I love short films. As a writer, I’ve always prioritised visual storytelling over dialogue. I just find that storytelling without verbal cues gives this wonderful blend of simplicity and complexity that gives the audience everything but leaves it up to their interpretation. I like putting faith in my audience and I find that my favourite shorts are similarly inclined. Pixar is, of course, particularly good at this and can clearly be seen in their iconic short film, Luxo Jr.
For those who haven’t seen the short that birthed Pixar’s hopping, i-squishing lamp, Luxo Jr. is a two minute long short about two desk lamps by John Lasseter. One, a larger lamp, assumes the role of a parent and, when a familiar looking ball rolls up to them, they roll it back. The ball quickly come flying back. A smaller lamp, presumably Luxo Jr., hops past to catch it. The lamp plays with the ball and eventually jumps on top of it. The ball deflates. The baby Luxo Jr. is sad. Parent lamp admonishes Luxo Jr. Baby lamp hops off screen and joyously returns with a bouncing beach ball. The short then ends with the parent lamp resignedly shaking its… head.
Luxo Jr. is a simple story. A parent and child moment. Would it be so amazing if it was a live action short with human actors? Probably not. What makes it truly great then? It surely has to be the way Pixar have imbibed these desk lamps with emotion. They haven’t anthropomorphised the lamps, nor is it overly cartoonish, and yet you feel connected to their story. Emotionally invested in desk lamps. The movement of the lamps gives them character, providing the audience with recognisable hints to their roles in the narrative. The bigger lamp stays largely fixed in place, stable, responsible, but also indulgent towards the little lamp as it facilitates its playing with the ball. Luxo Jr. is noticeably childlike, not just because of its small structure but also because of its bounciness and enthusiasm. Without any dialogue to tell us what to think, we still completely understand . These are things we can recognise from our reality and therefore builds our investment in Luxo Jr.‘s narrative.
This short film set the standard for the hyper-realistic animation style that can be seen in a number of Pixar’s shorts. Though now you can clearly see Luxo Jr. as animation – exceedingly good animation, but definitely animation – imagine watching it at the time. The careful details and shadow work are hugely realistic. Just looking at the woodwork of the desk is mind-blowing. The only point where they possibly fall down on the realism is the weighting of the objects. Some of the movements, particularly of the cables, are too free flowing for the weight that they should be and this does cause some disconnect in the realistic animation. It’s a problem that appears in other early Pixar shorts. But, I’d be nitpicking if I said it had any effect on my love of Luxo Jr.
Luxo Jr. set the standard for computer generated films moving forward. Not only was it unbelievably realistic for the time (and still pretty impressive even now!) but it also demonstrated the strengths that Pixar would go on to build up. Simple narratives, great animation, and visual storytelling. Emotionally investing us in everything from chess games, magicians, and singing volcanoes. All the things I love in a short film.
So I talk a lot about short films (especially from Pixar) but I’m always looking for more to watch. If anyone has any recommendations, let me know! And, of course, if there’s anything you want me to review then just fire me a comment or message.