Monster, Inc.
SCARING UP A STORY:
ORIGINS OF THE PROJECT


Monster, Inc.
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This page was created on November 01, 2001
This page was last updated on May 22, 2005

SCARING UP A STORY:
ORIGINS OF THE PROJECT

After completing his assignment as supervising animator on the landmark 1995 computer animated film, "Toy Story," Pete Docter began exploring several ideas for a film of his own. One of the ideas that intrigued him was a story about monsters and things that go bump in the night.

Click to enlargeDocter explains, "The intriguing thing to me about this subject matter is the idea that as kids we have these unnamed, unconscious fears, and we create monsters as a way to make them tangible. We began thinking, if monsters represent fears, what then are the monsters themselves afraid of? The obvious answer: children. Our own fears are afraid of us!"

Click to enlargeDocter's initial concept for the film went through many changes during the development process, but the notion of monsters living in their own world remained an appealing and workable one. Early versions of the story focused on a 32-year-old man who had monsters show up that only he could see. It dealt with confronting childhood fears that had never been conquered and which were cropping up once again to cause anxiety. As the story continued to develop and take on new twists and turns, the central adult figure was changed to a child of varying ages (8-12) and gender. Ultimately, the story team decided that a young innocent girl would be the best counterpart for a furry 8-foot co-star.

Click to enlargeThe character of Sulley also went through some major changes along the way. He evolved from a janitor to an uncoordinated, down-on-his-luck loser to the superstar Scarer that he ended up being. At one time, the character even wore glasses and had tentacles.

"People generally think of monsters as really scary, snarly, slobbery beasts," observes Docter. "But in our film, they're just normal everyday 'Joes.' They clock in; they clock out. They talk about donuts and union dues. They worry about things like having straight teeth. Scaring kids is just their job.

Click to enlarge"One of our biggest challenges was to come up with a good reason as to why monsters scare kids. For awhile, we played with the idea that it was like a Broadway show and monsters entertained each other by scaring kids. That evolved into the whole business idea, which seemed pretty ripe for humor."

Working from Docter's original idea, Andrew Stanton, who had written the three previous Pixar features and who served as executive producer on this film, set to work creating a screenplay that would capture the concepts spirit and imagination. Once Stanton had established the foundation for the film through his several screenplay drafts, he turned his attention to his next project ("Finding Nemo" due for release in 2003). Dan Gerson stepped in to write subsequent versions of the "Monsters, Inc." screenplay and to further define the plot, characters, and dialogue. At the same time, story supervisor Bob Peterson and his team were helping to visualize the script with drawings, gags, and lots of inventive ideas. Co-director David Silverman came on board in 1998 to lend his expertise to the story process and focus on strengthening the relationships between the main characters. Another key contributor was co-director Lee Unkrich, whose live-action background proved priceless.

Click to enlargeAccording to Stanton, "The first and last thing that John [Lasseter] asks with regard to the story is 'do I care, do I care, do I care.' It's always heart first and head second. And Boo is the real key to this whole film. Pete was really strong on this point. He has a natural instinct for tapping into the innocence of little kids and has always been a magnet for them. Our own kids would see him and just want to play with him.

"We had a great time coming up with the overall logic to the monster world," he adds. "We pulled from our own workday experiences at Pixar and found parallels in the human world to parody. The challenge here was to make up an entirely different world from our imaginations. Whereas 'Toy Story' and 'A Bug's Life' were based on or connected, to reality, the world of monsters has no restrictions and we could really be as creative as we wanted to be."

David Silverman remembers being hooked on the idea from the very first pitch. "The subject matter just completely wowed me and the first storyboards were so hilarious and presented so many possibilities," he says. "It just seemed like a great idea for the Pixar style of humor. Working on 'The Simpsons,' my strength was in staging and performance. This film gave me a chance to become more involved in the writing and coming up with solutions."

Screenwriter Dan Gerson joined the Pixar team in 1999 and remained on the film for almost two years working with the filmmakers on a daily basis. He recalls, "I would sit with Pete and David and we would talk about a scene and they would tell me what they were looking for. I would make some suggestions and then go off and write the sequence. We'd get together again and review it and then hand it off to a story artist. Here's where the collaborative process really kicked in. The board artist was not beholden to my work and could take liberties here and there. Sometimes I would suggest an idea about making the joke work better visually. Once the scene moved on to animation, the animators would plus the material even further.

"This was my first experience writing on a feature film and it couldn't have been better," adds Gerson. "Not only did they welcome me into their group but they were so receptive to my ideas. I was blessed to have Pete as my first director. He is completely collaborative and it was not uncommon for me to speak with him 3 or 4 nights a week just to check in and discuss the film."

As story supervisor, Bob Peterson oversaw a team of story artists that ranged in size from eight to twenty individuals at various stages of the production. "Every story I've ever worked on has been a struggle," he notes. "And you're fighting the good fight. It's like you're given this rough piece of marble and you're just chipping away at it until the story tells you what it wants to be after working on it for awhile. There comes that day when it all starts to fall into place. On this film, we struggled with the relationship between Mike and Sulley, who Sulley was and his steps to becoming who he is in the end. Typically, one scene will inform the rest of the movie. Something will spark your imagination and it ripples out from there in many directions."

"Pete is a joy to work with," adds Peterson. "He's always looking for the entertainment in a scene and he's a great animator in his own right. David is a great resource for humor and is knowledgeable about the great radio comedians and lots of other things. His humor rubbed off on everyone and he was an excellent draftsman as well."

Lee Unkrich adds, "One of the liberties we have here at Pixar is that we give ourselves a long stretch of time to develop our stories. We can try lots of different things and go down different paths. This is a luxury that is not often afforded in live-action. 'Monsters, Inc.' is probably the most sophisticated thing we've done in terms of relationships and depth of character. At Pixar, we believe that heart and emotion are vital to our story. We want audiences to really laugh and have a great time but we also want them to have an emotional experience that they can walk away with.

Stanton concludes, "One of the great things about Pixar is that we have a core group of creative talents that come together to make these films. John leads this big think tank or brain trust - which includes Pete, Lee, story supervisor Joe Ranft, and myself. Even if we're not officially on a film, we're always available to be the checkpoint, the devil's advocate, or just to help see things with a fresh eye. We act as story firemen and it's a nice safety net to have. You don't feel as lonely on that long road of trying to make a movie work."

The title "Monsters, Inc." was suggested by Joe Grant, the legendary Disney artist/storyman who co-wrote the 1941 feature film "Dumbo" and who served as story director on the original "Fantasia." At the age of 93, Grant continues to lend his story expertise to Disney's Feature Animation department and still comes into work five days a week. 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 along with notes in his elegant everyday calligraphic handwriting. Docter recalls, "It was just the most perfect title. Joe was a great inspiration to us and we would get all sorts of great press clippings and drawings from him throughout the production."

Monsters, Inc. Main page
About the Amazing Technology -pg 2
About the Origins -pg 3
About the Directors -pg 4
About Animating Memorial Monsters -pg 5
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