Pixar is all about bringing things to life that should be impossible and giving them a sense of empathy that should be impossible. They've done it with toys, with bugs, with cars, with emotions, and now they are doing it again with souls. The concept of bringing a soul to life and what exactly would look like was something that the animation team was extremely interested in Pixar's Soul. During the virtual junket, the animators, including animation supervisor Jude Brownbill, who talked a bit about the idea of the souls and the internal rules that were created when it came to designing them.
"These are new souls who have not yet lived. They're very cute, very appealing, with simple, rounded shapes and no distinguishing features just yet. Because they've never lived on Earth, they have no concept of gravity, so they tend to float about or even fly. These are mentor souls who have lived on Earth. They are an abstraction of how they saw themselves on Earth, each with unique, distinguishing features and accessories. Because they have experienced gravity on Earth, they walk as if it exists, even though they don't really need to.
How soul Joe seems himself on Earth, what's important to him, are his hat and his glasses, and they also help us to pick him out of the crowd, giving a visual connection to his human form. 22's never been to Earth, but she knows a lot about it and has already begun to evolve, as you can see by her teeth, her tuft of hair, and her ability to produce legs if she wants them. From the very beginning, the art team were exploring some really interesting design rules for Soul: limbs that would appear and disappear, facial features that seemed to move anywhere on the face, big, expressive mouth shapes that filled the face, straight lines and-versus curves in the body, and really strong lines of action in the posing."
However, once the souls were up and on-screen, the animators found that they were running into a problem, and that problem was the fact that the souls were starting to lose their clarity. It was hard to make something that looks like it's made of almost nothing also have distinguishing features. Brownstein went on to explain that they solved this problem by meticulously drawing edges and lines on parts of the souls that would come and go as a section of the body needed definition.
"We drew a defined, clear edge on each of those poses and that was done by hand, which took a long time. The technical directors made this a reality for us, and the bottom of the movie shows how they rendered the edges that mattered, ignored the edges that didn't, all with a really clear, tapered brushstroke feel on every frame. Here, the top movie shows the facial lines that were hand-animated to appear, disappear, and change thickness with each expression. This was very time-consuming for animators to do, so again, the TD's figured out how to automate these lines, helping to anchor the eyes and the mouth on the face, help keep them on model and appealing, and to provide clarity and extreme emotions like confusion, fear, and rage."
It's so cool to see these little souls come to life on screen because they are simultaneously incredibly detailed while also being simple enough that a child could pick up a pencil and draw their own version, which is just perfect for an animated kids movie.
A musician who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself.
Soul, directed by Pete Docter and co-directed by Kemp Powers, stars Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Daveed Diggs, Phylicia Rashad, and John Ratzenberger. It will be released on Disney+ on December 25th.