Creating the Campus and Students of Monsters University #MUScareGames
*Disney/Pixar provided me with airfare and hotel accommodations to attend a press day at Pixar Animation Studios. Pictures are used with the permission of Pixar. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*
Ricky Vega Nierva (Art Director/Production Designer) and Jason Deamer have been with Pixar Animation studios since 1997 and 1998, respectively. Deamer’s first assignment was working as a sketch artist on Monsters Inc. He was also the right hand man for Ricky in the beginning, but now oversees a small team of artists in character design.
If you’re familiar with Monsters Inc. and any of the history behind it, then you might know that fur and claws were their biggest animating challenges, along with cute little Boo’s shirt. Now they are able to look back and laugh about it—because new challenges presented themselves with Monsters University.
Think back to your own college experience. If you remember that first day of walking around on the college campus, then you probably recall all of the various groups of people (goths, jocks, hacky sack players, etc.) along with the more solitary individuals who made their impression with unique style or physique. But in the monster world as we know it from Monsters Inc., no two monsters look that much alike. The animation team now had more characters than ever before that they needed to design so that they could fill the MU campus for a realistic look. They also needed to brainstorm plenty of gags to include in the film.
Normally on a film, the background crowd is the last thing the animators will add. But for Monsters University, a group of animators started this early. If you’ve seen the film, I’m sure you know how easy it is for your eye to wander and start paying attention to what is shown in the background. Because of that, the characters need to look good and feel real.
Another challenge, as Jason Deamer told us, was putting some of these furry monsters into school/fraternity jackets. There is also a scene in the movie where several of the characters are wearing robes for a club initiation. One of the sketches they showed us was little Mike Wazowski wearing a coat. Since he’s practically all eyeball, he looked pretty ridiculous and uncomfortable wearing a jacket.
The animators spent a great deal of time working on sketches, trying to figure out the appearance of their characters so that the images could then go to the sculptors. Then the sculptors would turn over the models to them so they could begin working on the 3D aspects of the animation.
In total, they had more than three hundred characters to design, and it all had to be done in a few years. They created a handful of basic body types for the monsters and then stretched, shortened, and lengthened them in their computer program. But for more diversity, they also created a couple of monsters that were just “one-off” characters. When all was said and done, they had nearly five hundred monsters in Monsters University. The database required a unique name for each one of them, so everyone who worked on the film had a monster named after them in the program.
Monsters University also included a handful of strong female characters. There are a few female monsters in Monsters Inc., but in this prequel we get to see that the women in the monster world can also be Scarers. Dean Hardscrabble, perhaps the scariest monster in the entire film, was originally supposed to be a male. Ricky felt that was the best change they made to the film; Dean Hardscrabble is one of his favorite characters.
But as we know from watching Monsters Inc., a child’s idea of the scariest monster is determined on his or her individual fears. Even so, we wanted to know if there was a monster idea they had to cut from the film for being too over the top—and, in fact, there was. The monster was described to us as a maggot-like monster. There was also another that ate other monsters.
Another great question they were able to answer for us was what the differences are between Mike and Sulley physique-wise. Monsters University is a prequel, so we wondered what was done to them to make them look younger. All of the changes they made were very subtle; Mike is shown with a retainer, and Sulley has a more slender physique. They couldn’t change too much, otherwise the characters would not be recognizable.
In many large companies, colleagues often have a sense of competition. We wanted to know if that was also the case at Pixar. Ricky told us that they have have a saying: “the best idea wins.” He followed this up by saying that they are there to help each other, that they try to make each other laugh more. The process is completely collaborative, a mashup of everyone’s ideas. Everyone gets to touch it and own it.