This week I was thrilled to visit Pixar Animation Studios in Northern California celebrating Tuesday’s release of MONSTERS UNIVERSITY. Director Dan Scanlon reunites fans with their favorite monsters as Sulley and Mike go back in time meeting as kids and again while attending Monsters University!
Mike has known since he was a young monster that scarring was his life but hasn’t exactly fit in with other monsters. Sulley comes from scarers and a natural born scarrer! Coming together chaos rules, monsters abound and a friendship is formed for life.
If being at Pixar isn’t enough, true I was like a kid in a candy store, having the opportunity to talk to fantastic people like director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae in detail about MONSTERS UNIVERSITY.
I’m really happy to talk to you both and congratulations on the success of MONSTERS UNIVERSITY.
Dan: Thank you so much.
Kori: Yes, thank you.
This is really such an awesome chance to see some of our favorite characters once again. I have to ask what made you decide to take that journey back again?
Dan: We got to thinking about five years ago that we loved these characters and wanted to see if there was an idea there to do something else with them. The main thing we all agreed on is that we wanted to learn more about the relationship of Mike and Sully. That’s when we realized that the best way to get to understand a relationship is to watch it form. That’s where the idea to go back came from and led us right to college, which we thought would be fun. We immediately drew up college gags! I think that’s when it all really started.
And for you Kori, is that when you jumped on board?
Kori: Once I heard rumblings that we were going to make another film set in the monster world I threw my hat in the ring immediately. I worked on the first one and had such a great time. I loved the characters and working with Billy Crystal and John Goodman so I was thrilled to get the gig.
Was it difficult to try to imagine Mike and Sully younger? I mean you are going back quite a bit.
Dan: Yes, You have to change the characters a little bit. We were all very different from college and we also wanted to see how they changed each other to become who they were in MI. We really had to think about not just designing them to look young but we also had to think about changing their personalities into who they were so we could really enjoy watching them develop.
I think the biggest shock is Randall! It’s like ‘Wait a minute here! This isn’t the Randall we know!’
Kori: Hey, he’s nice!
Dan: That’s the thing; we really get to think about people we knew in college. They are vastly different so Sully in the beginning of the movie is kind of a jerk so it’s great to watch him make this change. That is one of the things we enjoyed the most was how different can they be.
How quick did you find people wanting to jump on board again?
Kori: The cast or crew?
Dan: They all kind of did.
Kori: Everybody yes. Billy and John were thrilled! They both love these characters and were really happy to come back and reprise their roles. Crewmembers within Pixar absolutely came out of the woodwork and really wanted a chance to work on the film again.
You mentioned this morning there are more female characters in the film this time around, what pushed you in that direction?
Dan: I think we are always finding ways with a sequel or a prequel to open up the world. We never really quite got the chance to see as many female scarrers in the first film and we really wanted to open up the world. Dean Hardscrabble was a great opportunity to have just an awesome, terrifying female scarrer who presumably is the best in history. It led us to a fun and creepy sort of elegant scary design for a character but it also led us to Helen Mirren who was a joy to work with and brought so much to the character and we loved working with her.
Well the creepy factor from everyone I talked to is the noise that her legs make. She might be scary but once you hear that noise your skin crawls a little bit.
What do you want people who see the film to come away with after watching MONSTERS UNIVERSITY? We grew up with MONSTERS INC. and this is a whole different vibe?
Dan: One of the things that was most important to us was the story of Mike. We loved having the opportunity to tell the story that’s rarely told in movies which is a story for people whose dreams don’t quite work out the way that they had planned. We realized that for most of us here at Pixar that that had been the case for us. We wanted to make a film that people could walk out of the theatre and for those who maybe had their own failure or misstep in life and remind them that sometimes those are just detours to something so much better and completely different.
Thank you so much for your time and we are excited that the DVD is coming out this month and congratulations again!
Kori: Thank you so much!
Dan: Thank you.
But that isn’t all! With MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, the director worked with talented people like Ricky Nierva and Jason Deamer who told me, “The challenge for this film was to go from a few monsters in the first film to over 500 different fur, horns, wings, sizes and shapes in MU”.
The Pixar short, THE BLUE UMBRELLA, created by Saschka Unseld and producer Mark Greenberg tells the heartwarming tale as a city comes alive in a rainstorm. It’s very special and one of the best shorts to come out of Pixar so I was excited to sit down with these two gentlemen and talk umbrellas.
Hi guys, actually can I just tell you I love THE BLUE UMBRELLA? It made me a little misty and tell you how amazing it is?
Mark: Misty is a perfect adjective!
When you showed us a picture of the umbrella (earlier this morning) and the transition of thought to the screen, how much time did that actually take?
Saschka: It was probably half a year to two years, it was a process. I wasn’t full time working on it but I think in the back of my head I kept thinking about it. I might not write again on the story or rework it for two weeks or something. After a two week passing I would try something out. I think it takes that time for things to grow in the back of your head; you’re subconscious for you to come up with these ideas.
How long between that and presenting it?
Saschka: I think it was two months for me to do the pitch. I’m not really good at pitching or at least from what I thought I needed to be at. I did this funny thing I pitched into the camera on my laptop and watched myself. I tried to adjust how I pitched and then I thought lets go crazy and go as my imagination goes. I probably pitched to myself fifty or sixty times.
Saschka: It helped me concentrate on how to tell people in the room instead of just reciting it.
What did you think when you heard it Mark?
Mark: It was so captivating and it felt natural. It felt like he had rehearsed it but it wasn’t computerized or scripted but more of a passionate story that he was telling. It really demonstrated how intense he felt about the story and how intense he wanted the audience to feel about the characters.
What did you think of the idea in the story?
Mark: Everyone in the room was captivated from moment one with their mouths opened hanging on every word.
Because we’ve all been in that situation were we’ve seen that broken umbrella and you come along and give it life and color. The scene where you bring sidewalk and the two umbrellas together, was that a moment where you thought ‘oh my gosh this is perfect!’
Saschka: It really was actually funny because for a while they were two different stories. One was a story about a broken umbrella and what had happened to him and there was a story about a city coming to life. Two sides of a street with different faces kind of was another story. At once point I thought wait a minute, that magical moment when a city comes to life and that was fantastic. Suddenly a simple thing became so much bigger and so much more complex with so much depth.
You start to think about the times you are going down the street and you see that gutter, or see that smiley face in something that shouldn’t be a smiley face.
Mark: I find the same thing by looking at buildings differently. My children, I have to boys and all they do is go around pointing out smiley faces ‘oh look daddy there is a face in that chair!’ and totally changed the way I view the world.
I was going to ask that. Is it like that for you now that you see an umbrella more often on the street that maybe you wouldn’t have noticed before?
Saschka: I did see it before but now it’s even more and people kind of point it out to me now as well. What we did in production is not to go crazy but we gave the characters name. So when people show me photos of something they saw or on Twitter I ask ‘what is his name?’ It’s a nice thing to even make it more personal.
Mark: I have a broken umbrella in my garage that I can’t throw away; it’s going to stay there forever.
I was thinking the same thing! I have two umbrellas, one is a broken black one and – no laughing – the other is A BUG’S LIFE umbrella that I don’t have the heart to part with.
Mark: Oh wow!
For our final question, when you made the umbrellas blue and red does that have a personal meaning for you?
Saschka: For me I love the blue because it’s a two edged thing. It represents water, the rain and the sky but it also represents feeling blue. There is a melancholy about the rain as well. I like that duality about it. Red is so nice because it’s a signal color but it’s also so romantic and warm but also jumps out of a crowd like nothing else. It’s these dualities in both these colors that I thought they worked so well.
Again, it is amazingly beautiful and thank you both so much for your time!
So how can this day possibly get any better? I had the pleasure of participating in Storytelling 113 with Kelsey Mann, story supervisor, who taught me to draw a young Mike Wazowski. Just so everyone knows teacher gave me an A+ with a red star! Explaining the process of animating a story and the incredible detail that goes into every drawing took me to a higher level of appreciation for what they do at Pixar.
Then it was on to the Scare Games and a crazy good time. The competition began with Scary Dexterity, stacking eight dice with chopsticks (33.07 seconds) to Streamer Race unraveling rolls of streamers, which isn’t as easy as it looks, in the fastest time (33.4 seconds) to Fear Pong (20 points) the competition was not at all intense and hilariously fun!
Of course there was no way I was leaving without photographs of some of the most iconic figures of Pixar such as the Luxo Jr. lamp seen at the beginning of their animated films, the gang from NEMO with Bruce the Shark larger than life, Buzz and Woody in fine Lego style, a few CARS and the family of THE INCREDIBLES.
A few of us couldn’t help but giggle like little kids when taking our pictures with Mike and Sully for MONSTERS UNIVERSITY surrounded by the flags from the films sororities and fraternities. It was great way to end my visit at Pixar Animation Studios.
The DVD bluray has fun stuff including bonus features on Campus Life, Story School, Scare Games, Welcome to MU, Music Appreciation, Scare Tactics, Color and Light, Paths to Pixar – MU Edition, Furry Monsters, and Deleted Scenes.
This Tuesday, on DVD/bluray/Digital from Disney Pixar, Mike and Sulley are back so grab MONSTERS UNIVERSITY and join in on the fun for yourself – don’t forget to share with the kids!