The Kid Should See This

Luxo Jr. Pencil Test: Emotional storytelling in wire frames

How do animators make a character lovable when the character doesn’t have a face and doesn’t speak? How can you build a relatable story with something as minimal as a computer generated pencil test? How do you communicate the curiosity, exasperation, or exuberance of an inanimate object primarily with outlines? This wire frame of Pixar’s Luxo Jr. (1986) is a great example. From Cartoon Brew ED:

If you look up “inanimate” in the dictionary you’ll see words like: lifeless, dull, spiritless, sluggish, lacking consciousness.

Working within the limitations of your object (John Lasseter puts it well – “Truth in materials”) it’s imperative you instill in your character recognizable human traits so your audience can empathize. Watch this wire frame version of Luxo Jr and observe the human emotions, gestures, attitudes and how the characters move in a way that is true to their physicality and to their personality.

The pencil test’s sound effects and music are key storytelling tools, as well.

A pivotal achievement in computer generated filmmaking, Luxo Jr. was the first CGI film nominated for an Academy Award, and of course, we now know Luxo Jr. as Pixar’s mascot.

Watch the film online or in Pixar Short Films: Volume 1. Read more about the groundbreaking film here and here.

Related watching: more Pixar-related videos, including a handbell performance of “Married Life” from UP and Pixar’s Zoetrope.

Updated video.

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