Monsters University, the new animated film from Disney’s Pixar division that debuts on June 21, will serve as light summer entertainment for most audiences. But the light-hearted, character-driven film is also a technological marvel, like most computer-generated movies that are years in the making.
It’s about 12 years since Monsters Inc. debuted in 2001. Animated movies can take a long time to make, but they’ve been a gold mine for movie makers and come with huge budgets that enable them to be forerunners in technological progress.
Last year’s Brave, which generated more than $535 million at the box office worldwide, took more than six years to make on a $185 million budget. But Kori Rae, producer of Monsters University, said in an interview that her team of 270 people pulled together early in creating its story, which is a prequel to the first film. And that’s why the movie took a “short” four years to make.
Technology is nothing more than a “big fat pencil” for animating a film and telling a story, the Pixar gang says. But the marriage of technology and art at the digital animation studio in Emeryville, Calif., goes to the very heart of the company and its efforts to entertain us. We took a tour of Pixar’s headquarters and sat down with the filmmakers, who over the course of a day and a half unmasked the technological process behind the making of the movie.
For sure, Pixar is always at its best when it focuses on story and characters. When you’re spending well over $100 million and putting hundreds of people to work for years, you have to have a solid foundation. Technology isn’t the driver of the films. It only makes it possible for the creators to do their work, said Dan Scanlon director of the movie, in a group interview.
In this film, the characters Mike (green) and Sully (big blue monster) return. Sully was the main character of the first film and Mike was his chatty sidekick. But in the prequel, the story is all about Mike and his lifelong dream of being a “scarer,” a monster who scares kids in their dreams, and his entry into college.
He meets Sully, who at age 18 is really no more than an obnoxious frat boy, and they come of age in their attempts to make it at Scare School. Pixar showed the press the first 40 minutes of the film, and it seems like any other animated film. You pay attention to the story and characters, and only later do you consciously, if at all, think about the technology behind them. Our story will delve more into that technology to show how modern filmmaking has evolved.