Have you ever wondered what’s going on inside your mind? In Pixar’s new film, “Inside Out,” we get to find out.
Peter Docter, the director of Pixar favorites “Monsters, Inc.” and “Up,” returns to the director’s chair to helm the story of 11-year-old Riley and the emotions who help her manage her life.
Docter got the idea for the film from watching his own daughter grow up and asking himself and others at Pixar what was going on inside her head.
“… This is certainly true of my daughter — she was very energetic and rambunctious and jumping around and happy all the time, and then, when she turned 11, she got a little more quiet and reclusive,” Docter said.
Producer Jonas Rivera, who has worked on every Pixar film, liked the idea of personifying emotions.
“I just like how it all came from an observation Pete had of watching his kid change,” River said. “Everybody changes, and so we thought, ‘That’s a fun idea. What if we could somehow show that from the inside?’”
The next step was to choose the emotions. Riley’s emotions include Joy, Fear, Anger, Sadness and Disgust. But, everyone has felt more than the five in the film, so the filmmakers did some research to help them choose.
“As you get into the research, different psychologists and psychiatrists will say different things. Some people told us there were three; some said 27. So, we ended up with these five,” Docter said. “We started working with Dr. Paul Eckman, who is a real pioneering researcher in expression, and he had posited that there were six emotions in his early research. It was these five, plus surprise, and as we were trying to think about how you would personify these characters as cartoons, surprise and fear felt kind of similar, so we just nixed that one. We took some artistic license.”
The emotions are brought to life by well-known actors Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling and Phyllis Smith. They were cast during the development of the characters, and inspired the filmmakers.
“You end up writing to the actors,” Docter said. “Once they’re cast and we record with them, we kind of get a sense of their strengths, what they bring to it, their sense of humor. The fun part is when you get to know these actors, when you sit down to write, you can just like turn them on in your head and they say the lines for you, and you just jot it down. That’s when you really feel like things are clicking — when the characters start talking to you.”
Docter had the idea to cast Black as Anger since the beginning of the filmmaking process, but it took a little longer to find the perfect fit for the others. Rivera suggested Smith for Sadness after watching her in “Bad Teacher,” and Pixar artist Ronnie Del Carmen pitched Kaling for Disgust.
Joy was cast last.
“She was the toughest and obviously we felt like we struck gold when we found Amy Poehler but, she was the trickiest and the last one,” Rivera said.
She was also the toughest character to develop. Colleagues revealed their dislike for the character, which, to Docter, was “a problem because she’s our main character.” However, he understood their point of view.
“I think it kind of makes sense because if you have friends who are just kind of always happy, you kind of want to strangle them, because you sense insincerity,” Docter said. “So we needed to find somewhere for Joy as a character that you believed her, that she was genuine and that she really cared for her kid. I think that was a key component as well.”
Rivera agreed. Developing Joy was the hardest part of the film because “it’s hard to create a character that’s super optimistic” and keep her “truthful and likeable.”
“That just took a lot of time in revising and rewriting, and throwing things out and doing things over a million times, until it kind of fell into place,” Rivera said.
On the other hand, the hardest character to develop visually was Disgust.
“Early on we couldn’t really decide is she disgusting or disgusted as a character? That would lend itself to very different designs, looks,” Docter said.
The filmmakers did their research again and developed Disgust’s character with the help of a theory from Charles Darwin. As a result, her character’s job is protect Riley physically and socially.
“Darwin suggested that probably physical disgust extended into social disgust. So what was once ‘Oh, that tastes gross’ is now like ‘Ew, that’s a gross dress you’re wearing’ or whatever,” Docter said. “The disgust keeps you from getting poisoned both physically and socially, essentially.”
As for Riley’s mind, the animators took a metaphorical approach to the design as Docter’s intent was to show the world inside the mind, not the brain. Rivera said this gave the filmmakers artistic license to create a whimsical and fun production design that “felt like the mind of a little girl.” However, this was “very easy to say and hard to do.”
“If you imagine starting looking on a blank page — what do your emotions look like? Are they little people? Are they little Muppets? What are they?” Rivera said. “Pete would often say, ‘They should look how our emotions feel,’ which is really cool, but also tricky to wrap your head around. So, with trial and error, and iteration, organically the movie would lean a little bit toward science fiction in its design, and we would pull it back to, again, kind of be more whimsical and fun.”
This sense of fun is seen in the characters’ designs as well.
“Joy is just sort of meant to be the feeling of joy,” River said. “She’s pure joy. She’s sort of based on a star. She’s golden and open and expressive and if you look at Anger, he’s basically a lump of coal. He’s square and immovable, and he wears a little suit and tie for some reason. … Disgust is sort of shaped like broccoli if you kind of look close. She’s green and is rooted that shape, which she thinks is disgusting. And Fear is kind of like a raw nerve and Sadness is like a tear drop. So they were sort of rooted in elements, not literally — more metaphorically.”
Each of Pixar’s films take audiences to a different world and “Inside Out” is no exception. Docter said that “Inside Out’ has a chance to bring people to a place everyone knows but no one has seen: inside the mind.
“We’re using elements and ideas that people use in everyday conversation and think of. I do anyway. Imagine where do your dreams comes from and why and how do songs get stuck in your head? Why we remember things? All these really cool things that affect us personally on a daily basis. And now we’ve gotten to play with all that stuff in the film,” Docter said. “It was a really rich playground in terms of the humor, the cleverness, hopefully, and the richness of this world. So we hope that it will really appeal to everybody, and, so far, we’ve had good results with that from little kids all the way to adults feeling like, ‘Wow, it make me think differently about the way I am in the world,’ which is pretty cool.”
Rivera’s hope for “Inside Out” is that people enjoy it as much as the people at Pixar enjoyed making it.
“We hope it does what we meant it to do, which is just to make people happy.”