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Pixar 101: The Making of ‘Monsters University’

Disney-Pixar

How does Pixar do it? The animation studio has an almost pristine track record with their films and has become one of the most trusted brands in all of film. With another film on the way this summer – the ‘Monsters Inc.’ sequel ‘Monsters University’ – we set off for Pixar’s Emeryville campus to peek inside the hallowed walls, talk to the creators and find out a literal answer to that question. How does Pixar do it?

Here on the Pixar campus it looks as if you’re inside a Pixar movie. The weather is beautiful, the skies are clear and a deep, rich blue and the grass looks as if someone drew each individual leaf with a bright green marker. There’s a outdoor swimming pool. How do you get there? Make a left at the basketball and beach volleyball courts. Have we mentioned the cereal bar? There’s a cereal bar.

It’s bucolic and exactly what you would think working at Pixar would be like.

But upstairs in the offices are people working long, hard hours. Animators and writers and technicians who scoff at the notion of having time to use the swimming pool. It’s a fun job, to be sure, but it’s still a job and one the Pixar staff take very, very seriously. The ‘Monsters University’ crew has spent the better part of four years – back in 2008 when the idea of a sequel was first floated in a brainstorming meeting with John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter and others – making sure all 90 minutes of this movie were perfect.

There would be things the lighting department would show us that – if we’re being honest – made our heads spin. Details in the building architecture on the Monsters U. campus that we didn’t even realize. Designs on over 200 characters that most people will never notice walking around in the background.

Monsters University GIF
Design Progression: From a pencil sketch to painting to the final animated product.

And we haven’t even started talking yet about the story. The one thing, stressed over and over again, that is by far the most important thing at Pixar.

At this point, we take for granted the Pixar movie. A new film comes every year, it’s invariably great, makes lots of money and, more often than not, wins an Academy Award. But as watched them work, we saw all the talent – both artistically and intellectually – that goes into every film they make.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be bringing you a series of updates on ‘Monsters University’ from our time spent with the character designers, art directors, technical directors, animators, writers, producers and director inside the Pixar offices. Welcome to Pixar 101.

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