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To Infinity and Beyond with Lightyear

6 minute read

Top 10 quotes from animation editor Anthony Greenberg on what it's like working at Pixar and the editing the sci-fi space adventure.

Anthony Greenberg is a long-time editor at Pixar with over 20 years of experience at the award-winning animation studio. He recently wrapped up work on their latest feature Lightyear — a heartfelt, action-packed, and funny film based on Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story fame. 

Take a quick break and check out our favorite gems from his out-of-this-world Art of the Cut interview where he rockets you into the world of Pixar and explores the major differences between animation and live-action editing.

Top 10 Quotes

Whenever I tell someone I work at Pixar Animation Studios, they say, “Oh, you're an animator!” I'm like, “Eh, actually, I'm an editor.” It's weird because even people within our industry that work on films sometimes don't understand what an animation editor does.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b020_32ag_pub.pub16.1372LIGHTYEAR, MAKING SPACE © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

I kid you not, the first movie I worked on at Pixar was The Incredibles, and there was someone who was trying to automate editorial. It was such a confusing thing for me to take such a human endeavor to edit and to try and figure out a way to automate it. Obviously, it didn't work.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b055_108a_pub.pub16.630LIGHTYEAR, HERO'S BEST FRIEND © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

It’s interesting because I still feel like when it comes to The Academy or other groups like that, we're still kind of at the kid's table. We don't necessarily get the admiration for the creative input that you might get if you worked on an Oscar-nominated drama or live-action film so that motivation is tough.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b170_108_pub.pub16.937LIGHTYEAR, HERO’S BEST FRIEND © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The big difference is a live-action editor selects the best shots from dailies from footage that may have been shot on location or shot on a sound stage somewhere with actors that are doing their own timing and cinematographers who are shooting it all. So you're picking the best takes out of timing that was created somewhere else and comes into your editing system.

An animation editor has to invent all of that from scratch. The only thing that we have that's remotely close to a live-action piece is the dialogue that we record in our dialogue sessions which we can manipulate a lot because there is no picture to rely on. Any given sentence in an animated film could be from multiple takes recorded over several months in different locations, which we cut together.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b336_17_pub.pub16.759LIGHTYEAR, TEAMING UP © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

We set out to make an epic sci-fi film in the Pixar canon which there aren't really many. We definitely don't focus on genre films, but it's something that we wanted to intentionally do. However, Disney and a lot of people at Pixar were concerned that we might be making a movie that's too scary or has too much action for what our audience expects. So we really had a lot of little needles to thread to try and work that out. It did take several iterations to really get it right.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b378_19_pub.pub16.220LIGHTYEAR, TEAMING UP © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

I was an assistant for so many years. One of the things I wanted to do when I got to be a lead (editor) was to look at all of the assistant editors as editors. They are all editors. They’re not here saying, “Boy, I really would love to import and export stuff.” They’re here because they want to tell a story too.

I'm coming from this approach where I want to create well-rounded editors that can do it all. So I give them dialogue, boards, all of it. We’re early on enough that we are not going to run out of time, and afterward, we'll all review it together. I created this thing called an internal review where all the assistants would get a chance to cut certain sequences. We would all get in the same room together or get on zoom now, but we would all get in the same room together and watch each other's cuts and give each other notes.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b020_114a_pub.pub16.807LIGHTYEAR, SCI-FI ACTION ADVENTURE © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The scale of these shows is monstrous. It takes years and years to make and to try and have that memory of  — Oh, I think I remember we recorded a line like back in 2019 where Chris Evans said it like this, and it's really funny — let me go find it. It's a different process and it’s extended out. You're working very rough for a very long time.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b303_6g_pub.pub16.877LIGHTYEAR, TO INFINITY © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

I coined a phrase “stretch the taffy” that Angus (director) really liked and rang true to him. It ended up being part of our shorthand. Basically, what it means is that we push something as far as we can, even though we know it's gonna be too much. We push it as far as we can to see what happens, and then once that taffy breaks, we know we've stretched that too far, so we bring it back. It's just a good way to manipulate those moments and see what you have because you never know if you could discover something. If you think you're pushing something too far and you don't go there, you'll never know, so just try it and see.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b020_303b_pub.pub16.2283LIGHTYEAR, TRIAL AND ERROR © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

We had two screenings. Both the theaters were pretty packed. It was terrifying, but it was amazing to get to show this film to an audience that was just ready for it. They wanted it, they wanted to see it, and they were so appreciative. The second they heard it was a movie about the Buzz Lightyear that inspired the toy, they were so ready to watch it. It was a wonderful experience, and it was such a payoff after toiling away over all these months of work. At first, in the studio and then suddenly in our bedrooms, trying to make a motion picture for this long, it was really a cathartic beautiful experience.

LIGHTYEAR-ONLINE-USE-b625_15k_pub.pub16.474LIGHTYEAR, EVIL EMPEROR © 2022 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Angus MacLane is a bonafide sci-fi nerd. He is an encyclopedia of all movies, not just sci-fi. It’s certainly incredible to witness. It's not intimidating at all, especially given the fact that I'm the kind of person that can barely remember who cut what last year. That’s not how my brain works. We are both children of the seventies and eighties and huge sci-fi nerds. You can find references in every sequence of this movie to something from back then whether it's Star Wars, Close Encounters, Terminator, or RoboCop. It’s across the board. So yes, you will see that all over the place, and I don't really look at it as being derivative. I think it's more of  “Come on, we're making a fun sci-fi epic movie. Let's lean into those homages.”

Want more? Read the full AOTC interview and listen to the full pod!

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