UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Woody, Truly a Work of Art?

011211Feature_PixarShe didn’t rub shoulders with Woody and Buzz Lightyear, the Incredibles or Wall-E.

But she did one better: she led a discussion with some of our favorite animated figures’ creators and artists.

Dr. Heather Holian (Art), helped the Oakland Museum of California mark the close of their art exhition “PIXAR: 25 Years of Animation” last weekend. PIXAR has made some of the most popular and admired animated films of the last decades and is located a few miles from that museum.

Holian’s talk, “To Infinity and Beyond: Placing PIXAR within the History of Art, Present and Future,” was centered around the questions “Does animation deserve a place within the history of fine art? Does PIXAR?”

“En route to an answer, I’ll discuss the cultural and institutional prejudices and biases that make a resounding affirmative response, regarding either PIXAR’s films or the pre-production or production art created to make these films, challenging at present,” she explained before traveling last week.

In addition to the public lecture, she moderated a panel discussion with highly regarded artists from PIXAR including Bill Cone, Ricky Nierva, Tia Kratter and Kevin O’Brien.

Does Holian have a favorite character? “Choosing a favorite PIXAR character is like choosing my favorite chocolate dessert – they’re all good!”

But what if she had to choose one? “Right now I would say Edna Mode – or E, as she is also known – is my current favorite. Edna appears in ‘The Incredibles’ as the temperamental, no nonsense fashion designer who has no patience for idle chatter, weakness or bad fashion. She is voiced by director Brad Bird and in part it’s his inflection and voice acting that make this character so hilarious … [she] steals every single scene she’s in.”

After returning this week, she described walking through the art exhibition Friday night. “I heard several people say that they had no idea so much art was created for each film. The energy was incredible.”

But for her, the highlight of her weekend was the forum, where she discussed the topic of fine art and PIXAR with some of the artists who’d created these films. She’d interviewed each of them before.

Actually, she’d arrived in California a few days early, so she could spend some time at the Pixar Studio doing research and interviewing artists. It was her fourth research trip to the studio.

Holian’s essay “An Animated Debate: Studio Animation as Fine Art?” will be in the forthcoming Blackwell Anthology of Animation. Another essay on art and animation has been completed. She is currently gathering research for what she hopes will be a book length publication on PIXAR.

Her training is in the Renaissance. In addition to teaching ancient and medieval art courses, she routinely teaches the Art of Disney and PIXAR (Art 210). In coordination with that popular course, PIXAR animator Adam Burke has visited our campus twice. The Art Department will bring PIXAR artist and director Teddy Newton to campus sometime this spring, she says.

Holian’s very favorite film? “My three favorite PIXAR films are ‘Wall-E,’ ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Toy Story 3.’ If I was pushed to choose one, I would say ‘Wall-E.'”

Why that one? “First, I think the first part of the film – Act 1- is visually stunning, particularly on a big screen. I also think it was incredibly brave for PIXAR, under Andrew Stanton’s direction, to make a contemporary animated film that is silent through its first act except for ambient noise and Wall-E’s beloved “Hello Dolly” tape. The word that always comes to my mind when I watch that part of Wall-E is ‘sublime.’ It succeeds on every level.

“I also enjoy the new short ‘Day and Night’ for the same reason – it was a brave and innovative film to make. And, it also directly reflects the artistic style of Teddy Newton, who is one of my favorite PIXAR artists, and who directed this short, which appeared before ‘Toy Story 3.'”

By Mike Harris with additional reporting by Dan Nonte
Visual: Bud Luckey, “Woody, Toy Story,” 1995. Mixed Media. ©Disney/Pixar