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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » Pixar Animation and Me

   
Author Topic: Pixar Animation and Me
Robert Nowall
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For lack of a better place, I'm putting this here...but I could've put it in anywhere...

Yesterday, I watched the Pixar movie Cars from beginning to end---I'd had the DVD awhile, caught part of it on cable the other day, and watched it. I found myself emotionally moved by it, by the whole movie and by individual pieces in the movie. Sorrow, joy, and a lot in between.

This seems to happen with me and Pixar movies---WALL-E and Up had almost identical effects on me. I can't say any other set of recent movies, animated or otherwise, have had that same impact on me.

But it's happened enough now that I'm become intrigued by the effect---I'd like to know what, in particular, was setting me off, and if there was any similarity between the scenes and the movies in question.

And, in particular, I'd like to see if I could see if I could figure it out enough to bring some of it out in my writing. I'd like my stories to have emotional impact. If I could figure out what Pixar Animation is doing to me and how...

Meanwhile, soon as I get the chance, I've got to watch some of the other ones I've missed. I've seen bits of nearly all of 'em...but watching the whole of it usually has to wait on other things...I've got most of 'em on DVD, though, so I should be able to get some grip on...


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Sounds like a plan to me.

Please let us know what you learn. Even if it only helps you understand what works for you and why and how, it can be an example to others on how to learn that kind of stuff from books and movies and stories that work for them.

And it could generate some interesting discussion as well.


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MAP
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If you haven't already, watch Finding Nemo and Monster's Inc. Those are my favorite Pixar movies, but I loved the others you mentioned as well.

I think pixar creates very lovable characters which makes the viewers emotionally invested in the story. JMO.


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rich
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Pixar's batting a thousand. Even though I think CARS is the weakest of all the Pixar movies, every single one of their movies manages to push buttons without it seeming like they're deliberately pushing buttons.

The final shot of MONSTER'S, INC. gets me every single time. I would agree with MAP in that MONSTERS and NEMO are my two favorites. Do you have kids, MAP? I've got two, and I wonder if that's why I emotionally connect with those two movies more than the others.


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KayTi
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I just read a pretty interesting review of pixar vs. dreamworks animation in maybe the Wall Street Journal?

There's a Dreamworks movie out - How To Train Your Dragon, that we saw w/the kids recently and it's really excellent. This article was talking about why, and pointed out that Pixar movies are usually written by one or two people, whereas Dreamworks are often written by committee. They may turn out some cute stuff, but the life gets written out of the movies when it's done in a writers-room bolus as I imagine (like the writer's room of a sitcom where everyone's throwing out gags and lines.)

The article pointed out that the new Dragon movie seems to have bridged the gap a bit between what Pixar is doing and what Dreamworks is doing with animation. I highly recommend the movie, it was lovely (and nifty in 3D, flying scenes that were incredible.) Really cute story, very interesting turn of events, interesting lesson. I'll see if I can find a link to the article, too.


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MAP
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quote:
Do you have kids, MAP? I've got two, and I wonder if that's why I emotionally connect with those two movies more than the others.

LOL, yes I do, and you are totally right. I first saw Finding Nemo before I had kids, and I liked it. But when I saw it again right after my first kid was born, I sobbed at the end. The movie was so much more moving once I was a parent.


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Robert Nowall
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I think in Cars, which is fresh in my mind so I can discuss it with certainty, it was in part the passage of the lead character (Lightning McQueen) from uncaring jerk to fully-formed person (even if he's a car), which was done with effectiveness. Note the early scene where he has to give the names of twenty friends to give free tickets to---and can't come up with a single name. The character knows something is missing from his life but seems helpless to do anything about it---until events force his hand. By the end, you don't doubt that he can do it...he has friends.

Then there's an individual scene, late in the movie, when Doc Hudson takes over as crew chief and, in the course of a minute or so, everybody in the stadium realizes he's the legendary Hudson Hornet, three-time Piston Cup champion, not seen for over fifty years, and every eye at the racetrack turns to look and see and cheer. I found that particularly moving.

Also Pixar has a way of layering things on, from details about NASCAR and racing and Route 66 history and culture, down to self-referential inside jokes (check out the "Lightyear" tires and the Lightyear Blimp---great bit, that), that add up to make a greater whole.

I can't say my interest in things NASCAR, or my exploration (from afar, through books and such) of Route 66 life, contributed to this feeling---it's the story that drives it, and what I needed to know I could've picked up from the movie itself. Knowing what I know does enhance things, though. I do think that Pixar puts out stuff that, despite it all, is really for adults and not children.

(I'm pretty sure I'll go see Toy Story 3, out sometime this year, when it's out. I've only seen part of the first one, but I've got them on video (Best Buy had a sale on their Blu-Ray editions the other week) and will get to them sometime before that. If the emotional impact is only half as rich as the others...)


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axeminister
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If it's ok, I'll throw in a wiki link.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

If not, look up *the hero's journey* in wiki.

I believe they nail that formula every time.
Their main characters are usually underdogs. They usually need help to attain their goals and their companions have unflinching loyalty to them. When one or the other of the main characters has hit bottom, the other will lift them back up, often at a high cost to themselves.

Still, knowing all this, there is the "it" factor.
This is what we all seek...

This is what amazes me when I watch their movies. How do they manage to add "it" to every single film, seemingly on demand?

Axe

[This message has been edited by axeminister (edited April 06, 2010).]


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Robert Nowall
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quote:
Their main characters are usually underdogs. They usually need help to attain their goals and their companions have unflinching loyalty to them. When one or the other of the main characters has hit bottom, the other will lift them back up, often at a high cost to themselves.

I'm thinking Cars turns that sideways---the lead character has no friends and those who become his friends stand in the way of his goal---and at the end his goals have changed.

*****

I'm also highly amused by a subplot thread in Cars concerning "the twins." Now, this is a pretty adult joke when you get right down to it. And, as a joke, it need only be told once. But the characters run throughout the movie---first decked out in Lightning McQueen red colors at the first race, then in LMcQ's fantasy sequences first as blue DinoCorp cars and then in gold, then in his nightmare Chic Hicks sequences in the same colors, then in green Chic Hicks colors at the last race, then in the end credits as carhops-in-red at Flo's V-8 Diner. They're also referred to a couple of times. When you've got a good thing you spread it out...


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Robert Nowall
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After a week of obsessive watching of Cars, I've got a lot of info and trivia, from speculation about what passes for food in their world (doesn't seem to be oil or gasoline 'cause they're still alive when their tanks run dry)...bizarre speculation about how they reproduce themselves (several alternatives suggest themselves)...even things like spotting a car decked out as the Pizza Planet delivery car from Toy Story (I think---it's in WALL-E too).

But that's away from the main thrust of why I got into this. I've think I've got three ideas for stories that might move me the way some of this did, if I do them right---but they're all in the "thinking about" stage, what I do before I write anything down.

Most importantly, they're just things the characters do---I haven't fitted them to a good background yet.

Meanwhile, some more Cars-watching, then on to some other Pixar movie, maybe Toy Story itself...


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philocinemas
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I have liked all of the Pixar films. Cars was my least favorite mainly due to similarities with Doc Hollywood starring Michael J. Fox (DH was an "OK movie", but not great).

I believe Pixar movies are designed a little like a good joke - they hit you the hardest when they hit close to home. For me, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles have been my two favorites. In Nemo, a father has to learn the hard way to give his son room to grow, mature, and make his own mistakes. It is something I still struggle with. In The Incredibles, it is mainly about the struggle between a person's sense of responsibility to his family and to one's self (dealing with mid-life, being responsible, wishing for one's "glory days", and dealing with various family issues).

quote:
This article was talking about why, and pointed out that Pixar movies are usually written by one or two people, whereas Dreamworks are often written by committee.

Actually this is not entirely true - watch the special features on "The Making Of" concerning the various movies. One or two people get the credit for the movies, but Pixar is very much a community, and each movie goes through a story-metamorphosis where various people in the community contribute ideas toward the finished product.

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Robert Nowall
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Gee...I was thinking of similarities between Cars and several episodes of Andy Griffith...
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billawaboy
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After thinking about it a bit, I'm inclined to think that stories or movies that have moved me did so because there was something very specific I could relate to in the story. There was someone whose words or thoughts were like mine - he/she understood. Sometimes they went thru something that resembles a moment in your life. It's as if the story is speaking directly to you, about you.

People call it 'profound empathy' or 'connecting' - but I can't help think that if I didn't have the experience I wouldn't have that empathy - at least not as much. And without that empathy how much would really show up in my works? And I wonder how much secretly goes in with out me realizing. I noticed this when i read up on authors and filmmakers.

For ex, there is a pattern between a boy and his, usually single divorced, parent in most Steven Spielberg movies. and if you know about his childhood it makes perfect sense. I don't connect much with that - but I bet some really do.

That's why I think it's very specific moments in a story that catch people. It reflects a part of their life back at them.
Sometimes these moments are classic. In Finding Nemo, for ex, the scene of leaving his kid alone at the 'bus stop' is probably one of the hardest things for a parent to do, and easy for anyone to empathize with. I, as a non-parent, get it. But a parent who went through that probably had a deep profound connection to that moment. The movie understood what it feels like.

So I'd want to ask where in the movie Cars did it hit you hard? What was it in your life that made you connect?

This is why I think the only way to put such deep moments in a work is to blend your own experience in there. Most will get it. Some will be greatly moved. BUT I don't think it can be put in there very well unless you have been affected by it in the first place.

Anyway that's my take on it.


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Robert Nowall
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It's difficult to say---I saw pieces of it piecemeal over the years...then caught the end of it, coming in somewhere round the beginning of the last race...then sat down the next day and watched the whole thing. The abovementioned "Hudson Hornet at the Race" hit me then-and-there...then, with the sum of the whole, it hit me all again.

With a week-and-a-half of obsessive watching---among other things, I broke the plot down into a night-and-day-and-night chart to see how long Lightning McQueen was in Radiator Springs (roughly four days by my count)---it's hard to pick out any one thing now. The overall experience is, and remains, very moving.

I can certainly blend some of my experience into the Pixar movies I know best---WALL-E, Up, and now Cars---which is a common experience with works that move me lately.

(You've heard me talk of my Internet Fan Fiction experience---well, with the Original Series in question, I thought I could map out about sixty to seventy percent of my life across the life of the main character. I did use some experiences of my own in the Internet Fan Fiction I wrote, as a matter of fact.)

I could say a common theme among those three is loneliness---all the main characters suffer from it in various degrees and life-experiences. Does that resonate with me? Perhaps, to an extent...


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Robert Nowall
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Managed to forget I'd obsessed over The Incredibles when it came out...can't say loneliness is a theme in that, though...
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rich
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quote:
Managed to forget I'd obsessed over The Incredibles when it came out...can't say loneliness is a theme in that, though...

I don't think it's an overt theme, but the main characters, Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, do go through a period of loneliness that actually furthers the plot.

Mr. Incredible is nostalgic for the days of his exploits, and Mrs. Incredible bears a grudge for her husband's unwillingness to accept his future of non-super-heroing. Even the kids are lonely, in a way. Bit of a stretch, but I think one could say that loneliness IS a minor theme in The Incredibles.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'd say it's not loneliness, per se, as much as it's "being different, so that makes for loneliness." There's also a strong "you can't be accepted for who you really are" theme in the Incredibles that contributes to loneliness.
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billawaboy
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Just for fun:
Themes, Off the top of my head:
Toy Story: This is really about letting your own kid (your best friend) grow up and finding new friends yourself.

A Bug's Life: well this is a Hero's Quest - can't remember this movie much...reminded me of 7 samurai.

Monster's Inc.: There can be alternatives to the Energy crisis that are positive to all.

Finding Nemo: Let your kid face the world boldly instead of with fear, despite what happened in the past, and don't be scared of new things and people.

The Incredibles: Accepting who we are and using our different abilities together can help overcome adversity that we couldn't overcome alone. Be true to yourself.

Cars: Living the simple life in a quiet town among good people can teach you values that living the luxurious, fast-paced, competitive, dog-eat-dog life cannot.

Ratatouille: Don't judge a book by it's cover. Be true to yourself; Follow your true talents; Don't be what you aren't; Don't force your kids into a 'real' career;

Wall-E: You'll find love...even if you're working at a crappy job forever, are literally alone, and extremely lonely. Just follow your heart blindly. And the general themes of 'anyone can be a hero' and 'don't mess with Earth - or you'll be fat. In space' and the ever popular, 'don't give the machines too much power. It never works out in the end.'

Up: 'Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans' - so enjoy what you have with each other now cuz your plans many not come true, but what happens in the meantime can be just as good, besides, you might lose each other before you realize it, Still, don't ever give up on your dreams - you never know what's in store for you. Oh, and 'a friend in need is a friend indeed' and 'objects can never replace people (or animals).'
-

If I were to pick a general common theme it would be:
"estranged friends/family, due to their (growing or established) fondness for each other and moral righteousness, are forcibly brought together when faced with common adversity, which they subsequently overcome, and are left with greater understanding of, and strongers bonds with, each other."

But that's like every movie ever made...


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Robert Nowall
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There seems to be a certain common thread in the ones I've obsessed over...a need for the main character to integrate two or more life experiences, which often seem to be diametrically opposed to each other...one of which usually involves friendship or family or love of some sort, whereas the other usually involves a lack of it. (WALL-E follows this, but only up to a point.)

Lightning McQueen comes to terms with his drive to be Piston Cup champ as well as his need for friends...WALL-E breaks out of the trap of his job to find friendship...Carl completes grieving for his lost Ellie and finds a new life and friends without her...Mr. Incredible balances his desire to be a superhero with his love of his wife and kids...


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rich
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What KDW said.
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Robert Nowall
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I just got through watching "Ratatouille," which was good and interesting and enjoyable, but, perhaps because I watched it piecemeal over Saturday, Sunday, and this morning, didn't have as powerful an emotional impact of some of the others. (I plan for repeat viewing, though.) I was impressed by some of the expresed philosophy as the film wound down, particularly Anton Ego's "final" review.

One more thing I picked up on is that all the lead characters are in some way horribly alone---they're isolated, by personal tragedy or circumstance or personality. Carl has lost his beloved wife Ellie...Lightning McQueen's focus on winning cuts him off from companionship...the superpowers of the family in "The Incredibles," and the need to suppress them, cuts them off from others...WALL-E is alone at the end of the world with only a pet cockroach for company.

I will just have to digest the remaining films to see if they follow this pattern. I either have or can lay my hands on all of them, I guess...


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Robert Nowall
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Neglected to mention the aloneness of Remy and Linguini from "Ratatouille"...Remy both from being cut off from the rat colony and his desire to cook and create, and Linguini without family or friends or the ability to hold down a job...
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Robert Nowall
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Something I picked up on, in the last day or so...when the Main Character of a Pixar movie finds his Would-Be Significant Other, often as not said Significant Other is kinda hot-tempered...
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Robert Nowall
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Footnote entry...Saturday I watched my DVD of "Toy Story"...Sunday I watched my DVD of "Toy Story 2"...and tomorrow, Tuesday, if my schedule permits, I hope to see "Toy Story 3"...
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TrishaH24
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I was actually on my way to dig out this thread because I just went to Toy Story 3 yesterday with my son and thoguht of how we were all just talking about this a few months ago.

I cried like a baby in Toy Story 3. So did 99% of the adults in the theater (and it was PACKED!) I won't spoil it for you, but when you've seen it, jump on and let me know what you thought. It was the most moving Toy Story out of the trilogy, and I personally thought it was the best film Pixar has put out so far.

Hope you get to go Tuesday! It's worth the money and time to go see it in the theater!


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philocinemas
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I am going on a Disney cruise the week of July 4th and will be watching Toy Story 3 with my family on the ship - looking forward to the sequel of the one that started it all.
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Robert Nowall
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About all I know of "Toy Story 3" is the general plot, Pixar's reputation, and a number of reviewers who say it's Pixar's masterpiece. (One reviewer insisted the plot was a metaphor for the Holocaust, which is an intriguing interpretation.) I look forward to it, if not today, then later.

By the way, most of the things I mentioned above, that resonated with me...I found them present in "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2" as well.


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TrishaH24
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Where did you find the review that said the plot was a metaphore for the holocaust? I'd like to read that. I don't necessarily agree, but I'm intrigued to see what the person's thoughts were.
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Robert Nowall
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I couldn't find the posting that I read, which was in the Top Ten list on Big Hollywood over the weekend but has moved off the board---but this seems to be the one that set it off:

http://www.ugo.com/movies/toy-story-3-interpretations

From the number of hits on Google, it seems to be all over the place now.

*****

I did see "Toy Story 3" this afternoon...a great movie...but I didn't find it "moving" me the way some of the others had. I wondered about that---until the final scene, when it was everything every other Pixar movie had been.

I look forward to the next Pixar movie---I've read "Cars 2" is up sometime next summer, much to my surprise, but there could easily be another out before that, I don't know.


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Robert Nowall
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Oh. Unless you mind extensive spoilers, don't read the above link until you've actually seen the movie.

By the way, I see the point but don't necessarily agree with it.


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TrishaH24
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I understand what the author of the article is saying, but like you Robert, I don't think I fully agree.

Sorry to hear you dind't find it quite as moving as I did...the scene at the dump where Jessie asks Buzz what they were going to do really got to me, and so did the very end when Andy, well, you know the one I'm talking about. I don't want to spoil anything for people that haven't seen it yet.


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Robert Nowall
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I may not have made myself clear. The ending of "Toy Story 3" was every bit as moving as, say, the "growing old" montage of "Up" or the "Emily" sequence in "Toy Story 2"---so I'd say they were successful as always in moving me.

I did have an irrational fear about a possible ending for "Toy Story 3"---I thought the toys would wind up on the shelves in WALL-E's truck, hundreds of years from now, getting up and moving around and discussing him and their fate behind his back. Since sticking the "Pizza Planet" wagon in Pixar movies suggests a shared background (as well as an in-joke), it's a possibility...


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Robert Nowall
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Over the course of the last night and day, I think I've put together the meaning of the end scenes in "Toy Story 3" and why that was what moved me in the movie. It would seem it was Andy's resolution---Andy's the kid who owned the toys---and in the course of it, the toys (and the audience) learn just how much the toys meant to him...and that, however painful it was for him to do what he set out to do, he was doing the greatest thing he could do. We get to see pain and joy, heartache and happiness, invoked at the same time.
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