||DVD Video - Interviews [Kinder, Bill]
Interview With: Bill Kinder|
Focus: A Bug's Life|
Title: Editorial Supervisor||Company: Pixar|
Interviewed By: Marc Flemming||Date: 4/12/99|
April 12th, 5:00pm: I received a phone call that evening from Bill Kinder,
a representative of Pixar. For the next 40 some odd minutes (quite a bit
more than originally planned, I might add) we spoke indepthly on the
April 20th DVD release of A Bugs of Life, the extras on the disc
including Geri's Game and the two sets of out takes, the digital to digital
transfer, the reframing process for the completely revised 1.33:1 aspect
ratio version of the film, Toy Story and Toy Story 2, Divx,
a discussion on anamorphic transfers, and much more. I kindly thank
Disney and Pixar for allowing me the opportunity to speak with Mr. Kinder
on the many topics we touched on.
From the Pixar Website:
How Big Was Bugs, Really!? - A movie is 24 frames per second so a 90 minute
movie is 129,600 frames. In our case, each frame was 2048 X 872 pixels by 4 bytes of color
information. This means each frame is 7,143,424 bytes of data. Multiplying 129,600 X 7.1MB/frame
is roughly 925GB of storage for the film frames. However, there are many first attempts at frames
and also video resolution frames that have to be stored as well. On A Bug's Life, we had about 2TB
of storage, even though the actual final frames only took up .925TB.
Bill Kinder is Editorial Supervisor at Pixar Animation Studios. Prior to
joining Pixar in 1996, Bill was the Director of Facilities at American Zoetrope
in San Francisco. There he coordinated sound and picture post production on
numerous feature films (including Jack, Mi Familia, and Theremin: An Electronic
Odyssey), brought innovations to Francis Coppola's Electronic Storyboard
Department and oversaw film-to-tape transfers of dailies. He has also directed
an Emmy-nominated documentary, produced television news and edited commercials.
Bill studied film, sound and photography at Brown University, Rhode Island School of
Design, and the University of East Anglia.
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
DVD CHANNEL NEWS: I would like to thank you for allowing me the opportunity
spend some time with you on the phone and engage in a little
conversation on the topic of the upcoming release of 'A Bug's Life'.
BILL KINDER: Well, that's my favorite topic so..
DCN: Yeah, that's what I hear.
DCN: I can tell you from experience it's conversations like these that
really get the DVD community talking and excited about the format.
So, without further ado, I'm going to ask you a few relevant questions.
As far as 'A Bug's Life', who was actually responsible for the
DVD authoring of this disc?
BK: Of course we made the master tape here at Pixar and delivered
that to Buena Vista Home Entertainment. They took care of the actual
authoring if that's what you mean.
DCN: Speaking of Buena Vista what is the distribution agreement between
Pixar and Buena Vista, and will this agreement cover additional
future releases, or is it exclusive to this initial release?
BK: Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar have an arrangement to do five
feature films over ten years starting with A Bugs Life a couple years ago.
So, Walt Disney Pictures is our distribution partner for the near future
DCN: In anyway, does Buena Vista have the final say for all DVD
releases from Pixar?
BK: You know, it's interesting that with everything that I've observed
about the relationship between the two companies it's very much of
a collaboration and a collegial partnership. And so they were very
interested and supportive of our desire to make this disc a world first
in terms of it being derived from digital source material. It was also
a potentially unusual desire to make a 1:33 aspect ratio version an
entirely reframed version itself. So, they went along with all that
and like I said we're really supportive of it. And another thing to bear
in mind that I think is one of the things that is so exciting about the
release is that this is the first Walt Disney feature animated film --
I guess I should say the first feature animated film released by
Walt Disney Pictures that's coming out on DVD... they haven't released any
other animated properties on disc yet. I think that's really cool
and I hope they get a lot of good positive feedback and support for
that because just as a fan of animation, I'd love to see more of their
stuff on disc.
Standard Pan and Scan
Newly Reframed Version
DCN: Oh yeah definitely, that's probably one of the more attractive
and desirable things for DVD ... as far as upcoming releases, a lot
of fans are looking for animation from Disney.
BK: *agreement* Yeah...
DCN: Definitely. And I am.. there's a quite a few I would like. I know that
you primarily want to talk a little about the reframing procedures
that you went through and a little about the digital to digital
transfer, but before we jump into that... I just want to say this:
Just as a little history on the release of 'A Bug's Life', there seems
to be quite a few similarities between this animation film and 'Antz',
and I know that I've gotten a lot of questions just as far as readers
saying, "Which one is which? Which one is which?", of course once you've
seen them both, you're well aware of which one is which, but in mild
research of the issue, I've heard comments indicating unplanned "shared ideas". Is
this correct or incorrect? And if not, is there anything more to this
than simple coincidence?
BK: *restating* Is it coincidence... I don't think so.. there's a
real history to that story. But, it would be hard for a reasonable
person to believe that it was coincidental. But, all of that was
sort of out of the involvement that I had with 'A Bug's Life'... probably
not within my domain to talk about.
DCN: That's fair enough. Was the future creation of a DVD for
'A Bug's Life' considered during the original production?
BK: Yeah, definitely. From the beginning when the decision was made
to make a widescreen cinemascope release of 'A Bug's Life', based
on his experience transferring 'Toy Story' to video, in a telecine
environment, the director John Lasseter, wanted to make sure that
there was some better way to bring a widescreen project to the
video screen then pan and scan. He was very disillusioned by the
compromises that he had to make to get 'Toy Story' to standard
television, both in the color consistency and quality and accuracy
and in the clarity in resolution and sharpness compared to what he had
been used to looking at on video monitors here at Pixar. Once it
hit film and went back to video -- it was just this "other thing".
That was the start of it - going from a 1:85 aspect ratio which
'Toy Story' was - to a 2:35 scope aspect ratio which 'A Bug's Life'
was - the problem is only greater, you only have to throw away
that much more of the picture. That was kind of the challenge
from the beginning was, given that in a theatrical film environment,
cinemascope was going to be the best treatment of this material, this
"epic of miniature proportions" as it was called. How do we translate
that to home video? We did spend a lot of time thinking about how
to solve that problem during the course of the production, although
I have to say that creatively none of the people at that level of
the film making process were really trying to make two versions of the
film at once. In fact, you could say that was one of the liberating
things about our decision to actually do a completely reframed
version of the film was that they could focus entirely on their
cinemascope project and not worry about having to compromise it, because
if they staged two characters all the way left and right on the screen
they could never get that across on video. They knew that they had
some flexibility later when it came to the home video release. It terms
of the creative process, once we figured out our workflow or methodology
for getting a digital master created on video and also a reframed
master on video, we were able to focus on making the movie and then
as the movie ramped, we had people ramping onto the project of digitally
mastering 'A Bug's Life'.
DCN: Curiously, were any of the voice actors asked to participate in
the production of the DVD?
BK: We didn't need to change any of the original sound track. The
sound track that is on the disc is the original theatrical 5.1 surround
sound mix. The DVD has both widescreen and full frame version on it
and it's a dual layered disc so going back and forth to either of the
sound tracks, you'll find that they're the same.
[Editor's Note: Personally not knowing, the original intention behind the
last question was to determine whether or not any of the voice actors
were involved in the creation any additional materials such as commentary
tracks, but seeing as though Mr. Kinder would have probably responded on
that note if there were such thing, I decided not to pursue the subject
because of time obligations.]
DCN: There hasn't been too much information given out regarding which
extras will be on the disc, but the fact that 'out takes' - two sets
of 'out takes' that were seen in the theater will be included. How will these two sets
of out takes at the end of the film be presented on this disc?
BK: It's great. There's a choice. If you watch the movie from beginning
to end you'll get the original theatrical 'out takes' that came out when
the film was first released in theaters. But if you go to the bonus
materials section of the disc, you get an option to play 'out takes' 'A' or
'B'. 'A' is the first one, 'B' is the second set of 'out takes' that
were released several weeks after the original theatrical release. That's
how you get to see the end credits with the second set of out takes.
Newly Reframed Version
DCN: While the press release or any of the other publicly presented
materials have not specifically stated one way or another, it has
been widely believed that the 'A Bug's Life' DVD will not contain
an anamorphic transfer?
DCN: Why is that? I know that most of Buena Vista's releases, if not
all of them, have not contained anamorphic transfers. Is this simply
because since they're not doing it - Pixar isn't doing it?
BK: Well, I think that what's interesting about the 'Bug's Life' DVD
is that you have to realize and rethink all this discussion in this
case because this DVD has a version on it that is reframed for 1.33.
And when people talk about 16x9 anamorphic they are usually talking
about trying to maximize lines of vertical resolution on their
screen. What I believe we've done is transcend that squabble and
give viewers a version of the film that works on the widest installed
base of video monitors out there, your standard definition 1.33, that
takes advantage of every single line of resolution and is not a compromised
pan and scan version. Because of course, if you used a pan and
scan version you could argue that that uses the full palette of resolution
on a television screen, too, but you've cut off half the picture - you've
cut the baby in half. In our case, we've made a second version of the
film which stands on its own, but directed by John Lasseter, and created
painstakingly by a crew of layout artists and animators to work in
composition and continuity and art direction and everything else for
the 1.33 screen. We've kinda just blown that whole techno discussion
away and said no-no, we've had the opportunity to do something else
that's even better. Finally, we care about how this thing is going to be
viewed by millions of people -- and I mean it will be seen by more
people in a home video environment then ever saw it in a theater. Our
interest in giving that larger audience something that was the utmost
quality that not only that it could be, but better than anything anyone has ever had on home video - was
sort of what we were all about. The other thing, having said that, stepping
into the 16x9 subject for a sec, one of the problems of course with
16x9 is that if you don't have a widescreen viewing environment, in other
words you don't have a projector or a 16x9 TV set - you're depending on
a chip in the DVD player..
DCN: ... to down-convert the image.
BK: Yeah. To do the 4 lines to 3 thing. *chuckle* Some as you know, some
players do that better than others. Some do it by throwing lines out
of every 4 away, some merge the 4 into 3 and do some filtering. I think
it's a little sketchy to depend on a consumer player to do that and
take what is this amazing digital master and filter it that way. I think
reasonable people could disagree on that point. I could also see the other
side - I'm not adamant about it. But, it makes a sort of border line
call that I think you could respect. I think that the other thing in our
case - since we have this legitimate, authentic, director approved version
of the film in 1.33 on our dual layered disc, it would be less elegant
for the viewer to go back and forth between layers to compare the 1.33
version to the widescreen version if every time they did that, they also had
to reset their DVD player to do the anamorph and undo the anamorph. This
way it's all flat and you can go back and forth and compare both versions,
enjoy both versions, and not have an extra menu tree to navigate through
-- in the dark. So, I think that's some of the reasonable thinking behind
a lot of that. I think that also 16x9 is a great format and maybe one day
there will be a 16x9 version of 'A Bug's Life' and there's certainly nothing stopping
us from doing it. If every body thinks that's what there should be, well, hey --
one of those, too.
DCN: Well, it's hard to please every body.
DCN: As far as the digital to digital transfer process, would you
consider it much easier than the standard film to DVD process?
BK: No. It was much harder. The consideration - the work was a lot
more than booking a few days or a week, as it typically is, at 'Joe's
Pan and Scan Parlor' in Burbank. *chuckle* It was a crew of people
working to get the film res image files into a high res video component
digital D1 image format that could then be put in order on a D1 tape.
It was definitely more work to do and that is not even contemplating
the whole reframing effort which was, ya know, again a lot of creative decision
making to remake every shot in a way that suited the 1.33 aspect ratio.
The other thing that we didn't even realize, we were somewhat boneheaded
about it ourselves, I admit, is that we had to do a PAL master, too.
DCN: Oh yeah?
BK: Yeah, naturally, you would - the rest of the world looks at stuff
in PAL. Normally, when you do a telecine you just do it twice and it's not
a realtime process, but once you've set your pan and scan moves and
done the best you can with color, you just change your settings and put
your PAL tape in. But, of course, we had to make a separate PAL master
*chuckle* which made it somewhat more work than we realized... somewhat,
North America-centric, I guess. But, what's interesting, gosh, I wish,
talk about 16x9, if you've ever seen D1 PAL, there's 100 extra lines
of resolution there. So, we should all move to the UK and take up there.
*chuckle* It's pretty cool.
DCN: Is there a pretty big difference then?
BK: Well, it's...
DCN: .. a hundred lines.
BK: Yeah, a hundred lines... yeah, there's definitely a difference.
DCN: A little more about the reframing process. It's not exactly
the same as Pan and Scan where you're not taking the full theatrical
version of the film and panning across-- it sounds like you're
redoing the entire scene...
BK: We are, yeah, every single shot was touched again. You could say
that every single frame was touched again for the reframed version.
In some cases it's true, it worked well enough to crop the shot and
throw away a portion of the left and right, which is essentially what
you get with a pan and scan. But, we weren't limited to that as
a choice, we could also...
Newly Reframed Version
DCN: ...move the characters on the screen.
BK: Move the characters, exactly. We moved the characters around, we
revealed top and bottom of the frame to fill out the picture. Whatever
made the most sense to solve the problem in each shot and then in
continuity from shot to shot, each scene as a whole was reviewed and
changes were made and the technique for each shot based on how the whole
thing played. And of course this was reviewed by John Lasseter and
also Lee Unkrich, who was the editor on the film for issues of
continuity. They always had remarks and subtle tweaks to keep the
continuity the best it could be.
DCN: It's pretty important than for everyone to understand that
this 1:33 version, this reframed version on the disc is actually
an entirely new work - in most respects anyway.
BK: Absolutely. It is - it's the second version of 'A Bug's Life' which
stands on its own. It's not a compromised version for 1.33. It's a
different 1.33 version that was directed by John Lasseter.
DCN: That's very interesting..
BK: Yeah, and many people said that it looks better than a lot of the
theatrical dome presentations they say. I'm sure, especially any DVD
enthusiast knows that compared to what you get at your standard
multiplex down the street where the popcorn guy is running the projector
these days, a lot of times the presentation isn't really so great.
We're now to the point where... this is, I think, the most stunning
imagery ever delivered to consumer outside of theater and compared to some
theaters it's even better.
DCN: As far as making a comparison here, I've recently
previewed Antz on DVD. And in my opinion, it looks really nice.
BK: Does it?
DCN: That was my next question, whether or not you had viewed the Antz
BK: I haven't seen it. I have seen 'A Bug's Life' disc now of course
and have lived with it for about a week and looked at it a lot and I've
compared it to other film to tape transfers... which is everything else
on DVD. All the other discs I have and have looked at closely and
for me, from the opening logos of 'A Bug's Life' you can tell it's
a different process. It feels like you've cleaned your eye glasses.
By not having any film grain, any film weave or jitter, any dust,
negative defects, scratches, hair, whatever winds up in the film
transfer - hair is probably a little extreme, okay so - *chuckle*
[Editor's Note: Not really! Check out the beginning of 'Waterworld' on DVD.
In an opening scene, it is evident that someone left their wig
behind in that transfer.], but it's amazing. It's so clear and sharp, I
think. And I've compared it to other discs. And on freeze frames,
you just look closely at the images and they're completely pristine,
they're rock solid.
BK: Yeah, it's really awesome.
DCN: Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. What about the special features
on the disc, as I said we don't really have any idea other
than the 'out takes' and Geri's Game are going to be on there, is that right?
BK: Right! Geri's Game is on there and it, too, was mastered digitally
and the DVD was taken from those digital source files. Geri's Game
was Oscar-winning animated short film last year, and it was on
'A Bug's Life' theatrical release. There's Geri's Game, there's the two
'out takes', and then the dual layered disc with both the reframed version
and the widescreen scope letterbox version of the film are mostly
what you get. It was really our focus at Pixar again to make sure
viewers at home were going to get the optimum quality presentation.
There are certainly a lot of supplemental material-worthy tapes
in our vaults that maybe one day could get to a special edition, but
I think we have to remember, too, that one of the great things
about this disc is that it's being released day-and-date with
the VHS tape. I think that should help DVD quite a bit because
often times, as you know, DVDs come out after the cassette which means
after the initial push from the studio to promote the film on home
video. Now, in this case, DVD should be getting a big push because
it's being mentioned alongside the VHS as being available now. If we
had gone to the trouble of making a supplemental material kind of a thing, it never
would have made it. The producing of all that stuff wouldn't have
happened in time for us to get it out by the release date. Instead
we are just focusing on the incredible quality of this disc compared
to anything else that has been out before.
DCN: In light of this production of 'A Bug's Life', what you've gone
through in the creation of this disc, do you think there is anything
further that can be done in DVD mastering to create a better result
other than to improve methods of compression? Or do you think you
hit the nail right on the head for the most part?
BK: I hate to toot our own horn too much, but I can't think of a way
that this could have been any better. That was our approach, to study
how to make it the best it could be. You've got the 5.1 final mix
that Gary Rydstrom heard in his sound stage. You've got the D1 master
images that John Lasseter saw as he approved them with his animators
and artists. And you've got it in two versions, one that is optimized
for the kind of television sets most of us have and the other which
is widescreen for people who want to compare that to what the theatrical
release was. I just can't think how it could be any better. But, that's
probably for someone else to say. I think that you probably suggested
that there's always-- since DVD has come out, both the players and
the actual authoring systems and the hardware that has been used for them have been
getting slightly better in areas of compression. I'm sure one day
eventually there will be some kind of Hi-Def DVD and I'm sure Pixar
will be right there in that arena because of course - it's all pixels
and we started out at film res. We would love to know what the next
step up in quality could be because we're ready to make it. But, right
now those don't seem to be really available to anyone.
DCN: Okay, well I've got two more topics I'd like to touch on unless
you're telling me that you have to go...
BK: No, no -- I've got a couple more minutes.
DCN: Okay good. Real quick, one question on this topic, what is Pixar's
general take on the Divx format? Do they have one? Do they plan to
release on that or do you have any idea whatsoever?
BK: Ya know, I don't. Pixar probably doesn't really have a corporate
position on Divx. If anything, Buena Vista Home Entertainment would.
It's sort of a distribution kind of issue. I don't know of any
colleagues at Pixar who are very enthusiastic about Divx. But, that's
also pretty anecdotal and unrelated. That's more from the point of
view from users of DVD and fans of home video rather than studio policy.
DCN: Okay, considering the time, we'll move right off that and we'll
touch on future projects. I'm sure you can't speak openly on the topic,
but, are there any future projects for screen or for DVD that you can
comment on in any amount of detail at the moment?
BK: Probably not much detail. I can tell you that 'Toy Story 2' is due
for a theatrical release holiday season of this year. That's what
most of the studio's attention is focused on right now. It's an amazing
story. If you liked 'Toy Story 1', then I'm pretty sure you're going to
like this one.
DCN: Are some of the same actors coming back
to reprise their roles?
BK: Yeah! Yeah, it's going to be really good.
DCN: What about a 'Toy Story' release on
DVD? Are plans forthcoming?
BK: That's a great question - and I
honestly, don't know.
DCN: That's something up in the air then?
BK: Yeah, up in the air. I'm sure it's a possibility, but I don't know
DCN: In speaking with other members of the DVD community, are there
any important or interesting details you've previously talked about
worth mentioning that we didn't go over here?
BK: I think we hit all the major issues. I really can't think of any
other topics. Let me just see from my notes here. No, not really.
I was talking to one of my colleagues here and one thing he reminded
me of was the reframing project wasn't only about going from widescreen
to 1.33, but also about going from big screen to a smaller screen.
Even if you have a projector in your living room, you're still only
10 feet wide compared to 30-40 feet wide. And there's just a very different
relationship that the viewer has to that scale and so just as a footnote
to the whole discussion of what kind of decisions went into reframing
the project, I think that one was worth mentioning.
Newly Reframed Version
DCN: And as the last, last question - since I have you on the line, I
couldn't let you go without asking you this: as a director of a
Emmy-nominated documentary, do you have recommendations, pointers,
or advice for the readers out there that take a strong interest in
getting into the computer animated side of film?
BK: I would say, be passionate about it if that's what you want to do.
Really sort of devote yourself to it and have something you want to say.
It doesn't necessarily have to be high-end 3D computer tools that you
use to say it. For instance, Pixar takes its pool of animators from --
a pool of animators and doesn't really care if they have computer
experience. I think one common mistake is to get very caught up in
the rapidly changing complexity of the tools out there rather than
what you might want to construct with the tools. Think basic... think
pen and paper. Think art and story telling first and technique later.
DCN: Sounds good. Worthy advice. That about wraps it up! Again, I
thank you kindly for allowing me this opportunity. Not only am
I extremely thankful, but I think I can speak on behalf of the thousands
of readers who are sure to read over what we've discussed today.
BK: It's been my pleasure!