On Friday, Pixar’s 15th animated feature film hits theaters. It’s Inside Out, a movie whose principal characters are all emotions inside an 11-year-old girl’s mind. Critics have already given it a rare 100 percent score on RottenTomatoes.com. And it gets high marks from me, too; I got to see an early screening, and I promise you Inside Out is right up there with Pixar’s best work.
The movie, which opens this Friday, June 19, was written and directed by Pete Docter, a Pixar veteran (he directed Monsters, Inc., and Up, and wrote the stories for Toy Story 2 and Wall-E), and produced by Jonas Rivera (who also produced Up).
Docter and Rivera visited Yahoo’s offices in New York, where I got a chance to interview them about the movie, their company, Pixar’s purchase by Disney, and how animated movies get made.
Silicon Valley meets Hollywood
So why is a tech guy interviewing moviemakers? Because Pixar and Silicon Valley grew up together. As a company built entirely around computer-generated animation, Pixar was literally made possible by technology. And year by year, as computers and software grow more powerful, you can see the increasing sophistication of the visual results in Pixar’s movies. (It’s no coincidence that at one time Steve Jobs was CEO of both Apple and Pixar.)
As Docter tells it, the central concept of Inside Out was inspired by his own 11-year-old daughter, who was “happy, goofy, a little rambunctious” as a little girl, then became quieter and more reclusive as she approached teenhood. “It made me worry,” Docter says, “and that was really what started the movie.” As for using the primary human emotions as characters: Well, that “seemed like exactly what animation does best.”
I asked the Pixarians if their moviemaking has changed, now that increasing hordes are watching movies on the tiny screens of phones, laptops, and tablets. I was expecting them to say that they’ve shifted with the times, changing the way they frame their scenes—but, in fact, they told me that they still create their movies exclusively for the big screen.
In the excerpt below, Docter and Rivera talk about the physical, technical process of making Pixar movies. (They use an in-house animation program called Marionette, plus Pixar’s long-running RenderMan rendering software, and many other software programs.)
And they talk about Steve Jobs’s role at the helm of Pixar. At screenings of Pixar’s work, Docter says, “He would always be like, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this—this is your guys’ expertise’—and then he’d proceed to give us some brilliant note.”
“He would say things like, ‘The products I make [at Apple] are five years at best—and then they’re doorstops’,” Rivera recalls. “A computer, phone, whatever it is, there’s a certain shelf life there. But Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has been with us since the 1930s and it still holds up. And boy, if we do our job right, we could have something like that.”
Pixar vs. Disney
As our conversation wound down, I offered Docter and Rivera some questions that my Twitter followers had submitted—and they were good ones. LIke, “How would you characterize the difference between Pixar animation and Disney animation?” and “Are you buying into the Oscar buzz already surrounding ‘Inside Out’?— not just for Best Animated Picture, but for Best Picture?”
Here’s what they said.
Pixar’s streak of brilliant movies is astonishing. How does this company keep creating such entertaining, emotionally knowing, highly acclaimed movies, with so few missteps (*cough* Cars 2 *cough*)? And why can’t any other studio seem to replicate that success?
According to Docter, the answer lies in Pixar’s culture, where the executives are the filmmakers. And in its beliefs—like the one that says “We don’t ever do the same thing twice.”
Well, whatever they’re doing, it’s working.
David Pogue is the founder of Yahoo Tech. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s firstname.lastname@example.org. He welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below.