person? Would that be how an animated character would look to a character in an animated world? Kind of a role-reversal thing, perhaps.

While not buzz-killers, these things did strain my ability to suspend disbelief during the movie.

Peace,

Rob:-]

Anonymous said...

ah but you missed the kiddies delight....I wanted to avoid them myself but couldn't ... turned out to be a gas to hear their chuckles thruout the movie..and there were no elasta-a-mommie gags in this one.. the kids genuinely got it.. I thought Pixar had run this one by a kid focus group! Me, the (questionable) adult, enjoyed it immensely. Not being hit by a sledgehammer of unharmonius color was such a relief. The social commentary was the best. I loved Wall-E and I'm going to see it again.

VELMA SABINA!!! said...

"1. Why was Eve so quick to use her weapon? Any explorer sent to look for life should not be blowing away anything that moved."

because Eve probably thought there was an intruder and wanted to be safe at first. That's my opinion anyway.

"2. Why would a robot tremble when frightened? That's a human reaction, and a stereotype at that."

It's called personification. Animated movies often give human emotions to talking animals, so why not robots, too?

"3. How would a green plant grow inside a closed refrigerator with no light or air?"

LOL, I thought the very same thing.

"4. Why was the president of Buy-n-Large (Fred Willard) a live action person? Would that be how an animated character would look to a character in an animated world? Kind of a role-reversal thing, perhaps."

well, that video footage was supposed to be old, from centuries ago. But I was also wondering why the person was a real live person, instead animated. I would like to hear others' take on this. There should be some kinda sublimal message behind it, but I can't figure it out.

Mystery Man said...

Hey, Velma – So very sorry for my delay in responding. I got hit by a bus. In any case, I'm sure there was an early screenplay, from which they built their shot-by-shot cartoon board thingees. You’ve got a hilarious blog, too. Great to meet you.

Rob – Great comments. In truth, I’ve been getting grief for having so many critical (aka negative) articles, so I tried to post something positive next to the “Your Movie Sucks” post, but I certainly have my doubts. I agree with Velma on 1 & 2, but 3 stuck out and there was too much of contrast between Fred and the humans on the cruise ship. I’m not entirely sure the time on the ship couldn’t have been better.

Thanks, anon.

-MM

fringe said...

well from the review it seems good entertaining movie.i was searching for this movie and found a good link from where you can download Wall-e movie for free.enjoy it!!!!!!!!!!

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