Monster, Inc.
BRINGING THE CHARACTERS TO LIFE: ANIMATING MEMORABLE MONSTERS (AND A GIRL NAMED BOO)


Monster, Inc.
page 5

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

BRINGING THE CHARACTERS TO LIFE: ANIMATING MEMORABLE MONSTERS (AND A GIRL NAMED BOO)

Click to enlargeBringing the characters in "Monsters, Inc." to life required a skilled team of animators working in concert with an ensemble of great voice talent. Dialogue tracks were recorded over a few years and the animators were inspired by these performances along with keen observations and their own imaginations to create the depth, emotion and fun that these characters bring to the screen.

Click to enlargeWith his roots as an animator, director Pete Docter knew exactly how to work with the animation team. The film's two supervising animators - Glenn McQueen and Rich Quade - gave him the level of leadership and support he needed to guide the team of more than 35.

"The overall quality of animation on this film is really great," says Docter. "Glenn and Rich have been able to push everybody further than anyone thought they could go and there's some truly amazing scenes in the film."

Click to enlargeMcQueen notes, "Pete was a great guy to work with and proved to be a real animator's director. On 'Toy Story,' he was, without a doubt, the best animator in the department and he really knows how to relate to animators. He knows our part of the film like no one else and encouraged us to do our very best work."

McQueen and Quade took an active role in working with the modeling team (supervised by Eben Ostby) to create characters that were animationfriendly. New animation controls (called "avars" - articulated variables) were built into the tools programs to give the animators a wider range of options and the ability to add more subtle movements to the performance.

Another change on "Monsters, Inc." from previous Pixar features was the designation of character leads for each of the main characters. On past productions, animators gravitated towards or became experts on specific characters, but generally worked on whole sequences involving multiple members of the cast. On this film, certain key animators were selected to be specialists that the other animators would turn to for advice or suggestions as to movement, personality, etc.

"Assigning animators to work on specific characters was less of a conscious decision and more of an evolution that happened during production," says McQueen. "Some of the animators were doing such terrific work on the characters that it seemed silly to have them do anything else. We ended up casting them on specific characters just like you would an actor on a live-action film."

Click to enlargeSulley

For the character of Sulley, the massive monster who finds himself in a world of trouble, animator John Kahrs was asked to lead the way.

"I'm not a big eight foot hairy guy, but I share a lot of similarities with Sulley," says Kahrs. "I'm six-foot-one and I have a relaxed easy-going personality like the character. I guess that's why they gave me the assignment. Basically, I think he's suited to me and vice versa.

"My first instincts were to make sure that Sulley wasn't going to be some monkey or gorilla," adds the animator. "He's not a Mighty Joe Young guy and he doesn't walk on his knuckles. He walks upright and he's more like a powerful bear than a gorilla. The challenge was to think of him not as some heavy lumbering guy but rather as a more energetic character with a lot of confidence. The scene where Mike is coaching him with the 'scary feet, scary feet' routine was a big turning point for me. I started thinking of Sulley as a guy in football training camp. It turned my whole world around and gave me a new perspective on him. He has sheer power and speed. He's the top dog at MI."

Click to enlarge"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 and know exactly how the eyebrows are going to move and what the emotion of the scene is going to be."

For Kahrs, one of the biggest challenges was to convey the enormous sense of gravity and weight in the character's animation. "'Placing the feet at the right place at the right time and then having the hips and body drift over them was really crucial. Paying close attention to the musculature in his arms and how it relaxes with the arc, speed and pendulum of the fall were also important in conveying his mass. You could spend a lifetime trying to make him look good but the payoff was worth it. He was a great character to work on and I'm going to miss him."

Click to enlargeQuade adds, "The trick with Sulley was to get that sense of weight across but not have the character move too slowly. If you slow down the action, the film starts becoming lethargic. We had to find ways to make him feel big while, at the same time, keeping him active and fun. Things like fast eye darts or hand movements can convey quickness. We began thinking of him as a linebacker who is big but can move fast when he needs to. The hair dynamics, added by the technical team, also helped communicate a feeling of weight. Its realistic motion enhanced the animation and made it feel more real."

Click to enlargeMike

Guiding the animation for the character of Mike Wazowski, the feisty oneeyed ball of energy, was character lead Andrew Gordon.

Gordon recalls, "I was doing some early tests on Mike with Billy Crystal's dialogue and I had a real knack for him. The character has an East Coast, New York style and I'm a Jersey guy myself - I grew up with lots of crazy relatives who used wild gestures and mannerisms when they talked. I felt like I knew the character of Mike and I could see the acting in my head very naturally."

Gordon attended several recording sessions with Crystal and was able to study the actor's expressions and mannerisms in person. Gordon recalls, "'Billy would take a line and go off on lots of tangents with ad-libs and comedy routines.

"Basically, Mike is a giant eyeball," adds Gordon. "You're dealing with a head that's a body and a body that's supposed to be a head. When I'm acting out a scene, Im looking at what my body and torso are doing but also at what my head accents are doing. It's like a cross between analyzing the motion of my body and also looking at my head, and coming up with interesting shapes for the eyes. Capturing the subtlety of the eye was a big part of it. I would videotape close-ups of my eyeball to see what the eye was doing when my eye looks up, how the eyelid reacts, how to sell the eye direction. Little things like pupil changes and dilates became important.

Click to enlarge"The key to animating Mike is to get good mouth shapes that are very appealing and round," he adds. "When you're working with a character with such a big eye and mouth, it's like a target. Your eye goes right to him. Another thing we were able to do was to use the mask structure around his eye to get added subtlety. We have controls that allow us to bend the one eyebrow so that it essentially acts as two."

"Billy Crystal has almost a manic energy and his voice is just all over the place," observes McQueen. "He's always doing something completely different and unexpected, which works really well and is a great thing to play off with Sulley."

Click to enlargeBoo

With regard to the character of Boo, McQueen had some initial concerns about animating a human child. He recalls, "Everyone knows how a little girl moves and as the father of a three-year-old I knew we had to animate her just right or the audience wouldn't buy it. There is a level of aimless busy-ness that kids have and I was concerned that we had to capture that sense of wonder and energy. Luckily, Pete has two kids of his own and he knew exactly what he wanted. For example, he was concise in his direction to the effects people as to what a kid's tears should look like. All of us with kids were going 'Yep, that"s right. A little more red in those cheeks."

The lead animator on Boo was Dave Devan, a five-year Pixar veteran who has worked on such other characters as the acrobatic pillbugs Tuck & Roll (from "A Bug's Life") and Buzz and Woody.

"Boo has been the most challenging character I've worked on at Pixar," explains Devan. "She is caricatured and cartoony, but she has to be believable. I don't have any children of my own, but I spent lots of time observing real human behavior. 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 jellybeans and had lots of energy. My own niece and nephew were also good studies. Another time, we had a bunch of kids running around here on a playdate. Seeing how they walk and interact and what catches their attention and how they behave when someone's talking to them was really helpful. I ended up with a binder containing pictures of kids, especially their facial expressions, so that I could try and get those observations into Boo's character.

Click to enlarge"My involvement with the character goes back to when the modelers were first working on her," he adds. "I was helping to make sure we got the control 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' and this film, Pixar has made some great progress. With Boo, we were able to put great subtlety into the acting and I was amazed by the results.

"Mary's performance really inspired us. The quality of her voice is great and was lots of fun to work with. She was really playful and gave the character exactly what was needed."

McQueen agrees, "The bits of Mary that the editors chose for the film worked so well and always got a laugh from the animators, especially the ones with kids. You can tell when something's genuine and when the actor or performer is really feeling it. In this case they really got a three-year-old to do the lines and it gave us a tremendous amount of stuff to work with."

Click to enlargeRandall Boggs and Henry J. Waternoose

"Randall Boggs was another very challenging character to animate because he has eight limbs," explains McQueen. "Sometimes he's down on all eight and sometimes he's only using four legs. He also has a big long tail. From a technical point of view, he was very tough to animate just in terms of keeping track of all those legs and trying to come up with poses that are clear and appealing. Click to enlargeSteve Buscemi's terrific voice really helped bring the character to life. It gave us a clear idea as to who the character is and his intent. There was a lot to grab onto and it made animating Randall a pleasure.

"James Coburn was another great voice to work with," he adds. "You couldn't ask for a better performance. He has a real fatherly, avuncular vibe to him that works really well with the Henry J. Waternoose character. From an animator's perspective, a voice that good is nothing but opportunities and potential."

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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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