For Oscar-winning director and veteran animated film pro Pete Docter (“Up”), a big part of the inspiration for his new film “Inside Out” (opening Friday) was to be found right in his own backyard.
Like all dads, Docter frequently wondered “what the heck is going on inside that head of hers” as his daughter Elie was moving toward her teen years. The timing was propitious, as he and his Pixar colleagues were beginning to create “Inside Out” — an animated journey about a young girl, with the emotions rolling around inside her brain given character form.
In Chicagorecently to discuss the movie, Docter and one of the film’s producers,Jonas Rivera, explained that they had to zero in on five basic emotions to come to life inside the head of their heroine, Riley, a young girl going through a rollercoaster of emotional turmoil when she is uprooted by her parents and moved to a new city.
“Inside Out” features Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling).
As Rivera explained, “We realized we had to omit a bunch of emotions, like jealousy or envy. … If we had included all the ones we could think of we would have had to have 27 or 30 principal characters — making it virtually impossible to write the script!”
For Docter, the five they eventually settled on “ended up seeming like our version of the Seven Dwarfs in ‘Snow White.’ They were credible and clearly conceived. Everyone gets those characters.
“With our film, it felt like we had the right level of a crowd, so to speak.”
In researching the emotional aspects of the brain and its functions, the“Inside Out” team from Pixar spent a good period of time talking to a number of scientists, psychologists and psychiatrists.
“Frankly, I didn’t really know now many emotions there are,” said Docter. “We didn’t find a total answer to that, and there is some disagreement within the scientific community itself. But one thing we learned from them was to look at emotions as having a purpose — kind of like the idea of performing a job.
“For example, Disgust keeps you from being poisoned or eating the wrong thing. Fear keeps you safe, and so on. Learning all that helped us not only to shape our scripts, but also to shape the visual aspects of the characters we were creating as well.”
Thevoice talent for those five emotions matched the overall images the actors and actresses convey to the public at large.
“Lewis Black was simply the very first person we thought of for Anger. Who could be any better?” said Rivera. The two men also agreed about Hader, Kaling and Smith.
However, when asked their biggest challenge in putting the whole movie together, Docter pointed to Joy’s voice — Amy Poehler — as a big help in overcoming that aspect.
“From the beginning, Joy as the main character in Riley’s mind turned out to be very hard to write for and animate. There was a danger there with Joy being upbeat and positive all the time, you can easily not take her seriously. You could think she’s not genuine.
“It wasn’t until we locked into a couple of things — mainly getting Amy Poehler — that we finally felt we had unlocked everything we wanted that character to express.”
As with all animated films — and most big-budget movies in general — it does take a village to make it all come together. “We had about 270 people who worked on this show,” said Docter. “That’s the great thing about Pixar. It’s kind of like the old studio system in Hollywood. People have been around [Pixar] for like 20 years or more, and have built up all this experience on the earlier films — which they can bring to the table with each new one.”
Jonas citedone animator in particular to make the point of how comfortable he and Docter were in making “Inside Out” — how they could trust so many individuals to get things right.
“We had the woman who had done Princess Merida’s hair in ‘Brave’ for our film. Granted, Joy or Riley’s hair here was not a big deal, but we didn’t lose one minute of sleep knowing that everything in the hair department on ‘Inside Out’ would be fine.
“We had that confidence for all other aspects of the animation as well.”
Before wrapping upthis interview, Docter wanted to stress an important point about how animated films are made today — at least by Pixar.
“It’s really like making a regular movie. We build sets. We shoot it as a movie. It’s still handmade. It’s just that we use computers as the tools today to get the job done.”