Last year was the first time in ten years when we didn’t get a new movie from Pixar Animation and there was great sadness in the world. Thankfully, Oscar-winning Up director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera are back with their new movie Inside Out, the first of two Pixar movies for 2015, and it should generally please anyone who has been complaining about all the recent Pixar sequels.
It’s taken a little longer to make this one for various reasons, but last week, ComingSoon.net was given a preview of the first 56 minutes of the movie, which introduces us to 11-year-old Riley, her parents, and the five emotions at work inside her mind. Before showing us the footage, Docter and Rivera gave a brief introduction on how Docter was inspired by his own daughter and her changing emotions to come up with the idea and how their research led to the five emotions they chose as characters: Joy is voiced by Amy Poehler, Sadness is voiced by Phyllis Smith and Disgust is Mindy Kaling, the latter two from “The Office.” Fear is portrayed by Bill Hader and Anger could only possibly be voiced by aggro comedian Lewis Black. The movie isn’t just about showing how the emotions in Riley’s head interact and cause changes in her personality. It’s far more complex, as it deals with memories and how they’re archived and affected by the emotions.
The film starts out as an origin story of sorts as we see Riley as a baby and when she first smiles, Joy pops into existence. From there, we see moments in Riley’s life and how other emotions are formed: Disgust appears as she’s first being fed broccoli, for instance. The film bounces back and forth from Riley to the emotions inside her mind, as we see how her life is changed when her parents move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Joy pretty much runs the show in Headquarters, but other emotions are becoming more dominant due to Riley trying to adjust to her new life and fit in at a new school. Her first classroom experience isn’t a good one as the teacher calls on her just as Sadness starts playing with memories causing Riley to cry in front of her new classmates.
Some of the most important moments in Riley’s life are also stored as “core memories” which have an effect on her personality, creating islands like “family,” “friendship,” “hockey” etc. but as things go wrong, mainly from Sadness touching and corrupting memories, these are also starting to become affected.
Joy and Sadness end up stranded outside of Headquarters in the long-term memory archives where they learn that old memories are eventually dumped as we forget things from our past. There, they meet an odd character named “Bing Bong” (voiced by Richard Kind) who we discover is Riley’s imaginary friend from childhood, and he agrees to help them figure out how to get back to Headquarters. In the meantime, Fear, Disgust and Anger each step in to try and cover for Joy, causing even more trouble in Riley’s relationships. Joy and Sadness desperately try to get back as their absence starts to cause some of Riley’s personality islands to become dormant. The plan is to try to get aboard the “train of thought” which eventually gets back to Headquarters, but their journey takes them through a few unknown domains like “ImaginationLand,” Bing Bong’s home turf, where there are a lot of fun sight gags, and then end up in “Dream Productions,” resembling a large Hollywood studio where they perform Riley’s dreams like a television show. The footage ended as the trio descend down into Riley’s subconscious, a suitable cliffhanger that left us wanting to see more.
As you can imagine, it’s an incredibly colorful movie between the characters inside Riley’s mind and the various environments visited by Joy and Sadness on their journey, but also a very emotional one for similarly obvious reasons. Watching how Riley’s mood changes at the new school as things don’t go as planned pulls some of the same emotional heartstrings as the silent montage from Up, although there aren’t nearly as many out-and-out jokes, so the humor is found in the relationship between the emotions, particularly Joy and Sadness.
It’s hard to imagine that younger kids are going to find as much to enjoy in the movie as in Pixar films like Cars and Finding Nemo, because the storytelling and humor are far more layered and grown up and there isn’t as much as the pratfalls and bathroom humor that’s used by so many animated movies for laughs. On the other hand, it might be a great movie for kids age five and up to help them understand their own feelings by visualizing them as fun characters inside their heads. It may actually be one of the most genius ideas to come out of Pixar since someone decided to give a rodent culinary skills.
The next day, we had a chance to spend some time with some of the technical team who helped bring Pete Docter’s ideas to life, including the story, animation, lighting and layout departments, and we’ll have more to write about our visit, but we thought we’d start with our sitdown with Docter and Rivera.
The day after watching the first 56 minutes of Inside Out, ComingSoon.net and a few other journalists were given a run-through of what went into making the movie, which included a 20-minute sitdown with director Pete Docter (left) and producer Jonas Rivera, which you can read below. (We had a really smart group going through Pixar with us, which is why you have questions about Freudian psychology and neuroscience… in case you were wondering.)
Q: One of the most surprising things from talking to the tech people was that a lot of what they were doing was trying to recreate what can be done in live-action movie in terms of physical cameras and lights. I was curious about that decision when you theoretically have a lot more freedom not having the physics of real filmmaking.
Jonas Rivera: That’s sort of the grammar of it, yeah.
Pete Docter: I think as a medium, we’re in this really sweet spot between the rich tradition of hand-drawn animation and art, but also the cinematography and staging and all the things of live action, because as you saw, it’s like a set, it’s like a doll house. You can set things. Starting even back on “Toy Story,” we realized, we could have the camera go up the character’s nose and fly around and things, and we said, “Well, let’s just limit it to the grammar that we all know from watching films our whole lives.” So overs, two shots, wides, we could speak the same language and think the same as you would on a live-action set, and as he pointed out, we try to use that grammar to further the storytelling, so that you have the behavior of the camera and the composition is telling you things about the character and the emotional place they’re at and all that kinda stuff.
Rivera: It’s interesting, because even in the classic Disney movies, there was an attempt to, with multi-plane cameras, looking at that shot from “Cinderella” and kind of comparing it to live action of running through the house and out of the yard. There was sort of an attempt at camera grammar and space, and as our movies and our mediums evolved from “Toy Story” on, our medium does lean towards realism–lights and shadows and virtual space as far as cameras are concerned is real.
Q: I think all the really great Pixar movies have this incredible sense where you walk into a world that you feel exists, so how does the world-building take place within breaking the world? Do you create the world and then put the story into it or does the world grow out of the story you’re telling?
Docter: That’s a really good question and it was a cyclical thing for us on this. It took us maybe two years to realize this. Okay, the interior design of the mind reflected what was at stake in the outside world, and that is Riley’s personality, so the only thing the emotions can affect are the inside world. They can’t make her do something, so if we get her in some sort of physical danger, they’re kinda out of the story, so we needed the interior world to reflect what’s going on in Riley as a character, so that then meant that as we re-did the story, the entire world would change multiple times, to the point where production was telling us, “We’ve gotta lock this in,” because you’d change one thing and the islands would have to move around or we’d get rid of islands all together. We had all sorts of different schematics for the way the place would be laid out.
Rivera: You’re right. In a perfect production world, to continue the live-action analogy, we’d build the soundstage, and then you’re come and shoot the movie…
Docter: Yeah, and start rehearsals.
Rivera: But the movie was being developed and constantly changing. After a while even we said, “Okay, done. This is our set.”
Rivera: Huge things would happen. “Like what if there were no islands?” All of a sudden, we’d have to kind of exercise that and see how it worked. But more than any movie I’ve been on before here, it was cyclical.
Q: The islands are such a huge visual metaphor, and the scene of Goofball falling into the memory dump is I think emotionally harrowing in terms of how you lose pieces of your childhood personality as you get older? Was that a giant breakthrough in terms of how everything else worked?
Docter: Well, the concept of it came from watching my own daughter and watching a lot of kids really grow and change, and you always feel bad that they would give up something that’s so connected to who they are. But, the way that that became strong – we put it across in the film, and it was kinda like, “I don’t really care.” I think it was a fairly late edition of the flash cuts that you see this island go down, and Joy, and then you just cut to, and it’s inferred that it’s her remembering these events of Riley acting goofy, so you have some meaning to this thing, as it goes down. Once we had that, suddenly it stuck in your heart a little bit more. So a lot of times, it’s almost like a technique thing. “How do I make this resonate for people, because I know what I’m going for, but it’s not working yet,” you know?
Q: I loved the photo of you and your daughter sitting together. What did you enjoy most about going into the mind of a young girl, and having your daughter along to consult her on anything?
Docter: Well, the way it would work, I would just kind of observe her, as opposed to really engage her, because I don’t know that even she knew kinda what was going on in there. I know I didn’t at that age, you know? You’re just kind of experiencing it. Things happen to you, it almost feels. In fact, that’s one of the big things of growing up, I think, is realizing I have some ownership of this, you know? I am feeling angry, that doesn’t mean I have to act on it. So, it really came more from observation. A lot of the science study and research we did was helpful, not so much in the layout of the world, because like I say, the personality islands, things like core memories, we just kind of made that stuff up to support the story. There are other elements, like even weird things like at night how the short-term memories are rerouted into long term. That was something we read somewhere. That sparked this whole idea of this cool kinetic ball sculpture. They all go down once she goes to sleep. So, there’s a lot of stuff that was based on research, some stuff that was based on observation, and some stuff, we just made up.
Q: What were the little tweaks that came from your personal experiences, your crew and their experiences with their kids? The imaginary boyfriend, I think is hilarious.
Docter: Yeah, that one we took some heat for early on. People were like, “Oh, that’s so stereotypical.” But I asked my daughter, “Do you imagine boyfriends?” She’s like, “Oh yeah.” Okay, so all right, we’re on. (laughter)
Rivera: I remember we got a lot of the women together on the show and just picked their brains about first day of school or a new school, so a lot of that scene was not literally written by them, but informed by “What does that feel like?”
Docter: Or like that scene where Riley’s coming out with her food and there’s nowhere to sit. I mean, I remember that, and a lot of people have had that experience, so that was something told straight out of real life.
Rivera: One of our story artists, Valerie Lun, she just did these great little watercolor – remember those little illustrations she did?
Docter: Yeah, yeah.
Rivera: Of just little things she did with her best friend, like putting on a show or where to sit at lunch and trying on mom’s lipstick, when they were maybe too young, the little tiny vignettes. They just felt really truthful and believable. They just kind of were up in the storyroom to marinate in, and I thought that was kinda really cool.
Docter: Like lava. I remember playing lava and seeing my kids play lava. There’s something fascinating about lava.
Rivera: Lava and quicksand. Quicksand was a big thing.
Docter: John Mulaney did that joke. I could’ve sworn from being a kid that we really had to deal with quicksand more.
Rivera: It was a big deal. (laughter)
Q: Can you talk about the fact that Riley’s mother seems to be guided by sadness, while Dad seems driven by anger?
Docter: We wanted to make a story point for Joy that her time is limited, and this was stronger in an earlier version when that scene was first written, that Joy is looking down the barrel. She’s only going to be kind of running things for a little amount of time, and she’s like, “I’m not going to let that happen.” We wanted to really showcase that to the audience as well, that Joy is not running her Dad or Mom. It’s one of these other characters. We weren’t trying to say anything sort of blanket about men or women at all, but you know, I think there are people that we observe that tend to have a temperament. Everybody has a temperament. Though they might be happy, they’ll go back to being their general sullen temperament or angry. I mean, Lewis Black, man. We would be recording, and he would kinda get tired, and then he would go on a rant about the Megamall in Minnesota, and he’d be like, “All right, all right, I’m back.” So it was almost a healing, relaxing thing for him, to be angry.
Rivera: Yeah, he enjoyed it, or he’d do it subdued, “You know what really makes me mad.” (laughter)
Q: It also feels like they’re more balanced. We see the mom and the dad emotional teams together. They are in cooperation, they’re sitting together, whereas with Riley, it’s chaos. That seems like a true emotional thing that you guys did. It’s subtle. It doesn’t read as like you’re hammering it in, that’s just how they play.
Docter: Good, yeah. I mean, that was based on just the way we feel about ourselves. It does seem like as kids you’re like more wild west style and more pure, for some reason, then as adults, this nuanced kind of complex things and there’s more of that to come in the other part of the film.
Rivera: I think everything as a kid is almost an emergency. You didn’t like broccoli, food’s coming in. Everything’s on 10, you know? By the time you’re older, it’s coffee, whatever.
Docter: I was just going to mention too that it was really a gag thing to have them all wearing mustaches or the glasses, just so we’d recognize who they are and what they are. But that also kind of seems truthful, that at the beginning, you’re really wild, all over the map, and then you become kind of more a single person.
Q: We talked to a bunch of the technicians, and they all said how collaborative you guys are. Also, they seem very smart and really knowledgeable about their departments.
Docter: Oh yeah, it’s scary.
Q: How is it to work with all these really smart people and always having to be the smartest guys in the room and making the final decisions. How is it working with those people who are so knowledgeable?
Rivera: Well, first of all (to Pete) I want to hear your answer, but we’d never even attempt to be the smartest people in the room because…
Docter: We’d fail. We’d fail. (laughter)
Rivera: We’re working with all these computer scientists and you can’t out-talk Ralph Eggleston about movies or animation, and everyone’s going to know kind of more than we do. I think the key to it is really being this embarrassment of riches of talent here, and sort of, we’ve worked together for so long. Everyone’s just gotten really good at their job. Pete does a great job of not telling the Angeliques or the lighting technicians of how to do it or what to do, but why I’m after something. I’ve observed you doing that which I think is really effective in the animation or a technical step up to that.
Docter: I think that’s a good key to leadership that we both do is to not try to have all the answers ourselves, but to recognize who will, and when to bring whoever it is in. It’s almost like a casting thing, of like, you know, “If we got this person and that person, I bet we could solve this pretty quick.”
Q: It does feel like a lot of Hollywood storytelling is emotionally immature. It’s big, broad colors, and that’s it. It seems like you’re drawn to things where the entire point is emotionally complexity, and you’re trying to explore more than one idea whether it be “Up,” and how you handled that, or this. What is it that draws you to these ideas? Is it the challenge of that or is that just where you as a storyteller find the most interest?
Docter: I think it’s just kind of a gut thing. I haven’t really analyzed it. But, I know the things that even as I look at other films that I love, they’re usually not films with tons of explosions and special effects, they’re just simple films with great relationships, like “Paper Moon.” I love “Paper Moon.” It’s just one of the best films. “The Station Agent,” there’s these films where kinda nothing really happens, but you watch these characters grow and change and effect each other in deep ways, and that’s meaningful, I think, to me. If a film with lots of explosions has that, then I’m in. I think it has to have some sort of relationship in there, and emotional complexity.
For this movie, I felt like the concept from the get-go was intriguing because of two things: one, the emotions as characters, I was like, “Oh, this is right what we do in animation. We can write for these guys in ways that we can never get away with in live action.” Animation, forget what we can bring to life on the screen, I think somehow your brain forgives or you see it in a slightly different way or something, that these characters can be more broad and caricatured. So that was fun, then the world that we were going into, I was like, “Oh my gosh, if we can go see the train of thought and watch brainwashing and some of these things that didn’t end up in the film. I’m in just for the sort of high concept of it.” Then, of course, the next step was developing a deeper bed of what is it we’re talking about here? What is this movie really about? That comes slowly over the course of four years.
Rivera: I think it’s also how we think about animation, too, is that your “Paper Moon” and all these movies that we love and grew up watching, but we also love this medium. I don’t know if respect is the right word, because it implies that others don’t, but maybe they don’t, but we never have thought of it, I think even from kids, and this is why we’ve all sort of bonded here. We’ve never thought of this just for kids, even though they’re family movies and going to see “Peter Pan,” that’s what you would take your kids to, but for whatever reason, that never became a category to us. I strangely like was, before going to film school, the two films I saw that launched me into this were “Pulp Fiction” and “The Little Mermaid.” I kind of almost don’t even still, to this day, think of them as that much different. In fact, I kind of thought if you put those two in a blender, you’d get Pixar, strangely. (laughter) But they’re just movies to us that happen to be animated, and they have the elements to the things you’d see in Disney movies and family. We love that, but that, almost person to person here, I’ve found pretty consistent, whether that’s (Brad) Bird or Andrew (Stanton) or John (Lasseter) or (Pete) or someone animating on the show, so there’s something I think that’s just part of the recipe here.
Q: There’s something wonderful about the abstraction sequence being able to be pure animation, in a way that very things that you guys get to do are.
Rivera: It was kinda like “Duck Amuck,” you know, a little Chuck Jones.
Docter: Yeah, that was like, one of those, “We gotta use this, because if we don’t, when are we going to get to do this again?”
Rivera: That was pretty fun. “Oh, that could be like a ‘Pink Elephant on Parade’!”
Docter: There was some story math to be done, because I think early on, we just had it kind of happening and then they left. But, like everything, you want there to be a reason for it happening and a drive forward, so we had to come up with four stages, and then the ticking clock and the whole thing being proof that maybe Bing Bong is not the best guy to be listening to here. So that’s a story point as well.
Rivera: I just like how we need a scene to prove that maybe Bing Bong isn’t the right guy. (laughter) before that, “That’s the ticket!”
Q: Going back to the imaginary boyfriend, when you just said you got heat from that, did you get heat because it’s so collaborative here? What do you mean?
Docter: Collaboration is not always like, “Yay!” Sometimes, it’s like, “Hey, you know?” And we value that feedback from people that are like, “Why is a girl’s mind so full of male characters?” Like that kind of pushback, which is valuable. You want it to be truthful.
Rivera: Yeah, some of the women on the show are like, “Really, guys?” That was a good note, and then, “Okay, this is a fun idea.” So we would bring them in. We tried to make it so that it didn’t feel like that. We kind of made them buy off on it and I don’t know if they would’ve have, and then even Amy Poehler, we kind of pitched to her.
Docter: We did. We tested on her.
Q: When you spend a couple of years doing this, do you find yourself evolving a different relationship to your own emotional maturity? This gives you a really good lens to look at, I would think, how you deal with other people and yourself. Have you found anything changing for you?
Docter: Yeah, it does, it really does. You’re right. I mean, you start to kind of think, “Okay, why did that person actually do this. They say they’re doing it for this reason, but what does it actually that’s driving them?” They’re probably unaware of it, because a lot of us are. There’s so many different layers to things that as soon as you become aware of something, there is yet another one below it. So it’s definitely changed the way I look at people behaving, people’s behavior, my interactions with them. I grew up in Minnesota, where the model is everybody’s nice and everything’s pleasant and you don’t say anything bad or negative, and not that I’m looking for any negativity, but I’m less scared of some negative stuff happening. Like if we get mad at each other, that used to really kind of freak me out. Now, I recognize, well, that’s healthy. It is what we do and it’s everybody defending their own sense of what’s fair and so on, so it’s really been helpful for me.
Rivera: My sort of hook into it is I’m a nostalgist. I love things from the past and I always feel like, “Oh, if I could, I’d go back in time.” There’s something about this movie and about memories and honoring that. But you know facing the fact that you can’t always be eight years old. There’s something about going through the process of this movie that has helped that. Again, we don’t want to do something preachy at all, too messy, but just going through and experiencing that much time and literally…
Docter: Value it.
Rivera: Just the time. I mean, Alysa my assistant, there’s a picture I have of her in front of one of these calendars of Pete holding the first calendar we made of the film and she’s pregnant. I have a picture of her, she did the scratch voice for Joy, holding her four-year-old daughter’s hand in front of the mic. Oh my God, our lives have, we have spent a huge hunk of our life on this thing.
Docter: She didn’t exist at the beginning of this film.
Q: You guys talk a lot about the research that you did before, the neuroscience part of it. Did you get into the psychology of it? Was there Freud that you went and read and looked into? How did that play into it?
Docter: Yeah, I tried. It was too much for me. (laughs) But you know, some of it, the point at which we stopped, the film for you yesterday, they go into the subconscious, which I think we’re treating a little bit more like the pop common, what would you call it? It’s not really truthful Freudian but…
Rivera: It’s the “Haunted House” version of it.
Docter: Yeah, the funny kind of version of it. But yeah, we tried to read some Jung and things as well, just to understand, because that’s really what we’re talking about here is the mind, not the brain.
Q: And you’re using the subconscious as the hero going into the underworld kind of a thing?
Docter: Right. Yeah, to some degree, although, it’s not really her transformation scene. That comes later. Like the scene where she really pivots and turns.
Rivera: It is a gate.
Docter: It is. It is.
Q: One of the things that’s been interesting is that Bing Bong does not exist in the marketing for this film. He’s been very carefully kept out. Obviously, that was an intentional choice. Was that because contextually, he is very different than he appears at first glance?
Docter: Yeah, well, some of it’s that, and then, a lot of it has to do with we want to measure out the surprises so we’re not like everything at once.
Rivera: We love Bing Bong and I think he’s going to be one of the great surprises. To me he’s like our Tigger, but I think out of context, when you set these guys up as emotions, everyone gets that. When you set up an imaginary friend, and I don’t know, I always see it really weird, maybe like a baby movie or something, if you just saw him…
Docter: Or will it be confusing? Is he supposed to be one of the emotions?
Rivera: But I think in the envelope of the movie, and maybe as we get closer to release, we’ll start kinda sneaking him out there, but it’s also just fun to have something to save.
Docter: Little more nuggets.
Rivera: I mean, if we were in charge of marketing, we’d show you nothing but our logo. Pixar and the smart people at Disney marketing would be like, “No, no, you gotta show more than that.”
Q: Obviously we haven’t seen the whole movie, but there was a certain point towards the end where it became clear that part of the arc is a different understanding of what sadness’ role is. How early in the story process did that come to you guys?
Docter: Cool. Yeah, to me, that’s like the meat of it. That’s the juice. The first session story kind of offset we had, we came up with that sort of this sort of theme, which I won’t get into, because it’ll give stuff away. We set out to make that, and we struggled with it. Like I was mentioning, it wasn’t until the third screening in, that we figured out the right way to unlock that message. But we knew that it was going to be important for the story from pretty much the beginning.
Rivera: Right. We even tried other, you know, even pairing Joy up with Fear. What was the right key emotion as you go through junior high and it sort of came back to sadness. It felt a little more truthful.
Docter: I think ultimately it’s something that we can all relate to. We all want happiness in our life. I mean, there’s so many books on how to be happy and what you need for happiness, and you want that for your kid, too. You want your kid to be happy. We literally tell our kids, “Don’t be sad.”
Rivera: Command them. “Don’t.”
Docter: Yet, there is a real value to all the other emotions that is part of the richness of life, and it’s not until you really recognize that, that I think you really have the ability to connect with the world in a deeper way.
Rivera: For me, that was the simplified bullet point of what came out of all the research, was just the simple fact that (the emotions) had to have jobs. Like there’s a reason you have each one. If you buy that, then they’re all trying to do a good job and they’re all kind of a little bit self-competitive and they all sort of see what’s best, including Joy. It sort of feels like, maybe it’s just me, how I am as a parent. Like, I kind of know what’s best, but we don’t really all the time. We have to partner with others and your kids. I don’t know. That just felt like it led to…
Docter: Yeah, the ups and downs of life and the things that hurt. You know, you fall and scrape your knee, those are things that are going to ultimately really shape you and make you into a richer, more rounded person.
Rivera: I love that thing in the research, and we literally wrote this into the movie, with Disgust, because Disgust felt a little abstract, and she was a little harder to pinpoint. But no, there is a physical reason all the way back to Darwin of that face. It’s to prevent you from being poisoned because you eat something, a baby will spit it out. Then, that translates into when you’re older, disgust prevents you from being poisoned socially, so that you don’t miss some social cue and go like I did into the eighth grade with my Star Wars men ready to play, and have John Spasco go “Dude, you still play with those?”
Docter: Yeah, and the girls were going, “Ew.”
Rivera: Oh sh*t, I missed that social cue, right? So, that was fascinating. Oh, that’s an important job, they’re all going to work really hard to do their job. That just feels like cool for us.
Docter: Yeah, and with Sadness specifically. In America, you read about people medicating to avoid Sadness. They don’t want to experience sadness, and yet, it’s such a vital part of being human.
Rivera: Yeah, physical pain and emotional. I read this thing where a baseball player couldn’t swing the bat, and so, he got cortisone shots in his elbow, and he was swinging the bat. The sports doctor was like, “Well, the pain’s still there, you just can’t feel it. There’s a reason why you can’t swing the bat.
Docter: Yeah, it’s your body telling you, “Relax.”
Rivera: Oh, that’s interesting. It’s sort of how we treat sadness, right?
We’ll have more of our visit to Pixar to share as it gets closer to the release of Inside Out on June 19, and we’re looking forward to seeing the rest of the movie in a few short weeks at CinemaCon!