From under the sea to infinity and beyond, Pixar movies take us on adventures beyond our wildest imaginations. How does Pixar make us believe that we are looking at the world from the perspective of a toy or perhaps a rat who has found its way into a French restaurant? How do they use setting as a character in their stories? These questions and more were explored in today’s D23 Expo panel on Creating Pixar’s Worlds. Here are six things we learned from this truly out-of-this-world panel!
1. It Starts From Scratch.
In live-action films, it’s the job of the location scout to find the perfect environment and the set dresser to acquire the appropriate props to set the scene. In animation however, there is no such thing as buying props or finding the perfect location. Instead, it all must be created. When you think about the fact that this even includes adding ambient noises or designing what something as simple a tree will look like, the effect is pretty darn mind-blowing!
2. Just Keep Researching, Researching, Researching.
For Brave and Finding Nemo, the filmmakers took research trips to the film’s locations so that they could capture the subtlest of details that make the Scottish countryside so green or the Great Barrier Reef the Great Barrier Reef. “We examine everything,” remarked production designer Harley Jessup. “What a trash can looks like at street level, what cobblestones look like from different angles, etc.” No detail is too big or small.
3. Sometimes, the World Pixar is Not of This World.
Films like Monsters, Inc., Coco, and Inside Out posed an entirely different challenge than Finding Nemo or Brave, because they forced the artists to think about worlds they’d never seen before. “On Inside Out, we had to think about crazy things like what the color of the sky was on the inside of the mind,” said production designer Ralph Eggleston. Talk about amazing!
4. Dream It, See It, Believe It.
For the filmmakers at Pixar, the setting is as much a part of the story as the characters themselves. Director of Photography Sharon Calahan shared a story about how The Good Dinosaur director Peter Sohn wanted to make audiences “feel as though they were standing in the fresh air and physically in the nature of the film…” rather than just looking at it.
5. Finding the Perfect Balance.
Oftentimes when the art team first begins crafting the world, they have limited knowledge of what the story is going to be and have to create whole worlds knowing that certain elements might very easily change. Harley Jessup recounted how at one point during Monsters, Inc.’s production, Monstropolis was a very fantasy-oriented place. After many drafts and iterations on this concept, the directors realized that the fun of the movie was putting exotic characters in a normal, relatable world. The city of Pittsburgh became their inspiration and they started dreaming up believable buildings that both monsters that weighed ten tons, or were three feet tall, could use. Before they knew it, the Monstropolis that we know and love was born.
6. It’s the Little Things.
One of the most interesting parts of building fictional worlds comes from adding those extra touches of magic. Director of Photography Sharon Calahan talked about how she tinted all the darks in Ratatouille with a little bit of red to give the film a dipped-in chocolate look. “I was trying to make the audience feel like they could almost smell the bread or eat the food.” Is it sad that our tastebuds were salivating just at the mention of these details? Anyone got free food?
Which Pixar world would you most like to visit? Let us know in the comments!