"Monsters, Inc." is an animated film about two monsters, Sulley and his best friend, Mike. They work for Monsters, Inc., the largest scream-processing factory in the monster world. When a little girl, Boo, follows Sulley back into the monster world, he finds his career in jeopardy and his life turned upside down.
Pixar, the animation company that produced "Monsters, Inc.," helped us to go behind the scenes of this blockbuster film, which hit the big screen in 2001. In the following article, we'll examine what went into creating "Monsters, Inc.," and we'll also provide in-depth details about each scene. First, though, here's a little more background:
Early versions of the "Monsters, Inc." storyline featured a 32-year-old man who had monsters show up that only he could see. As the story continued to develop, the adult figure was changed to an innocent young girl. "Monsters, Inc." features a friendship between Sulley, a furry eight-foot monster, and a toddler named Boo.
Sulley, the lead monster, evolved from a janitor to an uncoordinated, down-on-his-luck loser to a superstar scarer. "People generally think of monsters as really scary, snarly, slobbery beasts," says director Pete Docter. "But in our film, they're just normal everyday Joes. They clock in; they clock out. They talk about doughnuts and union dues. They worry about things like having straight teeth. Scaring kids is just their job."
The title "Monsters, Inc." was suggested by Joe Grant, the legendary Disney artist/storyman who co-wrote the 1941 feature film "Dumbo" and served as story director on the original "Fantasia." Grant provided his story expertise to Disney's Feature Animation department until his death in 2005.
Docter, a longtime admirer of Grant's work, would frequently speak to Joe and discuss the project. Grant responded by sending envelopes full of drawings and notes in his elegant, calligraphic handwriting. Docter recalls, "It was just the most perfect title. Joe was a great inspiration to us."
On the next page, we'll discuss what went into creating the unique characters that populate the "Monsters, Inc." world.
Creating the 'Monsters, Inc.' Characters
Multiple elements went into creating the characters in "Monsters, Inc." In this section, we'll examine this painstaking process.
Clay sculptures of the faces were created and digitized for the main characters, while nearly 50 other miscellaneous monsters were formed in the computer from a kit of virtual parts. Learning from their experience on previous Pixar projects, the two "Toy Story" films and "A Bug's Life," the modelers used a proprietary program called "Geppetto" to add more controls, allowing the animators more subtle movements.
Animator John Kahrs spearheaded the production of Sulley, the massive monster who finds himself in a world of trouble. "John Goodman's vocal performance was really rich and had a lot of range," says Kahrs. "It had a wonderful rhythm and a lot of texture. There is a resonant warble to his voice, almost bear-like, and it fits the character so well. I would get direction from his performance."
Guiding the animation for the character of Mike Wazowski, the feisty one-eyed ball of energy, was character lead animator Andrew Gordon. Says Gordon, "Billy Crystal [who voiced the part] would take a line and go off on lots of tangents with ad-libs and comedy routines. Basically, Mike is a giant eyeball. I would videotape close-ups of my eyeball to see what the eye was doing when my eye looks up and how the eyelid reacts. Little things like pupil changes became important."
The lead animator on Boo was Dave DeVan, who at the time was a five-year Pixar veteran. "Boo has been the most challenging character I've worked on at Pixar," DeVan said during the production process. "Some of the animators would bring their kids into the studio after work, and Mary Gibbs [the voice of Boo] came to my office one time. She had been eating jelly beans and had lots of energy. She was really playful and gave the character exactly what was needed.
"I was helping to make sure we got the control that we wanted and that the face was as fleshy and expressive as possible. The final character has about 900 animation controls. Humans have always been tough to do in computer animation but with 'Geri's Game' [a Pixar animated short], and this film, Pixar has made some great progress."
That's the scoop on the characters -- but what about their fantastic world? We cover that in the next section.
Inside Monstropolis: Creating the 'Monsters, Inc.' World
Inventing the monsters' world was one of the most challenging -- and most enjoyable -- assignments for the creative team on "Monsters, Inc."
"In Monstropolis, they've got huge buildings built of steel and stone because they need to accommodate three-ton guys walking around," says director Pete Docter. "And everything from doors to telephones to cars had to be multipurpose in order to handle everyone from eight-foot monsters to little guys who are only two inches tall."
In the early stages of researching the look and style of Monstropolis, production designers went to local factories, refineries, assembly plants, blimp hangers, and other industrial sites that could inspire their designs. They also took a field trip to Pittsburgh to observe firsthand what an older industrial town built around factories looks like.
"We were trying to make sure that the monsters would be the most colorful things in Monstropolis," says production designer Harley Jessup. "So we made the city somewhat muted and the factory a bit on the cool side color-wise." In all, 22 different sets were designed for the film, ranging from Boo's bedroom to the trendy sushi eatery, Harryhausen's and the remote blizzard-bound home of the Yeti.
Learn how Pixar's animation process works in the next section.
Animation Magic: Creating 'Monsters, Inc.'
"Monsters, Inc." is one in a line of classic animated films made by Pixar. How exactly does the Pixar animation process work? It begins when a Pixar employee suggests his or her idea to the development team in a way that is reminiscent of a sales pitch. Then a treatment is written -- a short outline that summarizes the main idea of the story. Sometimes many treatments of the same story are written before one is chosen as the working narrative.
After the treatment is completed, the script is written and the storyboards are drawn. Storyboards are like a hand-drawn comic-book version of the movie and serve as a visual blueprint for the action and dialogue. Using these guidelines, the artists envision their assigned sequences, draw them out, and then pitch their work to the director.
Temporary "scratch" voices are then recorded for the storyboard reel. Later when the story and dialogue are further along, professional actors will record the dialogue, both using the script and ad-libbing. Actors must record their lines different ways, and the best reading is animated. Sometimes, though, the scratch voices are so good they are animated.
Next the characters, sets, and props are either sculpted by hand and then scanned three-dimensionally or modeled in 3-D directly in the computer. They are then given "avars," or hinges, which the animator will use to make the object or character move. Some characters have 100 avars in their face alone.
For the next stage, the sets are built in 3-D and "dressed" with prop models, such as chairs, curtains, and toys. To create a believable world, set dressers work closely with the director to ensure that the director's vision is being realized.
Next the shots are laid out. To translate the story into three-dimensional scenes, the layout crew choreographs the characters in the set and uses a "virtual camera" to create shots that capture the emotion and story point of each scene. Multiple shots are taken, and the best ones are cut.
Once a scene has been cut, the final version is released to animation. Pixar's animators neither draw nor paint the shots, as in traditional animation. Because the models, characters, layout, dialogue, and sound are already laid down, the animators are like puppeteers. Using Pixar's animation software, they choreograph the movements and facial expressions of the characters in each scene. They do this by using computer controls and the characters' avars. The computer then creates the in-between frames.
Next the sets and characters are shaded. The shading process is done with "shaders" -- software programs that allow for complex variations in the color and color-shaping. For example, the process allows colors to shift in different lighting, such as the reflections in a character's eyes.
Lighting then completes the look. Using digital lights that act in the same manner as stage lighting, every scene is illuminated. Key, fill, bounce lights, and room ambience are all defined and used to enhance the mood and emotion of each scene.
The next step is rendering, which is translating all of the information in the files that make up the shot -- sets, colors, character movement, etc -- into a single frame of film. Each frame represents 1/24 of a second of screen time and takes about six hours to render. Some frames have taken as long as 90 hours.
In the final part of the process, the musical score and other sound effects are added. Then the photo science department records the digital frames to film or to a form appropriate for digital projection.
What's an animated feature without music? In the next section, we look at the tunes in the "Monsters, Inc." cartoon.
The Music in 'Monsters, Inc.'
"Monsters, Inc." marked the fourth feature-film collaboration between Pixar and acclaimed composer/songwriter Randy Newman. His work on this film includes a delightful score using 1940s jazz and big band influences, as well as an end-credit tune called "If I Didn't Have You," sung by John Goodman and Billy Crystal.
"He's created memorable themes for each of the main characters," says director Peter Docter. "Sulley's theme is kind of heroic, while Mike's is a bit on the jazzy side with woodwinds."
Adding to the uniqueness of Newman's score for "Monsters, Inc." is an unusual assortment of instrumentation. Bass harmonica, an accordion, marimbas, cimbasso (a cross between a tuba and a trombone), bass oboes, and saxophones are among the instruments that give the score its offbeat sensibility.
Says Newman, "All pictures require a lot of moods, but this was a different world entirely that you had to conjure up musically. It's like the real world, with people going to work, except they're monsters. Hopefully, the score heightens the emotions and the precariousness of the dangerous situations."
Everyone has a favorite scene in "Monsters, Inc." For a scene-by-scene breakdown, go to the next page.
'Monsters, Inc.' Scene Highlights
Part of what makes "Monsters, Inc." so successful are the many memorable scenes. Kids thrive on their favorite scenes and want to watch them over and over. Download the "Monsters, Inc." scene guide here to find a comprehensive guide to the scenes in "Monsters, Inc." What follows are the scene highlights.
Scene 2: "Monster in the Closet"
A little boy imagines that there are monsters lurking in his room at night. Suddenly, a real monster towers over his bed, and then an alarm goes off. The little boy isn't real; this is all a simulator for scaring practice at Monsters, Inc. The rookie "scarer," a monster named "Bile," is scolded by his instructor for the leaving the closet door open.
Scene 3: "Mr. Waternoose"
The president of Monsters, Inc., an octopus-monster named Mr. Waternoose, explains to Bile and the monster class the dangers of children. Then he tells them how monsters enter the human world through a closet door and scare children, and that the screams from the children are converted into energy that Monsters, Inc. uses to power the city of Monstropolis. He says the best "scarer" is a monster named Sulley.
Scene 4: "Morning Workout"
We meet Sulley and Mike as they are waking up. Sulley is a blue furry monster, and Mike is a giant eyeball with two feet. Taskmaster Mike puts Sulley through his morning scare exercises, such as "Scary Feet" and "Don't Let the Kid Touch You." Afterward, they watch a Monsters, Inc. commercial (on TV) featuring themselves and their co-workers.
Scene 8: "Scare Floor"
The monsters who work as scarers go to work, each entering a different door prepared by his assistant (Mike is Sulley's assistant). When they open the door, they can walk into a child's bedroom in the human world. They scare the kids and walk back into Monsters, Inc. and close the door. Randall is doing well and actually inches ahead of Sulley in his "scream numbers."
Scene 9: "23-19"
A scarer named Georgie steps back through a door with a child's sock stuck on his back. Alarms are sounded on the scare floor -- he is "contaminated!" The CDA, Child Detection Agency, descends onto the scare floor to destroy the sock and shave off Georgie's hair. Waternoose is not happy; the plant will be shut down for a half an hour.
Scene 12: "Harryhausen's"
Mike and Celia are having their date at Harryhauesen's, a sushi restaurant filled with monsters. Sulley interrupts their date to tell Mike about the child, but the toddler escapes from his bag. With one "Boo!," she scares all the monsters in the restaurant. Sulley and Mike sneak Boo out of the restaurant as the CDA descends.
Scene 16: "Potty Break"
Boo has to use the bathroom, so Sulley stands outside the bathroom stall keeping guard. While in the bathroom stall, Boo sings. They then play hide and seek in the bathroom stalls. Mike finds them, but moments later, Randall enters.
Scene 20: "The Trash Compactor"
Thinking Boo is in the trash compacter, Sulley hurries down to the trash bin to save her. Sulley is horrified as he watches the trash being crushed and chopped up; he thinks Boo is in it. She's actually in another part of the building, still disguised as a monster and playing with some monster kids. Finally, Sulley and Boo find her.
Scene 21: "Mike Kidnapped"
Sulley, Mike, and Boo find Boo's door waiting on the scare floor while everyone is at lunch, just as Randall said. Mike opens Boo's door and walks into her dark bedroom to prove it is safe, but he is mistakenly trapped (in a box) by Randall, who thinks Mike is Boo. Sulley and Boo hide while Randall makes off with Mike in the box.
Scene 26: "Schmoopsie Poo!"
Back together, Sulley, Mike, and Boo try to escape from Randall. While on the run, Celeste joins the group briefly and Mike tells her about Randall's plot. They finally make it to the scare floor and again look for Boo's door.
Scene 28: "Tricking Waternoose"
Sulley, Mike, and Boo are almost trapped by Mr. Waternoose and the CDA security force, but Mike sends them on a wild goose chase. Sulley walks Boo through her door and returns the little girl to her room and bed, but Waternoose follows them into Boo's room. While Sulley and Waternoose fight in Boo's room, Waternoose reveals his plan to kidnap children and hook them up to the scream extractor. But the joke is on Waternoose. It's not really Boo's room, but the Monsters, Inc. simulation room, where he has been recorded on tape. The CDA security forces take him away.
Scene 30: "The Laugh Floor"
Mike sneaks into a child's bedroom at night, but instead of scaring the little boy, Mike tries to make him laugh with lame jokes. As a last effort, Mike does an enormous burp, which makes the child laugh. It turns out that laughter produces ten times more energy for Monsters, Inc. than screams did, so now it's the "laugh floor."
Walt Disney once said that every child loves to be scared. That's never been more true than with "Monsters, Inc.," a film that provides fun-filled frights again and again. After you and your child finish watching it, don't forget to close your closet door.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Michael Allen is a Los Angeles-based writer whose credits include animated series on MTV and Nickelodeon. His favorite cartoon of all time is "Scooby Doo."