35 Things to Know about MONSTERS UNIVERSITY and THE BLUE UMBRELLA from Our Set Visit to Pixar

     April 24, 2013


As we stepped onto the campus of Monsters University, we were greeted by the school’s cheerleading squad who were accompanied by the drum section of their marching band.  Music and cheers filled the air as we walked to the center of campus where a huge tailgating party had been set up for the annual homecoming game against Fear Tech.  In the quad, all manner of student organizations were out in force trying to sign us up for the Yearbook Club, the Greek Council and the Art Club (or maybe it was just a guy named Art…).  As soon as we set foot inside the doors to the main hall, we knew we had arrived … at Pixar Animation Studios.

In what was too short a time at Pixar, our group was whisked on a whirlwind behind-the-scenes journey of their latest animated feature (and The Blue Umbrella, the short that will be preceding it in theaters).  Monsters University, the studio’s first prequel, will re-introduce fans of Monsters, Inc. to the college versions of Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman).  Hit the jump for 35 things you need to know about it!

monsters-university-campusHere’s (almost) everything you need to know about Monsters University and The Blue Umbrella:

  • This film will be Dan Scanlon’s feature directorial debut.
  • The prequel will center on Mike’s story, though his relationship with Sulley will be a prominent feature.
  • Mike is a hard-working know-it-all while Sulley is a confident, yet lazy, natural-born Scarer.
  • Other characters from Monsters, Inc. will make an appearance, including Randall in a re-imagined version of the monster fans love to hate.
  • The filmmakers are aware that the original movie mentioned Mike and Sulley knowing each other since the fourth grade; they attempted to tell a new story that involved that factoid, but ultimately felt that the spirit of their long friendship would be captured with a tale of them meeting at college.
  • The gap between Monsters University and Monsters, Inc. is about 10-15 years.
  • monsters-university-campus-flyersWhere fur and clothing were the big technical challenges in Monsters, Inc., backpacks – surprisingly – proved to be the biggest difficulty in Monsters University.
  • Since many iconic college movies take place in the 80s, there are some 80s motifs (hair and clothing styles) that the animators worked in.
  • The team thought about making Sulley shy, but chose to go with a young, brash and confident natural Scarer since that’s what his character design informs upon him.  John Goodman was up to the task.
  • One of the fantastic new characters, Dean Hardscrabble, was original envisioned as a male. She was changed to a female since the filmmakers hadn’t seen any female Scarers in the first film. Helen Mirren brings gravitas to the role.
  • There is no hard and fast rule, but Pixar bases their runtimes around the 90-minute format.
  • monsters-university-drumlineThere were some class majors that were pitched but didn’t make the final cut, such as a major for simply destroying buildings in a Godzilla-like fashion.
  • The new characters of Oozma Kappa are collectively known as the Misfits and are certainly an odd bunch.  They include Don Carlson, Scott “Squishy” Squibbles, conjoined twins Terri and Terry, and lastly, Art.
  • Dean Hardscrabble isn’t your usual adversary, but rather an authority which Mike and Sulley have to fight back against.
  • Completely re-designed just six weeks prior to their deadline, Dean Hardscrabble is based in part on a Chinese centipede in the genus Scolopendra.
  • Scanlon plans to include a lot of behind-the-scenes technical featurettes as extras on the eventual Blu-ray.
  • Scanlon’s favorite new characters is Don, who reminds him of “every mid-Western dad [he’s] ever met.”
  • monsters-university-student-clubsThe animators came up with a pool of almost 300 background characters.
  • Pay special attention to the way light is used in each scene, as it foretells either an achievement or an obstacle placed in the path of the protagonists.
  • Monsters University could have featured more furry characters, but because that was a technological limitation on the first film, the team wanted to stay faithful to the look of the original movie.
  • Pay attention to scale in Monsters University, since the world is built for monsters of all shapes and sizes. Everything from the spacing of the steps to the size of doors and coffee cups is created with the monsters’ variety in mind.
  • We will get to see a little bit of the human world, but the filmmakers were tight-lipped about just how much.
  • Pixar is employing a new method of scene lighting dubbed Global Illumination. Their rendering farm server banks were doubled to handle the load and were used for the first time in this manner on Monsters University.
  • monsters-university-cheerleadersThe animators had the whole crew bring in their senior portraits so they could compare their younger versions to their current selves … and have a laugh.
  • Mike and Sulley were both thinned out and smoothed a bit to make them appear young.  Both of their colorations are slightly different. Mike now sports a retainer.
  • Noah Johnson voices the youngest version of Mike. The producers searched for a while in New York before finding a kid who could match the energy of Billy Crystal’s performance.
  • Peter Sohn was working at Pixar prior to doing voices for their animated characters; he started doing scratch dialogue on the side and eventually worked his way into starring roles.
  • Sohn is co-directing The Good Dinosaur with Bob Peterson; it’s due out in 2014.
  • Sohn also directed the short Partly Cloudy, which played before Up.
  • monsters-university-ping-pongSaschka Unseld directed The Blue Umbrella, the short film that will play in front of Monsters University.
  • While The Blue Umbrella looks like a mash-up of live-action shots augmented with animation, there is absolutely no live action. Those images are photo-realistic animations.
  • Unseld originally used his phone to film sections of the city where he saw faces in the brickwork or various fixtures. His initial intent was to make a music video for a Sarah Jaffe song with the city itself singing like a glee chorus. This idea evolved into The Blue Umbrella.
  • Unseld loves cities in the rain and wanted to bring that front and center in his short film.
  • If he had been making the film in a European art house style, it would not have had a happy ending.
  • Unseld cites cinematographer Jack Cardiff’s work in Black Narcissus and Wong Kar Wai’s film Chungking Express as some of his inspirations.

Click here for more on Monsters University


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