To Infinity and Back Again: Hand-drawn Aesthetics and Affection for the Past in Pixar’s Pioneering Animation

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The purpose of this paper is to investigate the use of “traditional” and analogical animation aesthetic in Pixar’s computer generated works, in order to engage with recent developments of digital animation and the emergence of the predilection for an “organic look”.

Pixar Animation Studios has been at the forefront of cutting edge technology in computer animation for over 25 years. Once bound by the limitations of computer-generated animation, notable for its plastic-looking and rigid subjects (Cavalier, 2011, 298), the team of computer scientists and animators at Pixar have developed tools and methods setting a standard and a canon for animation filmmaking. In fact, the phenomenal success of Toy Story (Lasseter, 1995), the world’s first computer animated feature film, saw the ‘widespread popularization of 3D computer animation technologies in both animated and live action cinema’ (Montgomery, 2011, 7). While Montgomery argues that the technology pioneered by Pixar has ‘displaced hand-drawn traditions in mainstream American animation’ (2011, 8), we are now witnessing Pixar’s experimentation with textures that are ‘imperfect and manmade’ (Casarosa, 2011).

Pixar’s cutting edge approach emerges in particular from its long-standing tradition of short films, which form the basis for the studio’s research and development. More recently however, short films such as Presto (Sweetland, 2008) and La Luna (Casarosa, 2011) demonstrate a shift away from its sleek contemporary style. The studio, in fact, has pushed the boundaries of the medium to create digital images that instead resemble organic, hand-drawn artwork, highlighting a “nostalgic trend” for the analogue, which characterises contemporary media.

My paper will analyse the short film La Luna in order to grasp this aesthetic shift in relation with the technological development of Pixar’s studio. The aim is to understand how this change, alongside the release of Disney’s more “traditional” short films Paperman (Kahrs, 2012) and Get a Horse! (MacMullan, 2013), represent a new trend in animation where nostalgia is set to become a mainstream aesthetic.

Audio Commentary: The Director. La Luna. Narr. Enrico Casarosa. Dir. Enrico Casarosa. 2011. Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume 2 DVD. Disney/Pixar. 2012.

Cavalier, Stephen. The World History of Animation. Aurum Press Ltd., 2011.

Montgomery, Colleen. ‘Woody’s Roundup and Wall-E’s Wunderkammer: Technophilia and Nostalgia in Pixar Animation’. Animation Studies. 6. 7-13. 2011.

Pixar | RenderMan website:
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventAnimation at the Cutting Edge: An Alphaville Symposium - University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
Duration: 15 Feb 2014 → …


ConferenceAnimation at the Cutting Edge: An Alphaville Symposium
Period15/02/2014 → …


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