Today I want to share something different; an analysis of one of my favourite sequences in animated storytelling. The Married Life sequence is part of Pixar's 2009 animated feature film, Up, which was directed by Pete Docter. Although the sequence is less than four and a half minutes in length, I think most of us can agree that this series of shots is deliver in a way which has a powerful impact and leaves a lasting impression on its audience.
The Married Life sequence essentially provides a montage, telling the story of the life that the protagonist, Carl, enjoyed with his wife, Ellie. Beginning on the day of their wedding, and concluding on the day of Ellie’s funeral, the sequence effectively shows the audience the struggles that the couple endured together, the victories they shared, their personalities, their aspirations and ambitions, and – most importantly – how much they loved each other.
In the overall narrative arc in Up, the purpose of the Married Life sequence is to demonstrate the passage of time. The film begins at the point in Carl’s childhood when he meets Ellie for the first time, while the main body of the film takes place after Ellie has passed away. Ellie was the most important catalyst in the film’s plot, so this montage was designed to bridge the gap in time, and while doing so, reveal more about Carl and the motivations for his actions than we could otherwise have learned in such a small amount of time.
Because the sequence is a montage covering a large amount of time, a huge amount of information is communicated constantly, but it is never jarring or overwhelming to the audience, thanks to many clever techniques used by the team who worked on it.
Geometry, colour, and patterns in character and setting designs are used to enhance the personalities of the characters. Ellie wears bright, vibrant patterns, and helps Carl to wear eccentrically patterned ties. Her face is round and friendly, and her actions are energetic throughout most of the sequence. These features effectively reveal her playful nature, how much she brightened Carl’s world, and her creative and adventurous spirit. Carl, meanwhile, wears quite muted colours, has square features and moves with more care and gentleness. These characteristics effectively hint at Carl’s stubbornness and determination, which are significant characteristics throughout the rest of the film.
The colour script throughout the sequence also influences the tone effectively; with most shots featuring bright, warm, vibrant colours, showing the happy lives that Carl and Ellie shared. However, challenges that these characters faced – such as the shot in which the couple discover that they are unable to have children – are reinforced with darker, more muted colour schemes, which emphasises the sobriety of those situations.
Shot composition was also used masterfully throughout this sequence. Carl and Ellie frequently appear almost centred in shots together, placing importance on their relationship. Their house is also frequently centred in frame, marking the happy home that they created together as meaningful. Their home remains a constant reminder of Ellie and Carl’s relationship throughout the rest of the film.
Another repeating location which uses geometry to its advantage is the hill. This shot is used once at the beginning, where the Carl follows Ellie running up the hill, using the geometry of the shot to hint towards the fact that Ellie provided Carl with many high points in his life. The same scene is used later, when Ellie struggles to make it up the hill, and Carl runs down to hold her, revealing that Ellie’s illness was one of the lowest points in Carl’s life.
Furthermore, portals are occasionally used to accentuate the tone of particular shots. Notably, during the shot where Ellie and Carl discover they are unable to have children, we see the couple speaking to a doctor from a shadowy corridor, looking through the open door of a starkly lit room. This emphasises the feeling of being “trapped,” unable to do anything to solve the problem. The next shot also continues this use of portals, as Carl watches Ellie through a window. Eventually he leaves the house and meets her outside, emphasising the effort he makes to push past the challenge and move forward.
The timing of this sequence also plays a role in what makes it so effective. Many shots are fast paced, and full of a bubbling energy, which emphasises the happiness, playfulness, and enthusiasm that the couple shared. Quick shots are also used cleverly in conjunction with repetition at times, showing the routines and rituals that the couple developed throughout their lives, effectively showing the passage of time. For example; Ellie helped Carl to put on his tie every day, and we see her repeat the motion with many different ties very quickly, suggesting that many days are passing as we watch. This is made even more effective as we see both Ellie and Carl age slightly with each knot that is tied, until eventually we see the pair as senior citizens. At this point, the timing of the shots slows down significantly, and a gentler musical score helps to demonstrate the new, slower pace of life that the couple are used to. Timing, therefore is used throughout the piece to show personality and the passage of time, and by extension shows how the couple evolved and grew together through routines and habits that they developed over the course of their lives.
Overall, I can find little fault with the Married Life sequence. I believe it is one of the most masterful examples of animated storytelling, leaving such a powerful impact on its viewers that emotional responses can be generated by the mere mention of the sequence, even years after the film was released.
- Docter, P. (Director). (2009). Up [Motion Picture]. Retrieved 11 08, 2016, from Pixar: http://www.pixar.com/features_films/UP
- Fong, R. M. (2010, October 24). Production Process of Movie Making in Pixar Animation. Retrieved November 08, 2016, from Rosa Marie VFX Case Studies: http://rmvfxcasestudies.blogspot.ie/2010/10/production-process-of-movie-making-in.html
- Pixar. (2016). Pixar. Retrieved 11 08, 2016, from Making of [Up]: http://www.pixar.com/features_films/UP#Film-Trailers/Making Of
- Pixar. (2016). Pixar. Retrieved 11 08, 2016, from Behind the Scenes: http://www.pixar.com/behind_the_scenes
- Vardanega, J. (2016). Pixar's Animation Process. Retrieved November 08, 2016, from Pixar-Animation: http://pixar-animation.weebly.com/pixars-animation-process.html
- Vardanega, J. (n.d.). Colour Scripts. Retrieved 11 08, 2016, from Pixar-Animation: http://pixar-animation.weebly.com/colour-script.html
- VFX Movies Upcoming. (2014, March 26). Retrieved 11 08, 2016, from 3D Prouction Pipeline (Pixar vs Dreamworks): http://www.upcomingvfxmovies.com/2014/03/3d-production-pipeline-pixar-vs-dreamworks/