Inspired by her late grandfather, Emilie Goulet wanted to be an animator since early childhood, which makes her work on Pixar’s Soul, a film that explores themes of celebrating life and embracing death, feel like a culmination of the ambitions he nurtured in her.
In an interview with The Journal, Goulet discussed how she began her animation career and described some of the work she did for upcoming Soul, which premieres on Disney+ on Dec. 25.
Sylvia Wong, from Ottawa, Ontario, is the Layout Technical Director on the film. Before working at Pixar, she attended Queen’s University. Wong was unavailable for an interview.
Goulet, originally from Montreal, graduated from Concordia University in 2001 with a BFA in Film Animation.
“I feel like I’ve always loved drawing, and my grandfather was an architect,” she said.
“For as far [back] as I can remember, that was my favourite thing to do especially with him. I remember the first time sitting down with him, and we just started drawing, and getting a reaction from him and also from my parents from my own drawing—from there it evolved into storytelling through drawing, and then of course you go watch animated movies, and that’s it, I fell in love[…]Once you’re in a theatre, and you have a big screen in front of you with characters, I kind of got addicted.”
Fate would have it that the first animated movie Goulet ever saw in theatres was Fantasia, a film made by Disney, the parent company of Pixar, where she now works.
“When I was a kid, Pixar didn’t exist, but the first movie I saw in theatres was Fantasia,” Goulet said. “I think that’s also one of the reasons why I wanted to work in animated movies, because I remember this experience as being extremely emotional.”
Having grown up loving animated movies, Goulet remembers what a big deal it was when Pixar burst onto the scene with the world’s first ever 3D-animated movie, Toy Story, a film whose enormous success radically changed the genre, making 3D-animation the dominant form.
“Coincidentally, Toy Story just came out 25 years ago, right. I remember also when that movie came out,” she said. “I was 17, and it’s as if all of the sudden an entire world opened. It’s a new medium but it’s also a different type of storytelling […] I feel like back in the day what we would see mostly from animation was musicals, and [Toy Story] was different. It’s just very inspiring, and I remember being a teenager and [thinking], ‘I want to do that.’”
Twenty-five years on and now with Goulet as part of the team, Pixar is still pushing the boundaries of animation on both a technical and storytelling level.
“I can’t be super specific because I would reveal some spoilers,” Goulet said, when asked which scenes she had a hand in animating for Soul.
“But I can tell you that one of the scenes was taking place in the New York subway, and I had a lot of fun animating in that sequence just because—coming from Montreal, even though the New York subway is completely like [a] dialed up Montreal subway—it was just really fun to just think and remember how it was to be in the subway and all the experiences you can live in the subway even though oftentimes we’re just passing through and going somewhere. I could go on about being metaphorical about traveling on the subway,” she laughed.
Soul takes place partly in the real world in New York, but also in several afterlife locations referred to as “The Great Before,” “The Great Beyond,” and “The You Seminar.”
Some of the characters in these scenes are created with a combination of 3D-animation and 2D lines, which presented a technical challenge to the animators.
While Goulet didn’t personally work on those characters, she explained some of the behind-the-scenes conversations involved in bringing them to life.
“It was challenging just because you still want to make it look like it’s part of the same world even though some of the characters have a lot of depth but the other ones are very flat—even if I didn’t work on them, I would sit in reviews and be part of the conversation—and I think that that was the biggest challenge, and it’s almost kind of abstract but it’s not so it was fascinating,” Goulet said.
While she didn’t specifically work on the line characters, Goulet was involved in animating some of the scenes in the spiritual realm.
“We go from reality to the soul world, and I did animate some shots in the soul world,” she said.
“You go from something that’s more caricature of life to something that’s completely stylized. So, I would say that that was challenging, and also respecting the vision of a director, Pete Docter and also, Kemp Powers, the co-director, that’s always a challenge in itself on any movie. But on this one, I love the movie so much that it’s as if you feel a bigger responsibility because you’re like ‘Oh my god, I love this movie and I want to make sure that I honour it as much as I can.’”
The first Pixar film Goulet worked on was 2017’s Coco , which, similar to Soul, also explores death and what makes us unique.
“I remember going through the Pixar gates on the first day, and yeah, I was pretty emotional. I wish—you know I was talking […] about my grandfather earlier and he passed away but gosh, I wish he was still alive because I remember having conversations with him about things like Toy Story. He just couldn’t understand. It was too complicated with the computer. I think about him every day, and it’s just very emotional because so much has happened since then and this company has evolved so much. You know, when you think about it, Toy Story and Soul , it’s completely different.”
Pixar has proven it’s still capable of crafting compelling original stories and taking bold risks in exploring mature themes in a way that’s accessible to children and adults alike.
“Soul and my first movie Coco, which also dealt with those themes, it’s [about] dying but it’s also celebrating life,” Goulet said. “Even though my grandfather passed away, he’s with me every day, and I feel like there’s stuff in [Coco] and Soul , it’s very much that: celebrating life, what is it about life that makes it so beautiful and worth living.”
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