I attended 5 excellent classes taught by the top Pixar “Professors” while on the #MonstersUEvent press trip. All travel expenses were covered but no compensation was received. All thoughts, opinions, and notes are my own.
When I was in college (the first time around) I was known to my professors as a top-notch note-taker. I was often asked to share my notes with other students and even with the instructors so they could gauge what the class was “getting” out of the lectures. While my note-taking skills may be a little rusty after (ahem) a few years post-college, I figured that someone out there may be able to glean a few interesting facts or helpful tidbits from my first day of classes at Monsters University.
After sitting in classes for several hours, I was definitely able to narrow down my Monsters University focus. I many have a strong scream (and could probably do very well in the School of Scaring) but I think my heart is in writing, as confirmed in my first class, English 101. Here’s a sneak peek at my day:
ENGLISH 101: How to Tell a Great Story
Instructor: Kelsey Mann (Story Supervisor)
Our classroom of bloggers certainly sympathized with our MU professor when she said that a blank, empty canvas is a scary thing. Instead of staring at white, when the story supervisor and writers meet together to start work on a new project, they get something down on paper and start building from there.
At Pixar, there is a lot of talking and throwing around ideas. They start talking until something feels right, then write down thoughts and keep changing and adding to those thoughts. Writers take the notes they get from brainstorming sessions and break away to write pages and pages of additional ideas that build on what they thought of together.
The coolest part of this process is that they rarely have to “fight” to implement their own ideas because they best ideas always rise to the top and in the end everyone tends to agree–this was the way it was supposed to be.
As a writer myself, coming up with fresh and interesting ideas is the hardest part of my job. Give me a tightly defined topic and I can almost always whip something up. After attending this class, I am convinced that what I need to make my blog more successful is a team of Pixar story tellers to brainstorm with me once a week. I’d even settle for once a month.
SOCIOLOGY 203: The Deconstruction of a Character
Instructors: Ricky Nierva (Production Designer), Jason Deamer (Character Art Director) & Daniela Strijleva (Character Designer)
We already know Mike and Sulley well….as “grown up” Monsters, Inc. employees. But how do you make a grown monster look younger? I loved the answer that our Sociology teachers gave: pull out all of the animators’ college pictures and study! What they discovered is that across the board everyone was skinnier in college. But simply making Mike and Sulley skinnier didn’t cut it. In addition to slimming down, the returning monsters were also given a “visual hook” – that one visual cue that sets the older and younger characters apart at a single glance.
- Mike Wazowski: The younger Mike is more gangly, his skin is more translucent, his horns are smaller….but the biggest difference is that he has a retainer.
- James P. Sullivan (Sulley): The younger Sulley is skinnier, wears a Monsters University jacket almost everywhere, and (that visual hook) has a faux hawk.
- Randall (Randy): Instead of slimming down, Randy actually got a little bit of plump, so his legs look like they have a little bit of baby fat. The biggest difference, though? Randy wears glasses.
Fur development was a big deal with the new movie (technology has advanced so much in the last few years!). And since many college students are not into personal up-keep and grooming, the enhanced hair animation shows off the college kids’ lack of grooming with their messy tufts of hair. Believe me, you’ll be able to see a difference!
One of my fellow students asked specifically about the devlopment of one of Monsters University’s new characters, Dean Hardscrabble. We learned that the animators had initially planned on Dean Hardscrabble being male, but in a last minute change, the Dean was transformed into a female version (based on a very lethal giant venomous centipede, by the way!). The question was concerning the scariness level of Dean Hardscrabble. How hard is it to make a scary monster that is scaled back enough to keep the movie kid-friendly?
The animators commented that although she is based on a very scary creature, Dean Hardscrabble’s elegance and reserved personality scale her scariness factor back a bit. While she certainly demands respect (from the students at MU and from the viewers) and can pull out the scare tactics out on the spot, she doesn’t inspire nightmares just by looking at her.
PS – Did you know that every single monster created for each of the Monsters movies has a name in the Pixar database, even if they are never named in the movie?
ANTHROPOLOGY 152: Monsterizing the World
Instructors: Dice Tsutsumi (Shading/Lighting Art Director) & Robert Kondo (Sets Art Director)
Anthropology was such a cool class! To get our class started, out professors asked the question, “What makes a building monstery?” In studying the architecture of Monsters University, there were so many more aspects to the campus structures than one might catch at first glance. In a University filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes, the issue of scale was one of the first things the animators considered. How do you make buildings accomodate small monsters like Mike and giant monsters at the same time? What about flying monsters or monsters that live underwater?
A few special touches throughout the MU campus include: doors, stairs, drinking fountains, and more have difference levels (this of the kiddy doors built in to the bottom of an adult-size door). The aviation school and aquatic school both are built to accomodate flying and underwater monsters.
Pipes are seen throughout the movie (remember that the monster world is powered by scream energy).
One of the fun touches that I noticed during the preview that we saw of the movie was statue in front of the scare school. Monsters University has been around for a long time–generations of monsters have come before Mike and Sulley’s class, and that’s evident in the front paw of the monster statue at the entrance of the scare school. It’s tradition for entering freshmen to rub the paw of the statue as they head to class on the first day, and the paw is polished from all of the rubbing!
DRAMATIC ARTS: Bringing a Character to Life
Instructor: Scott Clark (Supervising Animator)
The animation process is kind of like a dance–different animators are working on different characters, and somehow they get each of the characters to come together. In this class we were able to watch the evolution of the dance party scene–how they decided how Sulley should dance (we had some fun live demonstrations) and how he should interact with the difference characters on the dance floor. It was fascinating to watch the scene emerge from rough computer “sketches” to a finished and polished scene, ready for the movie.
PHYSICS 250: Global Illumination
Instructors: Jean-Claude (JC) Kalache (DP-Lighting), Sanjay Bakshi (Supervising Technical Director) & Christine Waggoner (Simulation Supervisor)
After talking with the Physics professors at MU, I was thoroughly impressed, and I admit my head was swimming just a bit. Did you know that Pixar doubled its render farm to make Monsters University? Over 400 new characters were build for Monsters U. On average, there are 24 characters per shot in Monsters University (the average Pixar film has about 10 characters per shot). What do all these numbers and stats mean? Basically, this all tells us that Monsters University is more complex on the animating front. There is a lot going on in each scene!
Interesting Physics facts (averages):
- Limbs per character: 6.2
- Horns per character: 5.4
- Eyes per character: 3.7
Comparing Monsters Inc. with Monsters University, MI had a “one hairy character per scene” rule versus MU’s 25% (ie, in Monsters University, about 25% of the characters have simulated hair).
In Monsters University, a significant amount of the animation is simulated. What is simulation? Simulation is motion calculated by software that is too complex to be animated by hand. This includes folds in clothing, pages in a book, leaves on trees, bedding, and of course hairs. Putting Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University side by side, it’s obvious how far animation (and specifically simulation) has come!
I attended the #MonstersUEvent press trip during the month of April. All travel expenses were covered but no compensation was received. All thoughts, opinions, and notes are my own. Photos included in this post were taken by the official Pixar MU photographer. Used with permission.
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