After you have a general idea of how you see the sets, how do you move forward?



Ralph Eggleston:

Once I’ve sold my basic concepts to the director, I tend to start by doing little concept sketches and color palettes, followed by roughing out color script work. It’s just a couple of little pieces that tend to be more art-story related than anything. I’m an intuitive artist, and can only work from a story point of view. I’ve said this many times before, but I really do imagine myself in the theater watching the film as I work. It puts everything into perspective.


Production designer on Pixar's WALL-E

© 2009 Ron Barbagallo

Three examples of black and white concept art featuring Wall-E and his Earth environment.

Noah Klockek (top).

Anthony Christov (center).

Jay Shuster (bottom).

I’m also building a crew and start by assigning actual sets. I like to have three art directors: One for environments, one for characters, and one for textures. Collectively we look at the reels and talk to the director. Finding out what works and what doesn’t work, graphics and textures. We start going from there and really build it, bit by bit.


We have to balance our workload between sets that take place in many scenes, from many angles and have a lot of animation footage -- [as opposed to] sets that have relatively little screen time. Scenes that have little screen time can be more or less important to a particular moment in a story. A moment that is less important to the story might get a shorter schedule and lesser budget; and we’ll re-use things we’ve already got, reconfiguring a set, changing the set dressing and color, and lighting it differently.


A moment that is more important to the telling of the story, but is rather large is put on the “long term” planning track. Before spending so much money on large sets that might occupy little screen time, we let the story changes settle as much as possible and get the director used to the “look” of the film. We are also working out kinks in the production pipeline so that when the trigger is pulled to build these sets, we can do it as fast and efficiently as possible.

Hand drawn sketches and their corresponding digital Color Scripts by Ralph Eggleston.

Once the major design obstacles are laid out and agreed upon with the design staff and the director, I can jump back into the color script. Because we’ve done so much research and have begun understanding the world we’re creating, I can delegate to my crew a lot of what needs to get done. This allows me to get back in and focus on the emotional core of what we’re trying to say visually with color, value, and lighting, which usually takes me well into production.




Do you work with traditional media like paint, pencil or pastel on paper or do you work digitally?



Ralph Eggleston:

It depends. I’ve worked in pastel and in paint, but Wall-E was the first time I’ve ever did it exclusively in Photoshop, digitally. I love the immediacy of paint and pastel. Working digitally was a challenge. When I began working on Wall-E I was not knowledgeable with anything other than the simple basics of Photoshop. The great thing about the computer is it affords endless change. The bad thing about the computer is it affords endless change. If I feel like I understand the world of the film I’m working on, I tend to go with my first gut response. I can always adjust it, but if I don’t at least get that down, I won’t move forward.




How do you start creating the imagery for an environment or set? What is your creative process like?



Ralph Eggleston:

I tend to jump in feet first and start with just doodling with little blobs of color all over the place, trying to find a storyline through the intuitive emotions of color. I suppose the easiest way to explain it is “method painting.” I put myself in the place of the character and walk through the story. I’m trying to find colors that evoke an emotion based on everything I’ve absorbed up until that date, reading the story, hearing a pitch, research.

Color for the sake of storytelling played a large role in the early conceptual paintings used to create Wall-E. The top group of four rows of art show how arid and warm earth tones were used to create a sense of vastness on Earth, while cooler more saturated tones were used for the interiors of the space ship Axiom in act two of Wall-E.


Color palettes and digital concept art by Ralph Eggleston (all six rows of images).

I’m often on the project before the story work is completed, offering up visual solutions to story issues, gathering all kinds of information and talking with the director. Then I go away and let it filter through my brain. When I start painting, I can’t let anything else enter my mind as I work. I have to go on my emotion. Then I’ll commission character studies by people in house or people out of house. I’ll give the artists a brief rundown of the possible storyline and the kind of world we’re creating. Not only because we don’t want them to know, but, because we don’t know yet.




In designing for Wall-E, what sort of imagery did you look toward for inspiration?



Ralph Eggleston:

We looked at the Mars Rover film and toured a cruise ship. We looked at Sea Lions for the blubber on the humans. Some of our artists went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to look at robotics. I’m a big fan of architect Santiago Calatrava. I love how he organizes organic forms into beautifully patterned structures. It’s so futuristic, and yet very comforting as well.

The influence of architect Santiago Calatrava can be seen in the top two pieces of concept art while the bottom piece of art shows the influence of Tomorrowland at Disneyland.


Concept art of Docking Bay by Anthony Christov (top).

Concept art by Kristian Norelius (center).

Concept art by Kristian Norelius (bottom).

The single biggest influence for some of the space stuff was a wonderful exhibit that Diane Disney Miller put on at the Oakland Museum to raise money for the Walt Disney Museum. Amazing concepts for the original Tomorrowland at Disneyland. Fun, so imaginative.