Someone once said, “Learning to do everything is both impossible and highly suggested.”
Oh, wait. That was me. Never mind.
But in the interest of trying new things and doing the impossible, I went to Pixar in advance of the release of “Monsters University” on June 21st. Charged with learning about the animation process behind the film, I knew I was a square peg going into a talented round hole.
That sounded way dirtier than I meant it.
We started early one morning and shotgunned through five classes:
ENGLISH 101: How to Tell a Great Story
Learning about the story process and how to draw a character from Monsters University.
I sat in the very room where story editors hash out script ideas. We learned that when animators and artists get stuck, they just start drawing the person next to them. The result was a cascade of images pinned to the walls of ridiculous versions of animators at Pixar.
SOCIOLOGY 203: The Deconstruction of a Character
Learn about the design of college-age Mike & Sulley, and creation & design of new characters in the film.
How do you make Mike and Sulley look younger for Monsters University? Fatter? Thinner? Shinier? Acne? They figured it out.
ANTHROPOLOGY 152: Monsterizing the World
Learn about creating and “monsterizing” the world of MU.
How different is our world to theirs? Well, every building and feature is monsterized. The edges of architecture have claws and wings. Check it out when you see the movie.
DRAMATIC ARTS: Bringing a Character to Life
Learn how the animation process works, and view an animation demo on a linux machine.
This was insanity. Every conceivable part of a monster is movable and emotive. So, how do they use it to make it look real? They act it out in person for you…
PHYSICS 250: Global Illumination
View a presentation on the use of Global Illumination in MU and The Blue Umbrella.
Imagine you could change the whole world with a click of the mouse. Add golden light to a planet? Easy. Magically shine a flashlight, without one in possession, on someone’s face? Pixar has the tools to do it. I can’t even describe this one.
Interview with Producer, Kori Rae
I had the chance to ask some questions about the film and Pixar’s commitment to storytelling. I was not disappointed.
CHARLIE: Pixar has been so consistent about producing high quality experiences, and emotional experiences, a story-based experience, and the film industry is typically sort of up and down. What would you attribute that to? Is it personnel? Is it a dedication to a specific part of the process that allows you to do something so consistently well??
KORI: I think it’s both. I think it’s personnel. I think we do have incredibly talented people here. John Lassiter kind of brought in Andrew and Pete to begin with, and, and have, has, have continued to bring in really talented people. But I do think it’s also a lot about the process, and the fact that we are willing, the directors and the filmmakers, are willing to put something out, have it torn down completely, go back to the drawing board, put it back up, have it torn down, and that’s the thing you have to be willing to do.
You have to, in my mind, especially with story, you have to be willing to let go. You have to be willing to throw stuff away, and not get too attached to it. And you have to do that over and over again in order to get to the right place. I think it’s the willingness of the directors to do that, and the collaboration, and the fact that it’s done in a collaborative spirit.
CHARLIE: But everybody’s so passionate, and I’m sure at some point they’ll fight for their ideas, and things like that.
KORI: The directors, and the filmmakers have to kind of make those choices when it comes down to that. Because, you have to. It’s really about putting the best thing up on that screen.
Several times, I handed her various versions of my resumé and offered to work there. I could tell they really needed my help. I’m still waiting for their call.
By the end, I knew I wasn’t going to animate something, lacking anything resembling artistic talent. But I knew that the brilliance in Pixar’s animation wasn’t by accident, that the emotional connection we feel with characters made simply of sound and light were the result of dedication to detail.
The monster is in the details.
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