MONSTERS UNIVERSITY - Pixar Studios Visit and Interviews

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to visit Pixar Studios located in Emeryville, CA near San Francisco. I was invited there to attend a screening of Monsters University, and interview some of the talent involved with the film including Billy Crystal and Charlie Day. I'm a huge fan of both those guys so it was pretty amazing to get to meet them and ask a few questions.

I've always wanted to visit Pixar, and I had an incredible time! It's looks like an extremely awesome place to work. There's an incredible creative energy on that campus, and I would love to work there! When we first arrived we were greeted with a drum core crew and a team of Monsters University cheerleaders cheering us on as we entered the gates of the studio, and that greatness set the tone for the rest of the day. I included a video of that and some photos of the studio below.

I was able to take a tour of the studio campus, and check out an really cool art gallery featuring tons of artwork that was created for Monsters University. There as a ton of concept art and character designs, some of which was used in the film, and some that was not. I'm sure one day they'll end up releasing an art book on the film that includes a plot of the stuff I saw. One of the things I learned on that tour was that every person that worked on the film, got to have their own individual monster character in the film. 

As for the film itself, I absolutely loved it. You can read my full review of it here. I highly recommend you go check it out when the movie is released. It's a film that both kids and adults will enjoy, and I personally liked it more than the original. 

When talking to the director of the movie Dan Scallion, he talked about how the film came about, why it took so long to get made, and what the meaning is behind it saying, 

After the first movie, we went to work on other movies. We really didn’t think about the possibility of doing a sequel. And then in time we just realized we miss these characters. We love these characters. And we got together to think is there an idea there 'cause if not, we wouldn’t do it but just to poke around. And pretty quickly in that meeting, which was essentially like John Lasseter and Pete Docter the original director and Andrew Stanton, kind of got a big group together.

The idea of doing a story that was a little more specific to Mike and Sulley’s relationship came up. And that's where we got the idea of meeting them when they were young, and I think that along with the Monster College of it just seemed great. But also the idea of doing a story about Mike and doing a story about dealing with failures in life, which we thought was really not dealt with a lot in movies.

A lot of times people say if you work hard and never give up, it will always work out, which is a great message. However, it’s not always the case. And we really wanted to make a movie for people who were dealing with that cause, you know, it’s such a universal thing. And that was kind of the genesis of the idea.

That was actually the main reason I was able to connect with this movie, and these characters so well this time around. I couldn't really relate to the characters in the first movie, but this prequel allowed me to have some common ground with these monsters. Life took me in a completely different direction than where I thought I would go. At one point I was on the path to becoming an artist and animator, and that path led me on a different path with is weird, but that life, and that's what the core of this movie is.

Scallion went on to discuss one of the animation challenges they had with developing the film. Of all things if was backpacks. I would have never thought backpacks would be a big issue, but here's his explanation,

At one point, we were talking and the simulation department said backpacks are really hard, especially on fur. And I thought really? Uh, so there are backpacks in the movie, but apparently very difficult, not as sexy as, uh, water and hair and explosions. But, that was one thing. The other thing was just the size of the movie. We had never done-- the first Monsters we couldn’t have that many monsters in the background of shots. 

This was a college. So we had to fill it with every kind of monster, which was also kind of difficult. There are all different rigs and set ups, tentacle ones, sliding slugs. And so the scope of the movie was the trickiest part. But we also had great technological breakthroughs with the lighting. This was a movie we did for the first time with global illumination, which is just this software that allows, uh, the film to just look richer. That was a big leap forward on this movie."

One of my favorite characters in the film was Art voiced by Charlie Day, and I have a feeling everyone is going to love this guy. He's so weird looking, but so freakin' funny and mysterious. He has a sketchy past, and you get little weird hints throughout the movie of who this monster is. Day talked a little bit about developing this character saying, 

I didn’t improvise at all.  Not at all,  and I was a little surprised by that because Pixar has such an off the cuff feel to all their films but the character just pops in at the end of a scene here and there and says a few absurd non-sequiturs.  They had written some really, really funny ones,  and they kind of not only knew which ones they wanted me to say but they also knew how they wanted me to say them.  So it was more of an exercise in trying to give them what they wanted.

Every now and then, they would let me kind of toy around with a line. I think that’s a product of coming into the movie late.  I think a lot of it had been animated and to make a big change to a line is a lot of work and months of months of work for an animator.  So they knew what they wanted and I also knew that they were really good at what they do so I didn’t really argue with them.

When Scallion was asked about working with Day and he goes on to talk about the character and how he actually came about. Art was basically kind of an accident,

I think we wrote a lot of those lines. And sometimes Charlie would try some things. And, you know, he would have takes on it that were just so funny and so weird. But Art’s a great example of… in some ways a terrible example of how to design a character. But it’s what I love about it is a lot of times you know, we create a character with a lot of thought and this is what their purpose in the movie is. And this is how they're a mirror character to Mike and Sulley. And Art was a character that we’re like… "I don't know what Art is." He’s sort of nothing yet. And then that’s what he became. You know, he actually sort of was born out of our own laziness. 

Even his design was like, I don’t even know what he is. And so Chris Sasaki just said I just drew an A and put eyes and a mouth on it 'cause he didn’t know anything about the character. And what was awesome was just like that is the character. You don’t know anything about him. We all knew somebody like that in college. So I don’t think that can happen every time. But I do think it’s important to find spontaneity in animation because it’s very hard.

Sometimes we can make everything a little too perfect. So I always was a fan of giving direction but every now and then going, I don't know. You know, what do you think? Or let’s see. Let’s see what happens. And the stuff does start to just form."

I love that about this character, the spontaneity of this character shows in the film, and people are going to love him because of it. But all of the characters are great in the movie! The old characters an the new ones. They come together to tell us a great story. 

Billy Crystal talked a little bit about why these movies succeed, and he basically gives full credit to John Lasseter. 

Well, these, these are truly family movies.  They’re truly FOR people, you know, I mean in the best way.  You know, we’re seeing this disintegration of the family movie into these blockbuster things that kids should not be exposed to, the explosions, the carnage, the violence that’s old, you know. But that’s what they’re becoming, and there’s less and less of these kind of movies being made, you know?  And this one is truly for everybody, so what’s great about Pixar is that, you know, if you know John at all, it’s comes from him. He’s a brilliant guy, but he’s got a great heart, and they have to be part of the movie. But all of the Disney movies in the history of them, back to, you know, Pinocchio and Snow White, all have that moment that you need for the audience to feel something besides having a romp. 

Lasseter does tend to be the captain that steers Pixar in the right direction, and now that he's at Disney, he seems to be doing great with the animated films being developed there as well. 

Since the movie is set in college, Crystal and Day talked about what it was like for them in college. When Crystal was asked what kind of student he was he said,

Who wants to know? I was okay. I could’ve been better. I was always looking for something else to do most of the time until I got into the acting program. Then I really found myself, you know. But that true through high school, too. I mean, I knew what pretty much everything was.  I could study less, but I didn’t get a solid grade, but I really could’ve been a good student, but I was always looking for hearing an imaginary audience and, you know, that’s where I was at. 

When Day was asked about his time on college, this was his reply.

Well I went to College to be a Jock and to play on the Baseball Team.  And then got cut and realized that that was it for that and I wasn’t really, that I was really small. The other guys were really big on that team. Then I was a bit of a Theatre nerd and I did plays and I was an Art History Major, and I was a decent student. But I probably partied a little bit too much and I don’t know, I experimented with things and uh, with ways of thought and uh, it was a great experience for me. I think I became a more well-rounded person which hopefully is the goal of college. I even learned something or other. I forgot most of it.

Going to Pixar Animation Studios and meeting some of the talented people involved with making this film, was an incredible experience, and I'm grateful for the opportunity I had be a part of this event. Monsters University comes out on June 21st so make sure to check it out!

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