News Column

Pixar Animation Goes Live With Pittsburgh Orchestra

June 19, 2013

Mark Kanny

Pixar Animation Studios has won 27 Academy Awards since it released "Toy Story," its first feature-length film, in 1995. Each of its 13 films, including "Finding Nemo," "The Incredibles," "Cars" and "Ratatouille," has been a hit.

Now, Pixar, which was bought by Disney in 2006, has joined its parent company in creating shows that feature live orchestral performances of the film scores coordinated with projection of the films or excerpts from them.

"These concerts are, in a way, what only a very few people get to hear because it's hard to get into film-recording sessions. These concerts are very much idealized versions of that," says Jonathan Heely, Disney's director of music publishing and concert licensing.

Lawrence Loh will conduct the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in "Pixar in Concert" on June 21 and 22 at Heinz Hall, Downtown. Parts of all of Pixar's films are included in the program.

Disney began renting out music from its popular films for performance by orchestras 20 years ago.

"It was kind of on the heels of the reinvention of the animated musical, such as 'The Little Mermaid' and 'Beauty and the Beast,' " Heely says.

"All of a sudden, we found that we had some music that's making a big deal. When we noticed that orchestras were interested in playing those tunes, we wanted to get really great arrangements."

Heely, who earned a degree in composition at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., says many techniques used at film studios are impractical on the concert stage.

He says that music for films is recorded over many days.

The horns may be beefed up to 12 horns for extra richness of sound in one section. Film scores also use a lot of pre-recorded synthesizers. Later adding up those layers of sound is completely different from playing something in real time.

Mark Waters, the arranger for the Pixar show, had to balance being faithful to the original with what's practical in a live performance.

The drive for "Pixar in Concert" came from Pixar's creative team.

"One of the animation directors for the last couple of films, Pete Docter, grew up loving orchestra music because his mother is a concert violinist. He was really interested in giving another platform for the music to be heard live," Heely says.

He credits David Tanaka, who made the movie montages, for being the "creative visionary" for the actual concert experience. But he also emphasizes that Pixar works as a very collaborative environment and that Tanaka's proposals received a lot of constructive comment from his colleagues.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.

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