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How did you go about choosing the colors for Wall-E?
We tried different colors on Wall-E in terms of his body, but the color yellow reminded people of tractor trucks, which suited Wall-E’s job well. With a mostly brown and beige monochromatic world, there was some concern he might not read clearly, but choosing a bright, saturated yellow really made him stand out. We tried to shy away from that color elsewhere.
Speaking solely in terms of character, Wall-E is a diminutive, nearly child-like robot with a deep need to be loved. In some ways, his personality is reminiscent of another innocent mannered star who worked in the silent age, Charlie Chaplin. What design decisions did you make to help define Wall-E’s personality and the personality of his truck where he lives or shuts down?
The key things to the design of Wall-E are his -- eyes, and the overall proportions of his body as it relates to his eyes. The first impression we wanted the audience to have is "child-like.” They were about to watch a whole feature starring a bucket of bolts; we needed to grab their hearts as fast as possible. We never wanted this to be a man in a robot outfit. I’ve seen many animated robots that were visually appealing, but I rarely believed in them, because they didn’t seem designed to do anything specific. Not so with Wall-E. He was designed by the Buy'N'Large Corporation to do one thing: crunch trash. Over the centuries of gathering trash, it seems he’s developed a soul and a personality.
DESIGN WITH A PURPOSE, page three
AN INTERVIEW WITH RALPH EGGLESTON,
Production designer on Pixar's WALL-E
© 2009 Ron Barbagallo
Five examples of concept art of Wall-E.
Drawing of Wall-E by Jay Shuster (top left).
Drawing of Wall-E by Jay Shuster (top right).
Drawing of Wall-E by Jay Shuster (center left).
Drawing of Wall-E by Jay Shuster (center right).
Digital painting of Wall-E and texture studies by Laura Philips (bottom).
Since Wall-E was going to be a primarily pantomime character, making his eyes bigger seemed a logical choice. Adding the mechanical details of the inner workings of lenses and binoculars gave Wall-E’s eyes a range of subtlety that gave the animators more to express with. As with all great silent films, the audience was asked to bring something more to the table than a film with sound. Rather than paying so much attention to dialogue and sound carrying the story forward, they’re asked to imagine what the character is feeling and continually guess what the character is going to do next.
The interior of the truck was a real challenge, because it was a major set that was relatively confined. With the possibility of so many unknown shots and angles being asked for, we couldn’t cheat as much as we’d originally hoped. We had to design and build virtually everything in the truck. We had a ton of visual gags about what Wall-E had collected, some very funny, but we opted for objects Wall-E as a character found interesting. The laughs came from how he innocently arranged the objects on his shelves.
He’s collected lights of various sources powered by car batteries, but even he keeps the lights to a practical minimum until he invites Eve back to his pad, wherein he pulls out the stops and turns on all of the lights he’s gathered -- making the truck look like the inside of a warm, inviting Christmas tree.
The interior of Wall-E's truck.
Digital Color Script by Ralph Eggleston (top).
Digital paint over by Ralph Eggleston over a Master Lighting of Truck by Andrew Pienaar (bottom).
In the beginning of the film, in looking at the Earth environments, you established a lot of earth tones and, rather than going the usual route by making the earth tones cold in nature, you’ve imbued a lot of saturated, warm reds, oranges, yellows and magentas into your earth tone imagery. There are not a lot of blue casts and a limited if any use of purples or greens. In essence, you took a material that is usually depicted in rather cold tones -- the color brown and made it feel warm. This is the opposite of what an audience might expect.
Can you explain your use of color, as it pertains to the Earth environments in Act One?
The color script of [Earth] Act One is very dull and muted, in terms of lighting and color. When Eve arrives the colors get more saturated and the general environment subtly shifts from tan to soft pinks and blues. As Wall-E and Eve get closer and closer, the colors get wildly saturated like in the scene where Wall-E introduces himself to Eve, or the scene by the campfire light of the ship burning, or the multitude of colorful lights in Wall-E’s truck when he brings Eve home.
When Eve sees the plant (this is first evidence of any green color), she shuts down and Wall-E waits for Eve to re-awaken, we begin a visual recapitulation of everything that has happened earlier in Act One except now in a higher key. When Wall-E finally gives up and goes back to work, the lighting and colors go back to when we met Wall-E at the beginning of the film.
Visually, the color green is as much a central character throughout Wall-E as any of the film's leads. Seen above, via the simplified and caricatured medium of Color Scripts, the absence and presence of green function as a focal point for hope throughout the film's plot line.
Digital Color Scripts by Ralph Eggleston (all images).
The color green plays a fairly significant role in Wall-E. Since the Earth has been covered in trash, and since most natural resources have been used up, the green of a small plant provides hope for the world. I was surprised how hard it was to keep the color green from creeping into the film before we wanted it to (in the scene where Wall-E finds the plant). It did creep in a bit earlier than anticipated, however -- in a shot that was rushed through production to use in a trailer. The Rubik’s Cube Wall-E collects has some green squares on it. The shot was supposed to be revisited, to desaturate the green a bit, but the schedule didn’t allow us to fix this.
Many of the lighter areas in the Earth environments appear to be washed out of any color and are unusually devoid of detail. This visual decision creates a sense of vastness, emptiness and even off-worldliness to your vision of Earth.
Exactly, one of my goals on this film was to bleach out the whites. I wanted the audience to feel like they might need their sunglasses while they were watching the movie. It was as much about making the world a harsh place for Wall-E as it was about over-exposing the image to give an immediacy to these scenes. It makes Wall-E so vulnerable.
Seemingly over-exposed exteriors on Earth were created to give a sense of vastness.
Lighting study by John Lee after Color Script by Ralph Eggleston (top).
Screen shot from the final film (bottom).