Q & A with the makers of ‘Monsters University’
The Daily Sundial participated in a press conference call with the creators of Disney’s “Monsters University.” The movie is a prequel to the 2001 blockbuster Monsters Inc., director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae gave insight to the challenges they faced while creating the film. One of those challenges was creating an authentic college environment without scaring off movie-going families.
DS: How did the idea of a prequel to Monsters Inc. come about?
Dan Scanlon: Well early on we loved the characters of Mike and Sulley and we loved the relationship of Mike and Sulley and we always wanted to do something with them again and we kind of got together and talked about what that might be. And as I said before we love the relationship. And that’s where we started thinking about how these guys met. And learning a little bit more about that. Which led naturally to the college idea, and we loved the idea of doing something in a university.
And just the opportunity for sort of fun monster antics that could come out of that [LAUGHTER] and, uh, and that led us to the story of Mike, um, and that, that sort of feeling, uh, the difficulty when you arrive at college thinking you’re the best of the best. And then you- you come up against some pretty stiff competition. And, and so that- that was really the, the, the germ of the idea and the idea behind doing something that took place before, rather than after.
DS: Why a university? Did you hope to appeal to an older audience with this choice?
S: I think we just knew that we wanted the characters to be somewhat familiar adults. We wanted this to be a story about how they became friends and so we wanted to make sure that we could just tell a more, well say for example if we went back too far, and did Monsters Elementary… We didn’t feel like that would be the Mike and Sulley that we remember and love.
Kori Rae: And we, I think we thought that, you know, the- that it’s kind of a coming of age,that age between eighteen and twenty-two is, is so crucial in all of our lives, whether you went to college or not. And so we just think, you know, that’s kind of where you first are out on your own, you just figure out who you are, who you want to be. You can reinvent yourself, all of that kinda stuff, and so that, that was also really appealing I think. Kind of choosing that age group and that time that’s so important in all of our lives.
DS: How did you go about presenting a realistic relatable view of college while staying family friendly?
S: What are you talking about? What’s going on in college? [laughter] Yeah you know, I mean the- uh, we yes. We had to be careful about it, the good thing is we were able to get a lot of wild fun behavior that still reads as sort of fun party college, but is probably no different than the wild crazy stuff that goes on in an eight-year-old birthday party with knocking over tables and eating too much food and smashing things and screaming. So yeah, it was a, it was a challenge but luckily there, you know, they’re monsters so they can do pretty well.
KR: Yeah, right.
DS: What was the creative process in crafting the prequel version of the characters?
S: You know, we had to make them look younger so our art department did a really good job trying to study, you know, how do you make an eyeball look younger and mainly, you know, we started to notice that thinning them up really helped. We were all a little thinner in college.
S: As you will find out as you get a little [older], move on, reality that is your weight. We made the characters much, uh, thinner and brighter in color.
And you know, Sulley is- in my eyes, is a top scarer, so he’s more muscular and- and big and so we, we sort of thinned him up a bit.
KR: But it was a,it was important that we, that they were recognizable, you know, so we, we had parameters that we wanted to make sure that we kept- we didn’t want to do anything too crazy because they still needed to look like Mike and Sulley and be recognized as Mike and Sulley without a whole lot of changes.
S: Yes, absolutely.
DS: What were some inspirations for the personalities and looks of other characters in the film?
S: Yeah, I think we wanted to make sure that since we were doing a university movie that we had sort of the great university, uh, archetypes-
S: And characters that felt like people that we went to school with or- or certainly reminded us of, of people we went to school with. We have, uh, new characters in the film called the, that are part of a fraternity called the Oozma Kappa fraternity. And they’re kind of a less popular fraternity of, of scarers that didn’t quite
They were kind of scare rejects, if you will. They didn’t get into the scaring program. And, uh, you know, we have,we have a character, a, a Scott Squishy Squibbles, who is kinda your classic eighteen year old college student that hasn’t decided what they want to be. They show up at school unaware of what exactly they want to become and then they’re sort of a ball of clay waiting to be molded and then in his case, he’s literally a mushy tiny ball of amorphous clay.
We have a character Art, who we always think of as sort of just that weird guy at college that you don’t know anything about, who’s, who’s sort of mysterious and you don’t know anything about his family or where he comes from and we’ve had a lot of fun with him just because we, we don’t know much about him.
KR: Right. Right.
S: But, uh, but yeah, those are some of the, some of the new characters.
DS: When Monsters Inc was first released, the animation to create Sulley’s hair was the revolutionary focus. Are there new techniques that were made specifically for Monsters University?
KR: I think, I mean the- one thing, I mean we were even looking at a piece this morning that was kind of talking about the difference in hair simulation from Monsters Inc to Monsters University. And it is uncanny.
Kind of how we’re using the same, similar technology that we’ve built on since Monsters Inc. But what we can do now is, pretty staggering.
S: And also with lighting. We have a sort of a new system of lighting our, our movies, which has been great. We love it, it’s just it created a much richer look to the film than what we’ve had before and so we’re very excited about that.
DS: What research went into creating this, to make the university aspect feel relatable and familiar?
KR: Yeah we had to go visit schools.
S: We went back to college and we you know, a lot of us went to art school, which is apparently nothing like real college [LAUGHTER]. And so we, we wanted to just walk around and soak it up and- and see, you know, the buildings and the fraternities and sororities and just kind of get our heads set back into the college student headset. Uh, mindset. But we went everywhere. We went in snow storms and all that. It was great.
It was a really good opportunity and the artists came and actually drew buildings and drew sort of campuses and in the end, put them all together to create a campus that although it’s original to Monsters University, hopefully it feels familiar to everyone. I would hope that everyone kind of feels like, hey, that’s my school.
DS: How difficult was it to get the original voices back for this and to make it seem like they were younger?
S: No it was great getting everybody back.
KR: Yeah Billy and John definitely were, I mean they were super excited about the movie and Billy in fact I think had been waiting and waiting for some other installment of Monsters Inc. He loves this character Mike Wazowski so much. And so he was thrilled to come back. But in terms of youngifying them, I don’t think I mean-
S: No, I mean, I think they were just more energetic.
KR: Did a little more yelling maybe.
S: Yeah a lot more yelling a lot more- to their dismay, but, just kind of, it was really more in the way the characters were written but the guys definitely had to sort of find a new take on the character that was still familiar, but felt a little- a little younger. But I think it was more in the energy. And then amazingly the animation helps that illusion as well. These characters look younger, they move,you know, younger and it’s amazing how the two go together in a really nice way.
DS: What would you like audience members specifically college students to take away from this film?
S: We want it to be a really fun college movie, but we also want to touch something in people emotionallywith our films. We feel like this film is very much about what happens when let go of the thing that you think you absolutely have to be to be happy in order to find out who you truly are.
And I think that’s definitely something I experienced in college that, that feeling of realizing this is going to be a lot harder than I thought. Or maybe I’m not the person that I thought I was. And rather than giving up completely, really finding out who you are, that sense of self discovery.
KR: Yeah exactly, self discovery and and friendship and what that means as you go along that path of figuring out who you are and how important friendship is.