For the release on Disney+ of “Red Alert”, the latest Pixar feature film, we had the chance to meet Xavier Riffault, a French storyboarder within the studio, who notably worked on Domee Shi’s film. The opportunity to talk about the Pixar method and its role within the animation giant.
Red alert: from teenager to red panda
Directed by Domee Shi, Red alert is available on Disney+ since March 11, 2022. A new production that tells the adventures of Meilin Lee, a 13-year-old teenager who discovers that she can turn into a huge red panda.
An animated film that recounts the horrors of a pivotal period with humor and tenderness, as the studio knows so well. After Drunk and Luke, the feature film is the third to be released directly on the Disney platform.
Meeting with Xavier Riffault
After starting his career in France, Xavier Riffault now lives in the United States. After a stint at Dreamworks, this former animator turned storyboarder now works at Pixar and in particular contributed its expertise to the very recent Red alert. We were able to ask him a few questions:
Can you quickly explain what your work at Pixar studios entails?
Xavier Riffault: I take care of the storyboards. Once the director, or the director in this case, and his screenwriter have written a script, my team and I are responsible for imagining what it could look like on screen. So they call on us, the storyboard department, to create the first images that go with the script. Basically, we draw the whole film. And this version lets them see how the story works on screen. This makes it possible to refine the places of a blur, of doubt, so that the film becomes as solid as possible, before embarking on the animation itself.
How long have you been at Pixar, and what films have you worked on?
Xavier Riffault: I started in 2015 at Pixar. It was sure coconut, it was my first film with them. After I worked on Cars 3then on the recent Luke. And now on Red alert.
Among all these films, what was your best experience? And what was your worst disappointment?
Xavier Riffault: No particular disappointment. It has only been a good experience. A red alert was one. coconut was also something very strong. Also because it was my first. It was an opportunity to learn how the Pixar method works. Depending on the films, there may be addicts along the way. Production difficulties. You always have moments where it stumbles a little and which requires more work to try to get out of it. On Red alert, it went almost without any problems. It was a steady progression.
You have several steps in the process of making a storyboard. You make many screenings of a film during its creation over a period of 2 or 3 years. And all the while, you’re refining, improving, advancing your story. Each new version was better than the previous one. So it was a very pleasant, fluid, and quiet production.
Why did you choose the United States rather than France to do animation?
Xavier Riffault: It was mostly coincidences and combinations of circumstances. When I started, it’s been quite a while now, I was hired in London. I first went through the Gobelins school, more than 25 years ago now. At the time it was still traditional animation, 3D was just beginning. At the time, many former Goblins were working in London. One of the chief animators frequently returned to the Goblins to recruit people. And in fact, the production I was hired on was the last to take place in London.
All the staff on site have been requisitioned to create a new studio: Dreamworks. They offered people there whether or not to pursue the adventure in the United States. And I continued.
Has your work evolved over the years?
Xavier Riffault: No, the job remains more or less the same. You have the same constraints in any studio. And the same things happen. You have to do your first version of the script, then you get feedback from them, and you have to change things or not. Your version must stick to what the director wants. You work according to the grades you are given.
The thing that is very different for example between studios like Pixar or Dreamworks is listening. There is a much deeper collaboration at Pixar than at Dreamworks.