From Pixar Animation: Inside Out Producer Jonas Rivera

In case you missed some of our earlier coverage of visiting Pixar Animation back in April, we did get a chance to sit down with director Peter Docter and Jonas Rivera to talk about the mechanics of making their new movie, Inside Out. Later on, we talked with producer Jonas Rivera a little more in-depth about the origins and logistics of Inside Out. As Pete Docter’s long-time producer, Rivera has been there every step of the way, having started on this right after finishing up the long promotion schedule for their previous film Up, which was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, winning for Animated Feature and Michael Giacchino’s score. I can’t remember how long it’s been since “Up” but it feels like this has been a longer production and I understand you’ve had a smaller crew than normal. Was that an important decision that was made from the start?

Jonas Rivera: In a perfect world, yeah, you want the smallest crew you can, because it’s more efficient. People can do more of the movie. Ours is a little smaller. It wasn’t terribly smaller. I should have the numbers in front of me in my head, but yeah, we were a little bit smaller. That’s Pete’s wish, to give animators specifically bigger chunks of the movie. I think because of the airspace we were in, especially with “Dinosaur” moved out, we had a little bit more… not time, it wasn’t luxurious at all. We had to get out of the way of that film and our brick wall stayed the same, but we were able to get some footage in earlier and give it a little bit more time, which was kind of nice for once.

CS: How long after “Up” did you get started on this? I remember you were out promoting that for almost a year.

Rivera: We were finished with “Up” which came out in May of ’09, and gosh, we were pitching this at the end of ’09, early ’10, to John (Lasseter) in a very conceptual state. That’s kind of when he was like “Yeah, let’s get working on that.” So yeah, it’s been five years.

CS: Was it a lot easier to pitch this to John than “Up” since that was so successful? Or was it basically the same process?

Rivera: It’s still the same process. “Up” was a hard movie to pitch on one-hand, but John got it emotionally very early on. The minute you can get John Lasseter than he does the heavy lifting for you with the studio, but we pitched this to John and it was a big enough idea that he sat forward and liked it. We pitched it to Bob Eiger and the studio heads at the time and I think similar to John, they saw the potential in it. We said that if we do our job right that “this is our Seven Dwarves and we think this is a big world that everyone’s thought about but no one’s really seen and that’s a great opportunity. Trust us. We’re going to try to crack a story.” But they were on board. It was really great, they were very supportive.

CS: I remember first hearing about it, I think at CinemaCon ’11 where John announced that we were going to go inside the mind and that’s all we knew about it with a picture of a girl’s head.

Rivera: Yeah, I remember that drawing. We were proud of that idea but we were back here sweating like “How do we dramatize this? How do we make a motion picture out of it?” Which took time.

inside outCS: I understand that the dinner scene was pivotal to cracking it and that’s been key to the marketing so far with the scene being shown at D23 and other places.

Rivera: It worked on a couple levels: One, it really explained the concept well. Two, it’s pretty funny, so I think it alleviated any fear that this might be too esoteric or too scientific. It’s fun. I liked it personally because Joy is not in it, our main character is not in it, so we were able to put it out there and not give away too much and hold some of the visual surprise for later. I think it kind of checked off the right boxes, just organically.

CS: You were talking earlier about the marketing and working with Disney and I have to imagine that while you’re working on this, people coming in and saying “Oh, yeah, that’s something we can use.”

Rivera: Yeah, I said that and we partner with them in almost every detail. Disney is so good at it. They’re so big, they have so much coverage that just to be honest, we tend to be purists here, never wanting to give anything away in posters. We’ve just sort of learned to trust how they’re going to handle it, but what we do with the marketing is kind of treat it like we treat the department on the film. We give them every reason and explain why we’re making the movie and while we feel passionate about it in hopes that that infuses how they choose to sell it or present it and put it forth.

CS: I think at the time, “Up” might have seemed like a difficult movie to sell, but it turned out to be quite accessible, and this one seems to be even moreso. I think adults will get it because they experience emotions, they understand them, but will kids just watch it and go, “Oh, look at the funny characters on screen?” How much of that stuff gets through to the kids?

Rivera: I think what’s going to get through to the kids… I’m not too worried about it. I think you’re right. I don’t think that kids are going to follow all the nuances and the emotion that we mined out of it, and understand some of that and I don’t expect them to, but I do think they’re going to get it mechanically and the operation. My kid already talks about it, because I’ve shown it to my kids, she says, “Oh, anger is driving, I know that” and that’s justifying some bad behavior and they get the humor and they get how it works and how memories work and they’ve talked about that. Like, “I can’t remember something. The forgetters threw it out.” She’s six and they track it and they get personalities and they were drawing what their personality islands could be, but that’s just my kids. We’ve tested a little bit and I’ve heard the same thing. I think some parents do worry. “Oh, it’s too much emotional depth and I don’t know if our kids are going to track this.” But I think that’s okay. I don’t think kids tracked the emotional arc or depth of “Up” either, but they liked the dogs and the bird was heard and they felt for Russell. We try to have it run on two lanes, so that kids could enjoy it. I think I saw “Bambi” very differently when I was 10 then I do now. I think that’s okay.

CS: It’s interesting that you mentioned your daughter’s reaction, because I do think kids might watch this and understand their feelings more. It’s a pretty huge breakthrough that parents might be thanking you for your rest of your lives.

Rivera: It could be and I hope they do.

Inside Out

CS: You also have avoided the easy laughs. In animation, there are certain things will always laugh at including pratfalls and bathroom humor, but you seem to consciously avoid some of that in this.

Rivera: We do try to avoid that. We want the movies to be funny, but we want them to be authentically funny. Character-driven and situationally-based comedies are great, but we had a great ensemble cast here that are just naturally funny. Amy (Poehler) says things that are funny even though they’re not gags, and to us, that was more important, that was richer and a little more authentic to us, that’s kind of where we took it.

CS: Did you have the voice actors involved very early on?

Rivera: Yeah, we did. We didn’t really bring them in too early. Amy was even last because we struggled with Joy for a long time on actually how to thread the needle on what she should be. But Bill Hader was first and he’s an amazing actor and a character actor and he’s a great writer and he knows a ton about movies, so he actually came to us and sat with us in story and he would workshop and do a lot of voices for us. He would do Sadness, because he’s so good and he’s so funny, so he did help shape some scenes and some of the characters.

CS: Is that very common for you guys to have outsiders involved?

Rivera: No, actually it’s not. He writes a lot for “South Park” and those guys, so we just tapped it and it was great. I’m glad we did.

CS: Do you see any potential in doing more with these characters?

Rivera: You mean as a sequel or something? I think the world is big enough. There’s sort of enough of a concept there that you could go into other people’s heads. Pete and I don’t necessarily think that way.

CS: I remember that with “Monsters, Inc.” it was a long time before someone had an idea of what to do with another movie.

Rivera: Yeah, right. We’re never against it, but to be totally honest, I doubt Pete’s going to wake up and say, “Let’s do another one,” but there are other ideas that could totally fit into this.

Inside Out opens nationwide on Friday, June 19. Look for lots more from the creators and cast in the coming week.