Directed by Kelsey Mann, the Monsters University short Party Central (showing in theaters with Muppets Most Wanted), sees Mike and Sully back at Monsters University for a fun-filled weekend with their fraternity brothers. The Oozma Kappa gang is throwing their first party, but when no one shows up, Mike and Sully come up with a plan to make sure their party becomes the most epic party the school has ever seen.
During the Muppets Most Wanted press day, Kelsey Mann demonstrated the process for pitching this short, and then talked about how the idea for Party Central came about, how the people that worked on the short had also worked on the feature, what a smooth transition it was to go from being story supervisor to director, choosing your battles when you’re doing animation, how hands-on John Lasseter was with the short, and that he’d love to do more Monsters shorts. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
KELSEY MANN: I was actually the story supervisor on Monster’s University, and this whole journey began on that movie. The story is an interesting job because you follow it from the beginning, all the way to the end, so I was on that movie for four years. Near the end of that fourth year, we all got together and were like, “Wow, we really love these characters. We should do more with these characters.” And the idea of a short came up. We wanted to do something extra with these characters. So, Dan Scanlon and Kori Rae, the director and producer of Monster’s University, and John Lasseter, our Chief Creative Officer, asked me to do the short. I was really, really honored to be asked to do it. Then, I had the task of coming up with a short.
Typically with these shorts, there’s a lot that you do with story that doesn’t find its way into the movie. We do lots of gags and we do lots of storylines that don’t make it into the movie, but are really good. They just don’t find a proper place. So, when you first meet the Oozma Kappa fraternity, when Mike and Sully go to their house, it’s not what they expect. It’s this grandma house with fine china. The first thing they say to them when they walk in is, “We call this place Party Central. We haven’t had a party here yet, but when we do, we’ll be ready.” And then, the mirror ball falls and smashes on the ground. I had said to Dan, “We’ve gotta have them throw their party. It’s the first thing they say they want, and I want to see them throw this party. I want to see them get what they’ve always wanted.” We tried to put it in the movie, at the end, but we just couldn’t find a natural place to do it. I was even pitching during the credits. But then, this short came up and I knew that should be the short. Everybody loved the idea of doing a big monster fraternity party short, so I went off to the races and started doing the short based on that premise.
How big was the team that made this?
MANN: The team shrunk and grew. What was really cool about it was that I felt like a lot of people that worked on the short, worked on the movie. It was a really smooth transition. It was right near the end of MU, so the animation crew flowed from the movie, right onto the short. They were ready to go. And it was like that in every department, whether it was lighting, or animation or lay-out. Everybody who was second-in-command on the movie, got to get their chance supervising on the short. It was really, really great.
MANN: We did this right at the end of finishing up MU because we knew that there was a window of opportunity when everyone was available before they moved on to the next feature that we’re doing. We weren’t quite sure where the short was going to go, so this short has actually been done for awhile. We were just trying to find the right place for it to go, and we’re so excited for it to be attached to The Muppets. That’s fantastic! It’s a match made in heaven. Monsters and Muppets feel like they belong together.
Did it help that you had everything ready to go with this short, since you had just come off of the film?
MANN: Yeah, this production was just so smooth. It was hard work, for sure, but everybody that came on it was a pro and it was so easy, even with the voice cast. We needed Billy Crystal to do a couple of last lines for the movie, so we got those lines, and then just recorded the short right after that. It was a perfect transition to making the short. We took as much as we could from the movie and dragged and dropped what the animators had already made, and then make it a little different. When they’re way off in the distance you don’t notice, but we make little tweaks. And it’s expensive to light the environment, so we just did what was done for the movie with the Roar, but the Oozma Kappa house had to be lit, for the first time. I’m just so proud of how far we went with the short. I always felt like this was a short where we could go to 11, but we went to 100 with this short. It was really cool.
Did you ever think about having the characters wear togas in this?
MANN: What’s hard about that is that it’s sim work. It’s hard to do cloth, so we didn’t have much of that. If there had been togas in the movie, we could have done that for the short because they would have already figured it out. But, it was too expensive. You choose your battles when you make this stuff. This was a really hard short to do because it’s not just two characters in a room. It’s the entire cast. It’s a party filled with monsters, which is expensive and hard to animate. Every single one of the characters has to be animated by hand. So, you pick your battles. Do you want a lot of characters in the Oozma Kappa house, or do you want a toga? Well, having a lot of characters in the house is important to the story. If the toga was a story element, then we would have pushed for it.
When you have a pitch meeting at Pixar, how does that typically work?
MANN: Usually, they’re an hour long, and you typically do just a scene for a feature. With this, we could do the whole short because it was five minutes, which in essence is how long a sequence is. So, everybody is in there and you pitch, and then you talk about it. You talk about what worked and what didn’t work, and what you can change to make it better. We’re all there to ry to make it the best it can be. We get notes, and then we go off and do it again.
How hands-on is John Lasseter, especially now that he’s running Disney feature animation?
MANN: John loves Pixar. He loves making movies. He loves making shorts. The best advice that I got, at the beginning, was from Dan and Kori, who said to involved John as much as possible, and we did. And we did that early on. What I love about Pixar is how it’s a collaboration with everyone. I know who pitched certain ideas. It’s not just all me. That’s what I love about what we do. It’s a collection of everyone’s great ideas, including John. The short wouldn’t be what it is without John. He was heavily involved, especially at the beginning. And we would show thing things, along the way, like the layout and the rough animation, and he would give his comments on it. John was nothing but supportive with the short.
Would you like to do more Monsters University shorts?
MANN: I would love to. This short came from the passion we have for these characters and the possibilities that were untapped. There’s so much more we could do. I don’t know if there are any plans for that, but I would love to be asked again to do something again.
Are there more full-length Monsters movies coming?
MANN: I don’t know, to be honest. It always starts with a really good idea. That’s what Pixar is all about. They don’t jump in just to do it. There’s always a seed of an idea, and if they like that seed, then we’ll do something. Currently, there are no seeds out there that I know of, but who knows.
Party Central is being shown with Muppets Most Wanted when it opens in theaters on March 21st.