Thursday, April 18, 2013

Monsters University | Interview with Dan Scanlon & Kori Rae

Mike, Sully and the Disney Pixar Monsters Inc gang are coming back to theatres this summer, but this time we get to press rewind and meet them in their younger years.

Monsters University takes us back to when they were university students and gives us the back-story to how Mike and Sully went from not being able to stand each other to becoming best friends.

Check out the trailer:

I got to take part in a conference call interview with the film's director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae. They gave insight into the making of this hilarious animated prequel. *Selected questions from the Q&A, not the full interview*

Q: Thank you very much for doing this.  How did the idea of a prequel for Monsters Inc come about?
DAN:     Uh, well early on we loved the characters of Mike and Sulley and we loved the relationship of Mike and Sulley and we always wanted to do something with them again and we kind of got together and talked about what that might be.  And, uh, as I said, before we love the relationship.  And that's where we started thinking about, um, how these guys met.  And, and learning a little bit more about that.  Which led naturally to the college idea, and we loved the idea of doing something in a university.

And just the opportunity for sort of fun monster antics that could come out of that [LAUGHTER] and, uh, and that led us to the story of Mike, um, and that, that sort of feeling, uh, the difficulty when you arrive at college thinking you're the best of the best.  And then you- you come up against some pretty stiff competition.  And, and so that- that was really the, the, the germ of the idea and the idea behind doing something that took place before, rather than after. 

Q: Why a university?  Did you hope to appeal to an older audience with this choice?
DAN: I think we just knew that we wanted the characters to be somewhat familiar adults.  Uh, we- we wanted to, um, uh, we wanted to- this to be a story about how they became friends and so we wanted to make sure that we could just tell a more, well say for example if we went back too far, and did Monsters Elementary, [LAUGHTER] we just didn't want to do- we just weren't- we didn't feel like that would be the Mike and Sulley that we remember and love.  And so, uh-

KORI: And we, I think we thought, um, that, you know, the- that it's kind of a coming of age, that, that age between eighteen and twenty-two is, is so crucial in all of our lives, whether you went to college or not.  And so we just think, you know, that's kind of where you first are out on your own, you just figure out who you are, who you want to be.  Um, you can reinvent yourself, all of that kinda stuff, and so that, that was also really appealing I think.  Um, kind of choosing that, that, that age group and, and that time that’s so important in all of our lives. 

Q: How did you go about presenting a realistic relatable view of college while staying family friendly? 
DAN: What are you talking about?  College isn't- [LAUGHTER] what's going on in college?  Um, uh, yeah you know, I mean the- uh, we yes.  We had to be careful about it, the good thing is we were able to get a lot of wild fun behavior, uh, that still reads as sort of fun party college, but is probably no different than the wild crazy stuff that goes on in an eight-year-old birthday party with knocking over tables and [LAUGHTER] eating too much food and smashing things and screaming. 

Um, so yeah, it was a, it was a challenge but luckily there, you know, they're monsters so they can do pretty well.

KORI: Yeah, right. 

Q: What was the creative process in crafting the prequel version of the characters?

DAN: Uh, um, you know, we had to make them look younger, uh, so our art department, um, did a really good job trying to study, you know, how do you make an eyeball look younger [LAUGHTER] uh, and mainly, you know, we started to notice that thinning them up really helped.  We were all a little thinner in college. 

KORI: Right. 

DAN: As you will find [LAUGHTER] out as you get a little, move on, the harsh, uh, reality that is your weight. Um, uh, the- we made the characters much, uh, thinner and brighter in color. 

And, uh, you know, Sulley is- in my eyes, is a top scarer, so he’s more muscular and- and big and so we, we sort of thinned him up a bit.  Uh, but-

KORI: But it was a, [STAMMERS] it was important that we, that they were recognizable, you know, so we, we had parameters that we wanted to make sure that we kept- we didn't want to do anything too crazy because they still needed to look, um, like Mike and Sulley and be recognized as Mike and Sulley without a whole lot of, um, changes. 

DAN: Yes, absolutely. 

Q: What were some inspirations for the personalities and looks of other characters in the film?

DAN: Yeah, I think we wanted to make sure that since we were doing a university movie that we had sort of the great university, uh, archetypes-


DAN: -and- and- and- and characters that felt like people that we went to school with or- or certainly reminded us of, of people we went to school with.  Um, uh, we have, uh, new characters in the film called the, that are part of a fraternity called the Oozma Kappa fraternity.  And they're kind of a less popular fraternity of, of scarers that didn't quite, um-

They were kind of scare rejects, if you will.  They didn't get into the scaring program.  And, uh, you know, we have, uh, we have a character, a, a Scott Squishy Squibbles, who is kinda your classic eighteen year old college student that hasn’t decided what they want to be.  They show up at school, um, unaware of what exactly they want to become and then they're sort of a ball of clay waiting to be molded and then in his case, he’s literally a mushy tiny [STAMMERS] ball of amorphous clay. 

Um, and, uh, we have, uh, a character Art, who we always think of as sort of just that weird guy at college that you don't know anything about, who’s, who’s sort of mysterious and you don't know anything about his family or where he comes from and- and, uh, we've had a lot of fun, uh, with him just because we, we don't know much about him.

KORI: Right.  Right. 

DAN: But, uh, but yeah, those are some of the, some of the new characters. 

Q: Kori.  How have your previous film experiences prepared you for the production of this film?

KORI: Ah, good question.  Uh, well I was associate producer on Monsters Inc and, um, just had such a great experience working with, with Pete on that film.  And, uh, so when I heard that, uh, Monsters U was in the works, I, I knew that I wanted to work on it and, um, and, uh, so I think, um, you know, here we learn so much on every single film, um, but, you know, I think, um, primarily on, I mean, you learn something different from each one, because you're working with different people, different directors

And so, um, what I try to do is, is really to, to learn from all of the different people on every film.  And, um, pay attention, pay attention to the small stuff and so that I can use it later.  I used a ton of stuff on this film that I had learned on, um, The Incredibles, let’s say, um, in addition to Monsters Inc and even as far back as A Bug’s Life, when I, uh, managed the animation department.  So it's, it's just kind of all of that experience just kind of I think rounded me out and gave, and gave me a good base, um, to produce this one. 

Q: What was your favorite part of directing or producing, thus far along the production process on this movie? 

DAN: Uh, uh, far as I'm concerned my, my favorite part was probably just getting the- getting to sit in this seat and really see what everyone does at Pixar, um, I came from the Story Department and we are usually involved in, uh, the movie u- for the most part at the beginning, uh, throughout most of the movie.  But we don't usually get to stay on to the end and watch the animation and the lighting and- and so, um, being a director, I got the rare opportunity to see everything.  To see what everyone does.

And to see what everyone does to get, uh, contribute to the film and make the film better.  Um, and it was pretty amazing.  It was, uh, a lot of people I've worked with for years and eaten lunch with, but [LAUGHS] really had no idea what they did [LAUGHTER] and there I’d be in a meeting with them and think, oh wow.  You're a genius, like you're [LAUGHTER] You're the best person who, who does this, you know, um, so it was just a really rare and amazing opportunity to, to be in kind of the driver’s seat of, of this particular vehicle.  [LAUGHTER]

KORI: Um, yeah, and for me I would have to say actually that, um, that being involved in the story up front, um, as producer you're kind of more involved in that stage, um, as opposed to the other production roles.  And, uh, I just- as, as painful as it was, it, I tried-


KORI:   [LAUGHS] um, early on as we were developing this story, um, I learned so much, um, about really about how difficult this is and, and, and it made me even, uh, more aware of and, and surprised that we ever pull one of these things off. 

DAN:     Mm-hmm

KORI:   Because it's so hard and, um, so I really, I really-really enjoyed my time in Story that first couple years.  And- and going through all the iteration. 

Q: What would either of you say was the most challenging part of putting together a production like this?

DAN:     Uh, we probably, uh, both agree that it is a story, um, um, it takes the most time in a lot of ways.  We, uh, every Pixar film goes through a number of iterations.  We, we're always trying different versions of the movie to find our way toward the right version. 

KORI:   Right. 

DAN:     And it can be maddening at times and- and like Kori mentioned, every Pixar movie goes through an awkward teenage phase where it doesn't make sense, or it's bizarre, or it's not quite working right.  And, and you, you, you can get terrified that you're never going to crack it.

And it is, um, it's just this relentless journey to just keep trying new things.  But a, again I think we're both amazed at the fact that our Story Team, that's what they're there for.  And they love to crack a, a puzzle and so even when you think you- you're never going to come up with it, they were just always pitching out new ideas.  We were always game to try new things.  Um-

KORI:   Right, yea for sure.  On, on the production side, I would say, probably, um, one of the challenges there were- there were a number of them.  But one of the challenges on this film was just the, the characters. 

And, and the sheer number of characters and the variety of characters that we had to have in this film, to populate the university.  Um, so it was, it was a lot, uh, for the Character Department, and it was also a lot for the Animation Department, who had to animate, um, scene after scene of anywhere from six to ten twelve characters in the foreground.

DAN:     Yeah. 

KORI:   And then have, uh, hundreds of characters in the background.  So just the, the scope of the film from a character standpoint was definitely a challenge.

DAN:     And all those characters are totally different. 

KORI:   Yeah. 

DAN:     Some have two legs, some are slugs, some are flying, so, you know, it's-

KORI:   Yeah. 

DAN:     It's tough work, they're so, uh, individual. 

KORI:   Yeah. 

Q: When Monsters Inc was first released, the animation to create Sulley’s hair was the revolutionary focus.  Are there new techniques that were made specifically for Monsters University? 

KORI:   I think, I think some, yeah, I mean the- one thing, I mean we- we were even looking at a, a piece this morning, um, that was kind of talking about the difference in hair simulation from Monsters Inc to Monsters University.  And it is uncanny. 

DAN:     Yeah.

KORI:   Um, kind of how we're using the same [STAMMERS] similar technology that we've built on since Monsters Inc.  Um, but what we can do now is, uh, pretty staggering.  Um-

DAN:     And also with lighting.

KORI:   Yeah. 

DAN:     We, we have a sort of a new system of lighting our, our movies, which, um, has been great. 
We, we love it, it's just it created a much richer, um, look to the film than, than, than what we've had before, and so we're  very-very excited about that. 

Q:        What research went into creating this, to make the university aspect feel relatable and familiar?

KORI:   Yeah we had to go visit schools [LAUGHS]

DAN:     Mm-hmm, we went back to college and we, uh-


DAN:     We, you know, a lot of us are, um, went to art school, which is apparently nothing like real college [LAUGHTER].  And, uh, so we, we wanted do just walk around and soak it up and- and see, you know, the buildings and the fraternities and sororities and, and just kind of get our- our heads set back into the college student headset.  Uh, uh, mindset.  And, um, but we went everywhere.  We went in [SOUNDS LIKE] snow storms and- and all that [LAUGHTER] it was, it was great, um.

KORI:   Fraternities with, uh, sleeping students [LAUGHS]

DAN:     Yeah-yeah [LAUGHS] who are these old people in my room?  Um, but it was great it was, uh, it was a really good opportunity and the artists came and actually, you know, drew buildings and drew sort of campuses and- and- and in the end, put them all together to create a campus that although it's original to Monsters University, hopefully it feels, uh, familiar to everyone.  I would hope that everyone, uh, kind of feels like, hey, that's my school.

Q:        How difficult was it to get the original voices back for this and to make it seem like they were younger? 

DAN:     No it was great getting everybody back.

KORI:   Yeah Billy and John definitely were, were I mean they were super excited about the movie and- and, uh, Billy in fact I think had been waiting and waiting-

DAN:     Yeah. 

KORI:   For- for some other installment of Monsters Inc, he loves this character Mike Wazowski so much.  And so he was thrilled to come back.  But in terms of, uh, youngifying them, I don't think I mean-

DAN:     No, I mean, uh, I think they were just, uh, more energetic-

KORI:   [OVERLAPPING] Energetic, yeah [LAUGHS]

DAN:     Um, [CLEARS THROAT], uh, yeah-

KORI:   Did a little more yelling maybe.  [LAUGHS]

DAN:     [LAUGHS] yeah a lot more yelling a lot more- to their dismay, but, uh, uh, just kind of, it was really more in the way the characters were written and, uh, but the guys definitely had to sort of find a new take on the character that was still familiar, but felt a little- a little younger.  But I think it was more in the energy.  And then amazingly, you know, the animation, uh, helps that illusion as well, you know, these characters look younger, they move, uh, you know, younger and they're- they're- it, it, it's amazing how the-how the two go together in a really nice way. 

Q:        What would you like audience members specifically college students to take away from this film?

DAN:     Um, you know, we want it to be a really fun college movie, but we also want to, you know, we always want to, uh, uh, touch something in people, uh, emotionally with our films.  And- and we, we feel like this film is very much about what happens when you, uh, come up, where you come up to a kind of a closed to and- and- and how you, how you get around that.  And how you, um, let go of the thing that you think you absolutely have to be to be happy in order to find out who you truly are. 

And I think that’s [CLEARS THROAT] that's definitely something I experienced in college that, [CLEARS THROAT] that feeling of, of, uh, of realizing this is going to be a lot harder than I thought.  Or maybe I'm not the person that I thought I was.  And, uh, and rather than giving up completely, really finding out who you are, that sense of self discovery. 

KORI:   Yeah exactly, self discovery and, uh, and friendship and- and what that means as, as you go along that path of, of figuring out who you are and how, how important friendship is.    

Monsters University hits theatres on June 21, 2013.

- Christina
Follow my adventures on Twitter: @christinaaa28

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