"Onward" cinematography "Onward" cinematography

On Cartoon Brew, we regularly spotlight video essays that explore the subtleties of animation’s visual language. Most are made by sharp-eyed fans or other filmmakers. It’s less common for feature filmmakers to break down their own creative process, which makes this behind-the-scenes video on the cinematography in Pixar’s Onward all the more valuable.

Speaking to CookeOpticsTV, Adam Habib and Sharon Calahan — respectively, Onward’s director of photography — camera and director of photography – lighting, reveal the efforts made to emulate the nuances of live-action filmmaking in their latest production. They illustrate their approach by commenting on two specific scenes.

Onward follows two elf brothers on a magical quest, and the DPs discuss how they helped differentiate the two personalities. Ian, the meeker brother, tends to be framed in centered or symmetrical compositions, with little or no movement of the (virtual) camera. The more gung-ho Barley is linked with faster, sometimes handheld camerawork, skewed compositions, and relatively fast editing.

Calahan delves into the lighting and colors, covering everything from the choice of cool palettes to the emotional resonance of clouds. She and Habib discuss the use of virtual reality at the previs stage — a technique Pixar previously adopted on Toy Story 4. Habib also touches on his (entirely live-action) inspirations: Edgar Wright’s films and Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk.

CookeOpticsTV is hosted by Cooke Optics, a 135-year-old British manufacturer of camera lenses. Having provided lenses for everything from Gone with the Wind to Game of Thrones, they have survived to see animation emulate the techniques of live-action cinematography in great detail. They weren’t involved in the making of Onward, but their Youtube channel hosts a range of informative interviews and video essays relating to cinematography.

Alex Dudok de Wit

Alex Dudok de Wit

Alex Dudok de Wit is European Associate Editor of Cartoon Brew.

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