inside out behind the scenes

Pixar’s new film Inside Out is nothing quite like any film the studio has made before. It tells a story that takes place in dual worlds. One world looks a lot like our own; there, a young girl named Riley finds her world turned upside down when her family moves cross-country just as she hits a period of new emotional growth. The other world is inside Riley’s head, where five primary emotions guide her newly rocky life. One is fairly realistic; the other very cartoonish. The contrast between the two gives the movie an unusual feel, especially as the events in each “world” become more difficult for the characters.

Last week I flew up to San Francisco then made the trip across the bay to Emeryville, and Pixar’s campus. There I saw the first hour of Inside Out, and sat in on a number of short interview sessions with heads of several departments that contributed to the film, culminating with a talk with director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera. All together they gave a fairly complete portrait of the Inside Out behind the scenes process. We’ll feature our talk with Docter and Rivera soon, but first let’s look at the technical departments at Pixar. Here are the 40 things we learned during our Inside Out behind the scenes visit.

INSIDE OUT

STORY DEPARTMENT

The story department is the core of Pixar’s approach to filmmaking. As those already versed in Pixar’s process know, in some ways it isn’t so different from a TV series’ writer’s room, or from the writing system used for many other movies. Here, various members of the team gather to pitch character and story ideas; these are drawn out as a storyboard series, pitched and performed to other team members, and gradually refined.

We talked to Inside Out co-director Ronnie del Carmen, who has been part of Pixar’s story team since Finding Nemo, but his resume extends way back to Batman: The Animated Series.

1. The very first drawing of Joy had huge pony tails, almost like an exaggerated version of Dee Dee from Dexter’s Lab. Sadness, on the other hand, was just a big lump.

2. The dinner scene we’ve seen excerpted in trailer (below) was the early scene that helped define what the emotions were, and how they work in the film.

3. The story room is decorated with portraits of Pixar employees who draw each other while locked in the room trying to break the story.

4. Story artists will draw the film’s characters thousands of times during production, and sometimes hundreds of times per day.

5. The emotions were eventually seen as guardians or advisors that help the “real” characters navigate life. That specification came about after much discussion about precisely what emotions are, and conversations with psychologists that led to defining five dominant emotions.

6. In the beginning, one question was “aren’t Riley’s emotions her?” But in keeping with that concept of emotions as guiding forces, you are not your emotions — you can choose what to act on, at least in some cases, while for some people emotional guidance may be more overt.

7. Naturally, observations from all the families at pixar, especially stories from parents of their children, became part of the film.

8. In addition to Riley’s emotions, “personality islands” define her character, based on specific experiences that become core memories. Chit-chat was an early personality island that was eventually discarded for being too much like two other islands, Friendship and Goofball.

9. The story here isn’t just about Riley and her relationship to her own emotions, but about Joy learning to understand and live with Sadness.

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