Mention Pixar to most cine-lovers and chances are they’ll smile at the name, before gazing into the distance to reminisce over the first time they saw Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E.
Their newest wonder, Up, hits Stateside in May, but us Brits sadly have to chew our fingernails until October for it to float over here.
If you’re dying to learn about what will surely become one of the movies of the year, then look no further.
totalfilm.com got a chance to sit down with director Pete “Monsters Inc” Docter and producer Jonas Rivera, and we asked them to tell us how to make a film the Pixar way...
1. Base it on your director's personality.
Pete Docter: “The idea came from my need to get away occasionally. By the end of the day, I’ve usually had too many meetings with too many people and I just need space. So I had this visual of a floating house that seemed very poetic, visual and evocative of that.”
Jonas Rivera: “Many great animators are sort of recluses. They don’t like going up in front of people, and often the only way they can get their ideas out was to animate.”
2. Use Hayao Miyazaki and classic Disney as your inspiration.
Pete Docter: “We love the original Disney films – not just the look, but the emotions. Think about Bambi, which is so beautifully painterly, but is also sweet and deeply emotional.
“This is a love letter to that style of filmmaking.”
“Miyazaki is amazing. I worked on the English translation of Spirited Away and I got to see it over and over. His attention to detail is the same as what we’re trying to do here.”
Jonas Rivera: “Not a day goes by at Pixar when we’re not popping one of his movies in to watch. His pacing and how he lets you be in the moments helped us let the movie breathe.”
3. Have fun doing the research.
Pete Docter: “It was great, because it was the first film I worked on where we got to go anywhere other than our local streets! For Toy Story, we played with Toys. A Bug’s Life was in the dirt. On Monsters, we looked at closets. Here, we got to go to South America.”
“There are moments in the film for me that felt like what it was to be there. It might not look exactly the same way, but it feels right.”
4. Look at some classic illustrators.
Pete Docter: “There are some great cartoonists we drew from, like George Booth in The New Yorker, who has a bunch of really grouchy, wizened old guys who are hilarious.”
Jonas Rivera: “Great caricature distils the image to its core.
“Pete had us look at Hank Ketcham, the guy who created the American Dennis The Menace. He’d draw this simple shapes, like the mother’s dress and Dennis’s hair, which were almost more believable and expressive than anything else.”
5. Always respect the techical guys.
Pete Docter: “We wanted things to at first blush, appear simple, but if you look closely, they’re complicated.
“So Carl is a basic box, but he has all the range of expressions. You see surface details like wrinkles, though on first glance he has a lot of detail.”
Jonas Rivera: “I thought it would be easy to do the stylised, cartoon look of Carl and the others. I actually asked the technical guys, ‘can’t you just dial down the detail from something like Wall-E?’
There’s this unwritten rule that the Technical Directors, who drive the CG work, can’t say, ‘can’t you just tell us what you want or give us the script?’ while directors can’t say, ‘can’t you just dial it down? Or make it look like underwater?’ You have to have the camps respecting each other and part of my job is to be referee.
6. Examine live-action actors...
Pete Docter: “Bob Peterson (his co-director) and I wanted to do a film with a grouchy old man because it seemed rife with potential. He can be an absolute jerk and you still like him.
“We wanted to avoid what we call ‘Main Character Disease’, which can happen because you want the audience to like them, and so they become very bland. Carl escapes that with his licence to be a jerk!
“There are a lot of live action actors like Spencer Tracy and Walter Matthau in Carl’s DNA. Think the classic grumpy old men.”
7. ...and add inspiration from one of your own.
Jonas Rivera: “Russell is Asian, and he’s based on Peter Sohn, one of the great story artists and animators at Pixar. He’s the voice of Emile in Ratatouille.
“He’s the most amazing character- he’s like an eight-year-old kid and so we patterned Russell after him.
“He actually did the test voice for the character. We made him dress up as a wilderness explorer! It just felt right.”
8. Create a Must Watch list of films for anyone working on the movie.
Pete Docter: “There were several things people needed to watch. 1970’s bank robbery comedy Going In Style was one, with George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg, these three great actors playing old men.
“Peter Pan was another, because they did such a great job of capturing the magical feel of the jungle.”
9. And don’t forget The Muppets…
Pete Docter: “I never missed The Muppet Show growing up. They had such great characters and a weird, wacky sensibility that you might just see a little of in this movie.
“If you watch Fozzie Bear, he has no actual expressions changes – it’s all in his movements and position. I’ve talked to Frank Oz about this and contrast works so well – you swear you see his face changing. We used those techniques for Kevin, one of the most entertaining characters in the movie. You’ll see…”