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The Color and Lighting of the Monsters University

Like every other Pixar film, the studio created a color script for Monsters University which is basically a visual roadmap of the story. It follows color and lighting and keeps track of things like emotion, time of day, seasons, and weather.

When Mike first arrives at school and he steps off the bus there’s a shadow over the bus, and he steps into the morning sunlight. The lighting is designed to emphasize that he is starting a new chapter of his life. Presented with the vast campus of MU we’re still looking towards the light, indicating that this sort of hopeful new future is ahead of them.

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The  Monsters, Inc. building from the first movie has an iconic morning light hitting the front side of the building. In Monsters University, Mike’s ultimate goal is to graduate to be a scarer, and go to work for Monsters, Inc.

Mike’s obstacle elements are almost always backlit. In one scene Mike steps into the shadow form the light, and of course the shadow is cast by the scare school. This lighting is used as a motif to indicate that this is something he has to overcome before he reaches his dream.

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Dean Hardscrabble is lit almost entirely from the back side, leaving her face is always in the shadow. Not only does that make her intimidating, but it also indicates that she’s an obstacle he has to overcome to achieve his dream.

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The different fraternities and sororities all have their own identity colors, each of which were designed carefully. OZZMA KAPPA is green and you’ll notice it’s Mike’s team.

Roar Omega Roa has the opposite complimentary color – red, because they are the main advisories in the Scare Games.

“The lighting choreography we had a lot of fun playing with for this film,” says Dice Tsutsumi, Color and Lighting Art Director. ”It requires a lot of coordination between departments. It’s a really challenging thing but we were able to kind of pull it off. Basically in a major story moment, we have our main characters like Mike and Sulley interact with light and shadow.” … “So every department has to kind of work together, to kind of achieve this choreography.”

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Monsters work at night, so they feel more comfortable in the shadow. So they worked around the idea that going into light is actually intimidating for monsters. So there are certain intimidating moments in the film that the characters are forced to enter harsh light. This is used to indicate an emotional or intimidating situation.

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They sometimes used the light to indicate the status of Mike and Sully’s friendship. The story is very much about how they become best friends. In the beginning of the semester, Mike has a lot of work ahead of him to beat Sulley. So in the early scene, Mike is in the shadow in his classroom, while Sulley’s in the light. As the semester progresses, Mike works really hard and he starts to catch up, he finally passes Sulley, leaving Sulley behind in the shadow and Mike enters the light and he wants to show his grade. At the end of the semester, they’re standing exactly where they were in the classroom, but this time Mike is in the light and Sulley’s in the shadow.

“It’s very subtle, almost to a degree that it doesn’t become a distraction, just to really support the feel of the story” says Dice Tsutsumi, Color and Lighting Art Director. ”But we did this kind of light choreography throughout the film. When you see the final film, you can see the careful choreography we did all over the place, just for the audience to feel, not really to notice so it becomes a distraction. But really to feel the story that we’re trying to tell.”

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