Interview with director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera, from the forthcoming Disney-Pixar film “Inside Out.”

By Jeff Boudreauxinside_out

The Dolphin recently took part in a college conference call with director Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc., Up) and producer Jonas Rivera of Disney-Pixar’s newest film, “Inside Out,” which hits cinemas on June 19. I was fortunate enough to have one of my questions selected for this interview, and it was great to be able to speak directly with the creators of this amazing film. Please enjoy this in-depth interview with these true visionaries of modern animation.


MODERATOR:    Our first question comes from Glendale City College, El Vaquero. Danielle, do you want to go ahead?

DANIELLE:    Yes, thank you. Where did the idea for “Inside Out” originate from?

PD:    Hey, guys, this is Pete. And here’s Jonas.

JR:    Hi.

PD:    Got to say hi first. Hi Danielle. How are you?

DANIELLE:    I’m good. How are you?

PD:    Good.

JR:    Good. Go to the question. Yeah, Pete, you should talk about the idea.

PD:    Okay.

JR:    It was your idea.

PD:    Well, yeah, the, the concept kind of came from watching my kid grow up and you know, when you’re young, a lot of people, this is certainly true of my daughter, she was very energetic and rambunctious and jumping around and happy all the time, and then when she turned 11 she got a little more quiet and reclusive. And I was telling these guys about it and we were like what’s going on inside her head, you know?

JR:    Right.

PD:    And that’s what kind of started the idea, the idea of really featuring emotions as characters and we’ve read about how emotions affect our daily life and decisions and things and this is our chance to kind of personify them. And you talked about like the seven dwarfs, you know.

JR:    Right, like personifying emotions and creating a story within the mind, I just like how it all came from just an observation Pete had of watching his kid change. Everybody changes, and so we thought that’s a fun idea. What if we could somehow show that from the inside?

DANIELLE:    Thank you.

MODERATOR:   Our next question comes from De Paul University. Pat, do you want to go ahead?

PAT:    Ah, yes.  My question is for Pete. How did you come to choose Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger as the five major emotion characters in the film?

PD:    Yeah, because as you get into the research and different psychologists, psychiatrists, will say different things. Some people told us there were three, some said 27, you know. So we ended up with these five. Basically, we started working with this guy Paul Eckman, Doctor Paul Eckman, who is a real pioneering researcher in expression. And he had posited that there were 6 emotions in his early research. It was these five plus Surprise, and as we were trying to thing about like how would you personify these characters as cartoons, you know, Surprise and Fear felt kind of similar, so we just nixed that one.

We took some artistic license and that’s kind of how we ended up with it. Of course, he’s since then gone on to say sixteen emotions that he’s identified.

JR:    But we, we think, we think he’s wrong. Yeah. [Both men laugh]

PD:    And weirdly, we just heard that they got researchers from around the world and they looked at all of their work that they’d done, and the only thing that they agree on was these five emotions. They called it happiness instead of joy, but some of them have other ones like pride or, you know, whatever, anxiety, but the five that they all agreed on, I guess is the proper way to say it, the five they all agreed on as existing are these five.

JR:    So we thought we choose wisely.

PD:    We did.

MODERATOR:    Alright. Our next question comes from New York University. Carl, are you on?

CARL:    Yes. My question is, did you write the characters with certain actors in mind? Or did it come about the other way around?

JR:    Hey Carl. This is Jonas Rivera. It’s a great question. It was a little bit of both, right Pete? I mean, I think in the very initial pitch for the movie Pete mentioned Lewis Black as Anger, because obviously it was such a fit, and Lewis teased us about that later when we cast him. He said “oh, what a brave choice to cast me.”

PD:    A clever guy.

JR:    But some of them were the other way around. I mean, some of them were just playing with you know, with the concepts of being, starting to, what we do is we just watch a lot of movies. We have a casting director at the studio and as we started to write these characters and flesh them out, we would just kind of start looking around and, and we would just make discoveries. I remember…

PD:    You brought in, like Sadness, for example. I watched a movie of…

JR:    Pete and Ronny was writing Sadness and I ended up seeing the movie “Bad Teacher” with Phyllis Smith in it, and she was just so great and so hesitant, and so I brought her forward and that ended up working. I think Ronny Del Carmen, I think had pitched Mindy Kaling for disgust. She seemed to have the kind of the right attitude for what was being written before us.  And Fear, Bill Hader, we’re just such a fan of Bill and he’s so versatile, right?

PD:    He can kind of do anything.

JR:    Do anything. So we had him in. And last was Joy. She was the toughest and obviously we felt like we struck gold when we found Amy Poehler but, she was the trickiest and the last one.

PD:    Yeah. And you end up writing to the actors, you know, once they’re cast and we record with them, we kind of get a sense of their strengths, what they bring to it, their sense of humor and the fun part is like when you get to know these actors, when you sit down to write, you can just like turn them on in your head and they say the lines for you, and you just kind of you know, jot it down. That’s when you really feel like, okay, things are clicking, when the characters start talking to you, you know.

JR:    So there you go. Thanks, Carl.

CARL:    Alright. Thank you very much.

Inside Out - Emotion Poster Collaboration

MODERATOR:    Alright. Our next question comes from Queens College. Jen, are you on?

JEN:    I am. Hi. My question is what was the most challenging part of the story to bring to life on screen, and why?

PD:    Well, I think mainly it was Joy, I think if I had to choose one thing. Although geez, there are so many challenging things from the concept on, you know, what do [emotions] look like? What does the mind look like? All that kind of stuff, but really the most difficult thing is always the story, and in this case it was largely, well first of all, it was like three years in and people were still saying wow, what a great concept. They weren’t saying it’s a movie yet, you know.

And then once they were admitting that it was a movie, or you know, we finally stepped up to the point where it became a movie, a lot of people said, I really don’t like Joy as a character, which is a problem because she’s our main character. But I think it kind of makes sense ’cause I don’t know if you have friends that are just kind of always happy, and you kind of want to strangle them, you know, ’cause you just, you just sense insincerity.

So we needed to find somewhere for Joy as a character that you believed her, that she was genuine and that she really cared for her kid.  I think that was a key component as well.

JR:    I agree. That was the hardest part just because, you’re right, what you’re saying is it’s hard to create a character that’s super optimistic. Her name is Joy, but somehow stay truthful and likeable. And that just took a lot of time in revising and rewriting, and throwing things out and doing things over a million times, until it kind of finds a place. Thank you.

MODERATOR:    Our next question comes from Southern Methodist University campus. Anna Lee Walton, are you on?

ANNA LEE:    My question is very similar to the Queens College one. Um, they picked similar questions, but I guess I’ll ask it again and if you could develop more on it. Was there a character that was particularly difficult to, to develop? And I guess you can keep expanding on that?

PD:    Yeah, I mean Joy was the hardest one to write for, but actually it’s a different answer for this, I think. The hardest one to develop visually was Disgust and we early on we couldn’t really decide is she disgusting or disgusted, you know, as a character and that would lend itself to very different design looks. I think it was largely Mindy Kaling, once we started picturing her, that kind of landed it. Though John Lasseter was really pretty keen on pushing her to be appealing looking and if she’s too kind of gross, disgusting, it’s not fun to watch.

JR:    Or so like a monster, unappealing. But when we pitched it to Mindy Kaling, we had to tell her: no, she’s not. And she was like, basically you want me to play disgust? I always kind of thought of her a little bit like the character was, like Ferris Beuller’s sister a little bit. The design, she’s pretty, and so the design became more about her just being disgusted at everything, and it took, I mean, it’s embarrassing to say how long it took to, to get her right, almost a couple years of designing and writing…

PD:    But it’s kind of cool, you know. We did this research, and this actually came from Darwin. Charles Darwin did one of the first, pioneering books on discoveries on human expression. And he talked about disgust as being probably derivative from like when a baby eats something bitter, it spits it out and it kind of makes this motion with the tongue, which ends up looking like the same face you make when you’re disgusted by something.

And, he suggested that probably the physical disgust extended then into social disgust. So what was once “ew, that tastes gross” is now like “ew, that’s a gross dress you’re wearing or whatever”. The disgust keeps you from getting poisoned both physically and socially, essentially.

JR:    And that became her job, which really helped us out. And you guys can’t see this, but Pete is literally making the disgust face right now, and it’s disgusting me.

ANNA LEE:    Well, very interesting. Thank you guys so much.

MODERATOR:    Okay, our next question comes from Emory University, from Kait.

PD: Next time we have to do this on Skype. [Jonas laughs]

KAIT:    Hi, my question is for Pete. When you directed “Inside Out,” did the actors record their audio parts before the animated characters were drawn and constructed, or did you have the actors dub their dialogue over the finished animation product? And how did this method make it easier to characterize the various emotions and ensure that the actors were accurately conveying the emotions fully in their purest form? Sorry, it’s a long one.

PD:    We kind of follow in the same footsteps as the early Disney films, the stuff we grew up on and loved like “Dumbo” and “Cinderella” and all that. We record first, and that way the actor has a chance to play around with the line. In our case we had such amazing ad-libbed and improv actors that a lot of the stuff was Amy just on the fly coming up with stuff and we’d end up using that.

But also just attitude-wise and timing and all these things, they can really make it sing, try a couple different things, and then we craft that and and cut it together and then the animators listen to it over and over and craft the performance to the dialogue. So we record first, and like I said that allows us to really let the actor explore and bring a lot to the role. Now, you know there’s Miyazaki and a lot of animators from Japan that kind of go the other way, and I asked him once why that was.

And he said that way he can control the performance the most accurately, so he tends to animate first and then the actor will come along and post-dub it.  But you know, there are different pros and cons to each one.

KAIT:    Okay. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR:    Hunter Helman from UNC Charlotte is our next question.

Pixar Post - Inside Out characters closeup

HUNTER:    So my question is in the early stages of development and producing the film, was there ever going to be a different approach to how the emotions were going to be portrayed, you know, other than what is in the final product of the film, or at least what we’ve seen in the trailers so far?

PD:    Nope, that’s exactly how… [laughing]

JR:    No, okay. Don’t listen to Pete. Yeah, there was, there was so many different variables and approaches. I mean, we started obviously when Pete pitched this idea, I thought was such a great idea, about personifying emotions, and one of the things he said early on was, I want this movie to be in the mind and not the brain. So it wasn’t literally going to be, you now, inner space with blood vessels and tissue and stuff that kind of grosses you out.

But in other words it was going to be metaphoric, so it was going to be the mind, which gave us this artistic license to kind of create this geography and production design that felt like the mind of a little girl specifically, so there was this opportunity for whimsy and just a lot of fun, but that’s very easy to say and hard to do. And our art department did an amazing job of exploring and presenting idea after idea until it started to blend with the writing.

Even emotions, like if you imagine starting looking at this on a blank page. What do your emotions look like? What, are they little people? Are they little Muppets, you know? What are they? And Pete would often say, they should look how our emotions feel, which is really cool, but also tricky to wrap your head around. So I guess with trial and error, and iteration, I think organically the movie would lean a little bit towards science fiction in its design, and we pull it back to again kind of be more whimsical and fun.

Pete, chime in, but I’m just kind of speaking to the endless, almost 2 to 3 year iteration to kind of find the look and ultimately as you see the characters in the film, we just kind of thought they felt right after a while. I mean, Joy is just sort of meant to be the feeling of joy. She’s pure joy. She’s sort of based on a star. She’s golden and open and expressive and if you look at Anger, he’s basically a lump of coal. He’s square and immovable and, you know, and he wears a little suit and tie for some reason.

PD:    I think because of Lewis Black.

JR:    Maybe Lewis Black. Disgust is sort of shaped like broccoli if you kind of look close. She’s green and has that, and is rooted that shape, which she thinks is disgusting. And Fear is kind of like a raw nerve and Sadness is like a tear drop. So they were sort of rooted in elements, not literally again, more metaphorically, so…

PD:    There’s a really cool book that we put together, “The Art of Inside Out.” Put a little plug for that and if you’re interested you can see literally more of the approaches and attempts that we had in that book.

JR:    Yeah, it’s sort of like our yearbook. Anyway, thank you so much. I hope that helps.

HUNTER:    Awesome. Thank you so much for a chance to talking to you guys.

MODERATOR:    Arno Bryant, I don’t believe he dialed in earlier when I took roll, so I’ll go ahead and ask the question for him. He’s from San Jose State University. The question is for Pete. He says, you’ve been nominated for six Oscars, three Annie awards, a BAFTA children’s film award and more. Do you think Pixar’s critical success has helped transition the animation genre to something not just for children?

PD:    Well yeah, I mean, we hope, Jonas and I certainly don’t look at it as just for kids and we often get asked, who are you writing for? And the answer is always ourselves, you know. We want to make something that we ourselves are interested in and we’ve certainly been very fortunate to be recognized by all these amazing organizations. And that always feels really great, because then these other filmmakers are kind of acknowledging the same thing that we are, that these are just movies.

They are stories. They are not in a special little subcategory off to the side at the kids’ table. Animation can do so much more, and it can do way more than we’ve done. I think the sky’s the limit. All sorts of stuff that animation could bring. So, we hope to keep pushing it ourselves and we hope other people keep doing really different stuff.

MODERATOR:    Great, thank you. Our next question comes from Delgado Community College. Jeff Boudreaux, are you on?

JEFF:    Ah, yes sir. My question is for both gentlemen. Last year was the first time since 2005 that Pixar hadn’t released a film each year. What’s it like to have “Inside Out” be the first film released after that hiatus, and do you think there are certain expectations?

JR:    It’s a good question. Um, I don’t know. All these films to me anyway, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure whenever you make a film and put it out in the world. And we sort of approach each movie like it’s the first one we’ve ever done and the last one we’re ever gonna do, at the same time, right?

PD:    A lot riding on it, huh?

JR:    There’s a lot riding on it, and you do your best. I mean, I guess you’re right. The fact that there was not a film last year is putting a little more attention on us and I do feel it, to be totally honest. We kind of try to act like we don’t, but we…

PD:    ..We’re cool.

JR:    …we’re cool but we do feel it. And we really want people to enjoy it as much as we love making it. We’re very proud of it and we’re looking forward to it to come out in the world, but it’s a little bit like we’re parents. And we’ve talked about, this is our analogy, it’s a little like raising a kid, you do your best to bring them up and then you hope they go into the world and you just hope they behave and that other people like them and that they don’t start fights and all that.

It’s the same way we feel about the movie. We hope it does what we meant it to do, which is just to make people happy and do its thing.

JEFF:    Thank you.

MODERATOR:    Alright. Our next question is from Iowa State University. Dalton, are you on the phone?

DALTON:    I’m here. Good afternoon. Um, both of you had success in creating “Up.” How do you feel that this film will compare in regards to reception and success?

PD:    I think it’s gonna blow up out of the water. [Jonas laughs] No, I have no idea. I have no idea. All we can do is, is kind of do the best we can and pour ourselves into it. And as Jonas said when the movie comes out the one thing we can tell you is this is 100 percent of what we have. We have been living, breathing, sleeping and eating this film for five years, which sounds kind of insane, now that I say it, but we have.

And the one thing I think that will be interesting is that the film has a chance to bring people to a place that everyone is familiar with, but no one’s seen before. And that is the world inside your own mind. So we’re using elements and ideas that people totally use in everyday conversation and think of. Like, I do anyway, like imagine where do your dreams comes from and why and, and how do songs get stuck in your head? Why do we remember things?

All these really cool things that affect us personally on a daily basis, and now we’ve gotten to play with all that stuff in the film. So it was a really rich playground in terms of the humor, the cleverness hopefully and the richness of this world. So we hope that it will really appeal to everybody and so far we’ve had good results with that from little kids all the way to adults feeling really like, wow, it made me thing differently about the way I am in the world, which is pretty cool.

JR:    Yeah, we’re very proud of it. We hope it does well and hope it does as well as “Up.”

MODERATOR: Great, well I think that is all that we have for you guys. Thank you for your time and thanks to everyone who dialed in.

PD: Yeah, thanks everybody.

JR: We appreciate it. Bye guys.



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