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‘Inside Out’: Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera Talk Pixar’s Emotional Movie Event
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Inside Out

Last night, Geeks Of Doom was given the opportunity to see a very early look at Pixar’s Inside Out, at the YouTube Space in Los Angeles, CA. Director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera reunite after having worked together on the Oscar-winning film Up for what is being described as a “major emotion picture.” What makes Pixar’s latest film so special is that it takes place within the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl, with her emotions starring as the main characters, and providing a point of view for the audience. It gives us an inside look inside the mind of a person.

We learned a few things from the event, like the character of Riley is actually based off Docter’s daughter; the research process of finding the right emotions to represent the human characters; the casting process, and a lot more. Check out what we learned from the event here below.

From Pitch To Final Cut

Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera were approached to team up once again for another project after the success of Up. “You always want to do something new. You always want to bring people some where they haven’t been. Do something you haven’t seen,” said Rivera, “If you pitch something they don’t grab onto, then they don’t engage.” So the challenge was to bring something the audience can relate to but no one had ever seen before.

The idea of Inside Out was inspired by Pete Docter’s daughter, who started to do voice acting around 9 when she was the voice of young Elle in Up. He says that in a lot of ways his daughter was a lot like Elle, who was full of energy and talking to people, etc. But when she turned 11, there was a shift in emotion and attitude, which left Docter wondering what happened to that childhood joy. So that’s what lead to the five year creative process of making Inside Out, answering the tough questions about our emotions and why we remember certain things like songs stuck in out heads and dreams. Overall the film is based on a strong emotional experience that Docter had with growing up.

The five year process from start to finish consists of a concept, treatment, script approval – where storyboard artists are brought in to visualize the story. Dialogue and sound effects crew are also brought in so that they can cut it all together for a test screening. Test screenings are held every three to four months, in between each screening the story is constantly being rewritten and would be reevaluated at the next screening. This process is repeated until the first sequence approval. Should they reach that point, they should be at the third and fourth year where they can finally move on to production. By year five, they should have the film completed.

The Research Process

Though the characters interact in Riley’s head, the brain is not the actual setting. The film is set in the mind. So there will be no blood vessels or dendrites. To visualize this, Docter and Rivera talked to physiologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists. But all had varying answers to the most basic questions like how many emotions are there. Numbers would range from 0 to 27.

It was until they talked to Dr. Paul Ekman who told them about the basic theory that there were six emotions: happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger, and disgust. Working as an animator, Docter thought that surprise and fear were similar, which is why we see five in the film.

Emotions like Love were considered, but based on their research Dr. Ekman told them that love was more of a “state of being.” According to him, these emotions have a job, that there reason we have these emotions.

The Casting Process

Based on their research for the film, Dr. Ekman told Docter and Rivera that Anger keeps things fair, and is a big motivator in social justice, which is why Lewis Black was chosen for the role.

Fear would be something that would prevent you from taking unnecessary risks and keep you safe. So if a dog bit you as a kid, you would remember that later on. Basically self preservation. Bill Hader is the voice of Fear.

Disgust was to protect us from something poisonous/gross. So if a baby didn’t like the food, they would spit it out and make the disgust face, which then evolved into social disgust like “that’s a gross outfit.” Voice star Mindy Kaling wasn’t sure if she was right for the role of Disgust, but when she found out it was the emotion and not being physically disgusting she accepted.

Sadness is generally attributed to negativity, most of us don’t want to feel sad, so for Docter and Rivera they made it a point that none of the characters understood sadness. Sadness is voiced by Phyllis Smith.

Riley is mostly happy because her lead emotion is Joy, who is voiced by Amy Pohler.

This is what excited Docter the most, because these characters were strong, opinionated, and caricatures of personalities, which is what animations does really well.

Depending on the character writing, casting was both easy and difficult. Black came to mind when pitching the film, but Amy as Joy was a bit more difficult, not in terms of casting, but just to find the character. Once they found her, the whole character came to life.

The Creative Process

Index cards and white boards help with the writing process, but so does drawing, white boarding, and carding. The reworking of the story takes many years, and according to Docter writing a story is a process that is “never finished.” But once they feel confident in their script, they send it off to the story team, whose job it is to translate the script into visuals.

When everything is cut together with the dialogue and music for first attempt, it helps give them an approximation of what the film is going to be. So a lot of communication is held to fix some of the problems. There is also drawing, rewriting, etc. At times the team can work on a single sequence three to four times. There are a total of 27 sequences in the film.

John Lasseter, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, and the rest Pixar Brain Trust attend these screenings, and would provide necessary feedback in order to perfect the story. Some ideas are great, others stink. Some would be the right solution, but its for the wrong problem or vice-versa.

They take these notes, rewrite the story, recut, rework, and repeat the process all over again. So each one of the cycles takes three to four months, which is done about seven or eight times on every film.

Bill Hader and Amy Pohler also helped in the writing process.

The Art Department

Because the film has no point of reference like the ocean in Finding Nemo or roads like Cars, it was hard to visualize Inside Out because they didn’t want to make it look like Innerspace (Joe Dante’s 1987 science fiction comedy that saw Martin Short’s character shrunk and injected into the body of Navy test pilot, played by Dennis Quaid).

When first conceptualized, the emotions were represented by shapes: Joy was a star – beautiful and always shining; Sadness was the shape and color of teardrop; Anger was represented by a red brick; Disgust was a bit difficult, but the simplest shape to describe was a triangle which apparently represented a stalk of broccoli; Finally, fear was a raw nerve, or a squiggly line.

The characters are designed to look like how the emotions feel. So instead of that fleshy textures, they are glowing with energy. So for Joy, she is illuminating, like a light.

From there they fully sculpt the characters so that they have a rough idea of what they will look like in the film. But even from this point to the final product the look and feel of the characters can change.

When it comes to the scale of Riley’s mind, Rivera wondered what the geography of it will be like. The goal of the geography was to give an audience only 25% of an idea of what it looked it, and that you couldn’t apply a scale to it.


Animation is done over at Pixar in Emeryville, CA. Most of the recording process is done at Stage B in Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. Stage B is where films like The Jungle Book and Wreck-It Ralph were recorded. The ADR for Mary Poppins was done there also.

Since Riley’s mind is an entirely different landscape from the real world settings, a whole new camera language had to be set up with different lens choices and more.

In preparation to work with the actors, Docter would read the script over and over and over, and then ask himself, “How could this be misinterpreted?” So he would write down a descriptive action line for the actors. The common trap people fall into is when you have the actor focus on a certain word or inflection. So instead, he would give them a job like convincing, punishing, seducing, whatever the action line is that would help them get unstuck from a line that may not be working. Basically, Docter works on making the actors think words are feelings and not just words.

Story Bits

Minor spoilers follow

In the film, Riley is a character, but she isn’t the protagonist, she is the setting. The main characters of the film are Riley’s emotions: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger.

Each emotional character introduction correlates to the aforementioned job of an emotion. Disgust “protects us from poison,” anger keeps things fair and helps us formulate “social justice,” while fear “protects us from taking unnecessary risks.”

Though there are a lot of memories our characters have to sift through, the core memories are the most important. Each one came from an important time in Riley’s life. Each core memory will power a different aspect of Riley’s personality from her love of hockey and friends, to honesty and family.

However, her move from the Midwest to San Fransisco will cause her to have a huge shift in emotions.

Inside Out opens in theaters on June 19, 2015.

We also have a couple of images from last night’s event, which you can see in the Image Gallery here below.

Image Gallery

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