Friday, 29 January 2016

29/01/16 - A113

Fans of Pixar movies may be aware – albeit subconsciously – of a quirky little trope: the number A113. It’s an inside joke among the alumni of the California Institute of the Arts, and it’s not actually just confined to Pixar; such is the diversity of the Institute’s output that you’ll find the figure A113 hidden throughout all sorts of animated entertainment – The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park… in fact, it’s not just animation. You’ll also spot it in The Hunger Games, Doctor Who, The Avengers, it’s everywhere. So what is it?

Well, it’s nothing sinister or complex. It’s just a door number. Specifically, it’s the door number of the classroom at CalArts in which many students of graphic design and character animation honed their craft. A fella named Brad Bird is the man who started it all off – after graduating from CalArts he began working at Disney, before moving onto various animated TV shows and then onto Pixar. He treated A113 as his calling card, sneaking it into everything he worked on, taking inspiration from the legendary caricaturist Al Hirschfield (who, after the birth of his daughter, Nina, hid her name somewhere in everything he drew thereafter). And once you start doing something like that, you become a completist by default.

The unimpressive-looking blue door at CalArts, with its tiny A113 plaque, has become the stuff of legend for nerds the world over. Today the room’s a first-year graphic design studio, but Bird’s sneakiness has elevated it exponentially above all the other graphic design studios by virtue of the fact that he drew it on the license plate of a car in the ‘Family Dog’ episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories in 1987, and then got a bit carried away. So, here’s where you can find it. I’ve grouped it into logical clumps so you’ve got something to work with.

Pixar movies
A113 is Andy’s mum’s car’s registration number in the first and third Toy Story films, as well as being a flight number in Toy Story 2. It’s on the diver’s camera in Finding Nemo and on a pillar in Monsters Inc. (actually ‘A13’, but you can take it to be ‘A and one 13’), and it’s the number of Trev Diesel, a freight train in Cars. It’s on a cereal box in A Bug’s Life, and the courtroom door in Up. A113 appears three times in The Incredibles, as Mr Incredible’s prison location (Level A1, cell #13), the room number in Syndrome’s lair, and the location of the rocket at Level A1, Section 13. Git, the lab rat in Ratatouille, has the number A113 on his ear tag, and the number also appears on a train on the TV while Linguini is asleep. There are several appearances in Cars 2 – on Mater’s license plate, the filenames of the photos of the lemon cars, the tail number of Siddeley the spy jet, and the plane that Mater and McMissile escape on. In Brave, the numerals above the door on the witch’s cottage read ‘ACXIII’. A113 is a lecture hall in Monsters University, some graffiti and also a room number in Inside Out, and a formation of sticks in The Good Dinosaur.
WALL-E, however, is the only Pixar movie in which the number A113 actually has any significance in the plot: it’s the code for the directive given to the autopilot to never return to Earth. (And, if you want to be really geeky, fans of l33tspeak will spot it right there in the movie name: WA11-3.)

TV animation
The number has appeared quite a few times in The Simpsons, always in reference to nefarious deeds: it’s Krusty’s prison uniform number in season 1, Sideshow Bob’s mugshot number in season 5 and prison number in season 7, and Bart’s mugshot number in Do The Bartman. It was also Chief Wiggum’s license plate number in the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover episode, as well as appearing on number plates and train carriages in various episodes of American Dad.
A113 was a classroom number in Rugrats, a helicopter identity number in South Park, a license plate in Tiny Toon Adventures, and a plane number in The Powerpuff Girls. Those with eagle eyes will also spot it in The Adventures of McGee and Me, BoJack Horseman, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Harvey Birdman, Whatever Happened to… Robot Jones? and Bobby’s World.

…and elsewhere
The trope appears on a train in series 8 of Doctor Who, and on another train in Firefly. As for non-Pixar movies, there are plenty of those… The Hunger Games: Catching Fire flashes the number up on a monitor screen, it’s on news clips in The Avengers, it’s Ethan Hunt’s extraction code in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and ALZ-113 is the virus that wipes out humanity in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. You’ll find it in Terminator Salvation, The Brave Little Toaster, The Iron Giant, Lilo & Stitch, Meet The Robinsons, Planet 51, and countless others.
A113 pops up in oodles of video games too – Fallout 4, A Vampyre Story, Beyond: Two Souls, Sunset Overdrive, Outlast, Back to the Future: the Game, Destiny, Prototype, all sorts.

In fact, A113 is probably in more things than it isn’t. Keep an eye out. It’ll give you a giddy little thrill next time you spot it.

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