The Story of Pixar’s Most Inventive Movie Yet:
Behind the Scenes of INSIDE OUT, Part 1
At a special event at YouTube Headquarters in Los Angeles, Movieguide® had the opportunity to hear from Director Pete Doctor and Producer Jonas Rivera of Pixar’s newest movie INSIDE OUT. One of Pixar’s most unique storylines, INSIDE OUT goes into the mind of an eleven-year-old girl and follows her life of moving from the Midwest to California, from the perspective of the emotions in her head personified.
Pete Docter (Director): “I guess I’ll start with a little bit about myself and then Jonas [River] can talk. I grew up here in the Midwest in this house in Bloomington, Minnesota. I was a pretty happy kid. I had a good fashion sense until junior high, and then things got kind of confusing to me because there was this whole idea about having to be cool and dress right, and I didn’t know what was going on. I was most happy alone fiddling with electronics in my room or drawing cartoons. Animation absolutely amazed me. I loved drawing, and what really hooked me was when I figured out I could make things move. So drawing was one thing, but then I made flip-books in the corners of my math book, which I still do now.
And that’s really what we do at Pixar, only we use billions of dollars of computers to do it instead of 59 cents worth of paper. [Referring to a picture] This is me at Pixar in 1990 where I started. Looking back at that time nobody knew Pixar. There was no real place. They had done a couple shorts, but really if you knew about Pixar it was because of the Pixar image computer which was their primary business. Within a few weeks of me starting, Steve Jobs showed up and I got to meet him, and then he fired half the company. So I thought, “Did I choose the right place to go?” but within a couple years we got started on a feature.
We were working on TOY STORY, which was the first computer generated feature film. Believe it or not, when we started on TOY STORY we were kind of [ticked] off, because animation in the early 90s was sort of in this box. There was an unwritten rule that if it was animated, it was a musical. Now, there is nothing wrong with musicals. I love musicals, but animation can do anything. So, we swore to each other if we get a chance to do this, we’re going to really try to push things and do something new. So, we tried to push things. No music, and buddy film structure, which had not really been done. No cute animals. We tried to push things on every film we’ve done ever since, but really it all started with my love of Disneyland as a kid.”
Jonas Rivera (Producer): “My parents took me to Disneyland when I was three or four years old. This was the core memory of my life. Walking through the gates of Disneyland was what I just fell so deeply in love, that even at that age I wanted to work there or be part of it and work at Disney. Growing up, unlike Pete because he could draw and was great artist, I was not. Even shortly after this I realized I’m not ever going to be an artist, but I loved animation. We’ve sort of grown up at the studio sharing this passion of that feeling of being a kid in the 70s going into Disneyland, and in a weird way, that’s our business of trying to model that feeling.
I came into Pixar in 1994, I was a student at San Francisco State, and I dreamed of working in animation. I wanted to work for Disney. I wanted to work for imagineering at Disney. I actually hated computer animation. I thought it looked cold and stiff and lame. Then at San Francisco State, I saw LUXO JR., the film that John had done, which was the first computer animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award in 1986. I fell in love with it, and I called Pixar and said, “I’m this film student at San Francisco State. Do you guys have an internship program?” They said, “No, but we need help; can you come down tomorrow, we’re busy.” I didn’t even know about TOY STORY. So I came down and I jumped into this kind of mom and pop style of an animation studio. Steve Jobs is roaming the hall.
It was the most amazing group of strange people that were all bonded by passion and loving animation. Just wanting to make things one frame at a time and wanting to make things as good as we could get. It was a really fun time.”
Pete Docter: “People were allowed to bring their dogs. Once in a while the dogs would get into fights. You’d hear it in the hallway. Or, leave little presents.
When TOY STORY came out it was a big success, which surprised me, I can tell you that, but it was great. It only felt like a bunch of guys doing this for fun in our garage. One of the greatest things that happened for us was getting to meet some of our old heroes like Chuck Jones, Frank Thomas and Ali Johnson, or Joe Grant. I got to hang out with Joe Grant and learn and talk about his time working on DUMBO and FANTASIA, so that was awesome.”
Jonas Rivera: “And the coolest thing to me was, Tom Hanks would be coming through and nobody cared, but a 90 year old guy that worked on DUMBO, and everyone would freak out. Joe was cool. UP is dedicated to Joe.”
Pete Docter: “Somehow after TOY STORY, John let me develop a movie which became MONSTERS INC. which actually, Joe Grant came up with the title for that. I don’t really remember asking, but somehow I ended up directing that. That was my first gig as a director. Jonas worked in the art department on that so then after that he and I worked on UP, which came out in 2009.
They were nice enough to say, “Hey can you guys do another one?” The thought was, you always want to do something new, you always want to bring people somewhere that they haven’t been before, do something that they haven’t seen. Yet, I also knew I have done the more extreme version of that, that if you go too far, if you pitch something that has no baring on reality and nothing for people to grab onto, then they don’t engage. My thought was I wanted to bring the audience something that they could relate to, yet no one had ever seen before. That seemed kind of impossible. Then, I had this idea, and it really started with my daughter. She was about nine when she did the voice of young Ellie in UP. She was really a lot like that character. She was full of a lot of energy, running around talking to people. Then, she turned 11, and suddenly we saw a lot more moments of moping and quiet. It made me wonder, what happened to that childhood joy? What was going on inside her head? That’s really what led us on this five year journey full of impossible questions like: How do songs get stuck in your head? Where did that weird dream come from? We’re calling it INSIDE OUT, and I think Jonas and I would both agree it was the most difficult thing that we’ve ever done for many reasons. I’m excited about the film: first, because it’s based on a strong real emotional experience that I had dealt with growing up; second, because we got to work with some really amazing people which we’re going to talk about.”
Jonas Rivera: “I just want to echo what Pete said, because as proved through the film, when he came and pitched it that way (and I know Ellie, I’ve seen her grow up) just based on this very complex idea but based on a very simple observation. I just thought that was really cool and inspiring, and I have three young kids, and that question seemed worthy of a movie to me. So it was then that we rallied the crew, and it was just a really nice moment.”
Pete Docter: “First, let’s talk a little bit about the way we make movies at Pixar. I’ve been a huge fan of animated films ever since I was a kid, and the way I sort of pictured it working was that Walt would be sitting in bed, and he would just go “DUMBO!” and they would make it. It just appeared to him, but that’s not really how it works. At Pixar, it starts with a concept, and then after a couple of white boards and think sessions and cards, we produce a treatment. We usually produce a couple treatments before we get that approved. Then, we do a script, and a couple versions of the scripts. When that kind of gets approved, we bring in storyboard artists who start to draw literally thousands of drawings to visualize this. We bring in dialogue and music and sound effects, and we cut it all together. Once, we have the whole film cut, we stand up in front of the company, and we show the movie. Then, we do that all again, and we screen it again. We rewrite and re-board and everything. Then, we screen it again, and again, and again, and again, and hopefully, somewhere along the line, we hope that we get a first sequence or so approved to actually make it. Then, hoping to get the whole thing locked so we can actually produce the film and finish it.
For us, I think a key ingredient is having a new audience come and look at it.”
Jonas Rivera: “When you’re working on one of these movies, you have an idea. You have the idea, and we love ideas, but it’s a motion picture that you’re trying to make, so you’re trying to simulate a motion picture in every chance you can so that you judge it appropriately. It just takes a lot of time.
Ed Catmull, who’s president of the studio, his quote is, “Our job is to be wrong as fast as we can.” Something you say, which I’ve always been inspired by is, “Let’s not make the movie, let’s find it.” You kind of give yourself this runway with your team to really find it.”
Pete Docter: “So in this case, I started with this basic idea that I’d had about an 11 year old kid. The kid is not our protagonist, she’s actually the setting, because inside her head are her emotions that are our main characters. Without really a lot more than that I took the basic pitch, and we went to John Lasseter to tell him about it.
We pitched the idea to John, and he agreed that it sounded interesting.”
Jonas Rivera: “What was cool is, we had some videos of things, and you just said that, “What if we could tell a movie about a little girl, but it’s not about her it’s through the point of view of her emotions, and we personified it?” I saw John sit forward, and it was like, “Oh, that’s exactly what we want the audience to do.” John kind of is the audience, so it was a really nice moment.”
Pete Docter: “The first thing that Jonas did was to book us an offsite to have some time to think about it. So, we worked out story beats, and we had a bunch of drawings on white boards.
It was about this time that we started realizing how little we knew about the subject. I didn’t even know exactly what emotions even actually existed. We decided that the film would be set in the mind, so no blood vessels and things. We were going to do more abstract stuff, consciousness, or memories, or personality attributes, things like this.”
Jonas Rivera: “As we started thinking about these guys as characters and thinking about fear it was, “Well, what would their job be?” Some of them were obvious. Fear, who’s voiced by Bill Hader, who’s so great in the movie, his job is to prevent you from taking unnecessary risks. His job is to keep you safe so if there is something, a dog that bites you as a kid, you’re gonna remember…you’re gonna be afraid of dogs, and that’s sort of self-preservation. That idea really unleashed the writing. They all have jobs. Anger…”
Pete Docter: “I always thought of anger as kind of a negative thing. It gets you into fights or road rage and stuff, but it turns out that anger really keeps things fair. That’s what triggers anger is fairness. As Eckman is fond of pointing out, anger is a big motivator in social justice. A lot of times people will be motivated to go help people, really, thanks to anger. So that makes sense because Lewis Black uses a lot of that in his work.”
Jonas Rivera: “Lewis Black, when we called him and pitched him to be the voice of anger, he said, “Yeah, real great stretch casting. Real creative.”
Pete Docter: “Disgust is basically a response that keeps you from getting poison. In fact, the classic disgust face that we make is according to Darwin who did some work on emotions in the late 1800s. He thinks that it came from the basic idea of spitting food out.
That sort of simple primitive form of disgust, like this food is gross, probably evolved into social disgust…ew, that’s a gross outfit.
Disgust is voiced by Mindy Kaling who is really great, funny and appealing.”
Jonas Rivera: When we pitched it to her she was like, “You really want me to play disgust?” We were like, “No, no, no, the character is disgusted. She’s beautiful she’s not disgusting.” She was like, “Oh ok.”
Pete Docter: “Sadness is kind of less obvious. We don’t really want to feel sad. It feels negative to us. We try avoid it or even self-medicate. We kind of used that to our advantage in the story. None of the characters understand the point of sadness through quite a bit of the movie. She’s voiced by Phyllis Smith, who you might recognize from the U.S. version of THE OFFICE. Of course, there is a reason that Riley is mostly happy, and that’s because her lead emotion is joy. Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, who is fantastic. This was really a reason I was so excited about this idea from the get go. These characters are all really strong, opinionated, caricatured personalities, which is exactly what animation does really well. I remember when I was pitching it to Jonas and he was like, “Yeah, you know if we do this right, this could be our version of Disney’s SEVEN DWARFS.” We have the same chance to kind of grab onto the iconic, strong personalities. Joy herself expresses more than just joy. We also wanted these characters to look the way our emotions feel. Instead of flesh and skin, they are made out of energy. You can see these particles that move.”
Jonas Rivera: “I love that if you look at some of the artwork in the gallery, Pete would say to the art department, “I want them to look how your emotions feel.” Which is really cool, but what is that? So there were all these different elemental things that they were after, but we loved that idea of energy. Some sort of compressed energy. Maybe she leaves particles behind if she moves quickly and even her hair is sort of pixelated by design and so forth. And she’s illuminated. She’s actually a light and so she doesn’t cast shadows. She’s beautiful.”
Pete Docter: “Most people think of writing with scripts, and that’s true, but for us it’s also drawing and white boarding and carding and the reworking of the story as it takes many forms. It goes on for years and years.
The story is something that you never finish. As a writer, it’s something that is always on your mind.”
Jonas Rivera: “We were having lunch one day, and Pete rewrote the outline of the movie on the napkin, so I took a picture of it. It’s in the archives now.”
Part 2 of the fascinating journey of bringing INSIDE OUT to your screen, check it out here!
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