How Pixar's 'Newt' Got Flipped 'Inside Out'

Pixar works on their films for years; most releases are developed for a good five years. Almost every film they've developed has had problems at one point of another. Some, like Ratatouille and Toy Story, were completely reworked when Pixar realized the story wasn't working. The film newt was announced in 2008 at a Disney presentation, and canceled only two years later, making it the first announced Pixar movie to be canceled. Now we learn how the death of one story gave birth to another.

pixar's newt

Pixar Animation Studios president Ed Catmull recently appeared on Tim Ferris's podcast The Tim Ferris Show. In the discussion, he dropped an interesting comment about how newt spawned Pixar's next film Inside Out. But before we get to that, here is Catmull's explanation of Pixar's story creation process:

The only thing that makes a film hard is if you keep going at it and it isn't working, so you can't solve the problems. And then what happens is, for all directors, they are emotionally invested in their films, and they also get lost in them. Happens to everybody, doesn't matter who they are, whether they're new or they're experienced.

How Pixar deals with this issue is the formation of the brain trust, which allows them to always have an experienced perspective on the story:

What you want is this collection of people, we call it the Brain Trust, but essentially it is a group of colleagues who have been through it, to help navigate it when you're kind of lost in this swirling mass. Because it's very difficult. So the most difficult thing is on the people themselves. And we've had some films where the original director who had the idea got lost in it, and couldn't get out. So we had to make some changes in order to get the film done. So, in our view, we've had failures, but basically we try to keep the failures inside. It's not that it's secret that we've had failures, but we don't release the film that fails. We will abandon it, or we'll restart. And we've had several restarts! Where you get to the point where you say "it's not working, we have to do a major re­think to get this to be where it is." We had to do that with Toy Story, we had to do that with Ratatouille.

Pixar's troubled development of Toy Story and Ratatouille has been explored many times before. (You can read about them here, or see the Pixar Story documentary for details on the development of Toy Story). So at what point does Pixar stop trying to fix a story and completely abandon it?

Well, usually there's a buildup, since all our films to begin with, suck. What it is, and this is the big misconception that people have, is that a new film is like the baby version of the final film. When in fact, sometimes the final film bears no relationship to what you started out with. What we've found is, that first version always sucks. I don't mean this because I'm self-effacing, or that we're modest about it. I mean it in the sense that they really do suck.

You're going through phases where you pitch the ideas, you rework them, then you do a script, you have a script read, have actors read through it, you go through a couple versions of that, then you start to storyboard it out. You put it up, and it isn't until you get to a few versions in that you begin to find "ok, these elements are sticking." They're holding, we've now got the tentpoles for the film that we can build around. But it's a discovery process.

And the reason it takes a long time is you're trying to do something that's new. If we just want to throw out a story, it turns out we know how to do that quickly, and we know how to make it quickly. But it's not a good movie unless you can find some way of touching people's emotions, or bringing something new to the story.

newt2

Now back to newt, which was set to be multiple Academy Award-winning sound designer Gary Rydstrom's feature directing debut. Rydstrom had a history with the company working on the sound for many of the studio's films. He directed Lifted, Pixar's alien short film which premiered in front of Ratatouille. Newt was announced in 2008 and for whatever reason wasn't working out. So what happened?

So what do you do when you either abandon [an idea] or restart? In our history, here, we have only abandoned one film. The other ones either evolved into what they were, or we did a restart. The one that we abandoned, the only reason we abandoned it is that we realized we needed to bring fresh blood in.

The story continues on the next page, along with a ton of concept art from Pixar's abandoned feature film newt.

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Pixar's brain trust decided to bring in a new filmmaker to do a "restart" on newt. The filmmaker was Pete Doctor, the director of Monsters Inc and Up .

And so the person we brought in said, "yes, I will do a restart on the film. But since we're restarting, I have an idea which I think is even better, which is a completely different idea." And when he pitched that idea, we said, "you're absolutely right! That's a brilliant idea."

Asked what movie that abandoned project turned into, Catmull said, "That's the one that's coming out next summer." So while we will never see newt, we will get to see the film that spawned from the project's ashes – Inside Out, due to hit theaters on June 19th 2015. And you can listen to the whole Ed Catmull interview on the Tim Ferris Show. Its a great podcast that I listen to on a regular basis.

inside-out-concept

Docter has talked about the origin of the idea, which came right after making Up: they wanted to do something different but how could they make a film everyone would relate to and understand, but had never been seen before? Docter found the answer in his daughter Ellie, who at the age of 12 went from a super-happy little girl to highly emotional young woman. What was going on in her mind? Inside Out was born of that question. Here is the official story synopsis for Inside Out:

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it's no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley's mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley's main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.

It doesn't seem like Inside Out took any leftover ingredients from newt — even Catmull said it was "a completely different idea."

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The above newt crossing sign was photographed on the Pixar Animation Campus.

But while we're here, lets take a look back at newt, Pixar's only abandoned project to date. Walt Disney Studios even released the logo at the top of this story, alongside the following official plot synopsis:

"What happens when the last remaining male and female blue-footed newts on the planet are forced together by science to save the species, and they can't stand each other? Newt and Brooke embark on a perilous, unpredictable adventure and discover that finding a mate never goes as planned, even when you only have one choice. Love, it turns out, is not a science."

newt was first announced at a 2008 Disney presentation which had director Gary Rydstrom on stage presenting a complicated 9 part Newt mating ritual chart. Rydstrom pitched the set-up for the film, which was to follow the last two blue footed newts on this earth, a male and a female, who are thrown together by science but can't stand each other.

newt

AICN had an in-depth write up of Pixar's in depth 2008 presentation, but here is the rundown: Newt has been in captivity since he was a tadpole, and is very lonely. His only friend is a lifeless sock puppet. He can read the mating ritual chart from his cage and practices the steps every day in hopes that scientists capture him a girlfriend. Unfortunately, the 9th and final step of the mating chart is obscured by a Mr. Coffee, so he doesn't know how to complete the ritual.

Brook is a wild female Blue-Footed Newt, completely unaware that she's the last female of her species. She escapes biologists who are always chasing her on an almost daily basis. But one day they catch her and bring her back to the lab, which is where she meets Newt. But things don't spark in the ways the scientists had hoped, leading to "the world's worst first date". And somehow they both end up in the wild and newt needs to rely on Brook to survive the dangers of the wild. This is where they meet Eddie, a giant Hellbender Salamander, a ladies man who "passes along his incredibly shallow ideas of love to Newt." Of course, none of his suggestions work on Brook.

"Newt is a movie about how finding a mate never goes as you expect even, make that especially, if you only have one choice."

Here is some more concept art from the abandoned Pixar feature film:

[images via Disney/Pixar's Facebook pageKaty Wu and Bleeding Cool]