Getting to Know Pixar Inside Out

First published on Scotcampus 24/06/15 (available here)


Feelings, we all have them, and you’ve probably felt every single one them in the space of a three minute montage in a Pixar film. Admit it, you’re crying at the mere thought of Up. Now, Pixar has taken the emotional ride one step further with it’s newest release, Inside Out, and has actually personified the emotions in our heads and created another world full of lovable characters. Packed full of witty moments as well as the trademark weepy ones (how do they do it?), this is a movie for everyone that has fallen in love with Pixar over the years, and those who are STILL yet to discover its long-lasting magic.

Having previously worked as a member of the story team on films including Finding Nemo, Ratatouille and Up¸ this is the first time that Ronnie Del Carmen has co-directed a Pixar film. We caught up with him at Edinburgh International Film Festival to find out more about the essence of Inside Out, and his experience as a co-director.

What is it about Edinburgh International Film Festival that keeps Pixar coming back?

Well it’s wonderful here for one thing, isn’t it? You want to go to where great stories happen and this film festival has a lot of great stories and you want to part of that community, so that’s why you come back.

The thing about Pixar is that people expect a lot from you, the bar is set really high. Is there pressure when it’s got your name on it?

You try not to think about that because you’d spook yourself to incapacity. Thankfully what we do is very, very mundane. We sit in a room, we tell each other stories, we draw pictures and we worry about the story. That’s all. We don’t think about it reaching an audience just yet, we just want to tell a great story first and then you worry.

Speaking of characters, the casting’s really good. Were you thinking of specific people while you were designing the characters?

It‘s kind of one of those things that become organic, when you’re writing the character and creating them on story reels you start getting familiar with the character. Then you start hearing a voice in your head and you start conferring with your other story teller partners, Pete, myself, Josh Cooley, the head of story, the story team.

Is the film perhaps Pixar’s most challenging work in terms of the complexity of its plot? How long did the actual planning of the plot take?

We don’t have any common ground with anyone when we say, what is an emotion? The other thing is the mind world. We have to make sure that everything that we create feels somewhat understandable and that the systems don’t contradict each other. So that’s a five year journey. We consulted with experts of the mind, experts about emotions so that we can work in those concepts in ways that people somehow recognise of themselves.

Was there any sort of brick wall that had to be overcome?

Well they were all hard to overcome, because for one thing telling the story about the place that nobody’s ever actually been to, there are no rules that we can understand. So if you were telling a story about an old man who wants to float his house with thousands of balloons, you have things that are in place, you know like gravity, like what is the house made of. You can kind of see that and when people watch it people understand that concept.

Millions of kids all over the world look up to Pixar. What or who influenced you when you were younger?

Ah, that would be Walt Disney! No that seems like an easy answer but that’s the only answer I have, because that’s what happened.

Are you towing the corporate line?

No! No, I’m not because when I was growing up, there were only four channels and one of them had American programming and they would show the Wonderful World of Colors. I would be religiously watching them. I didn’t know that I wanted to do animation back then, in fact I didn’t know that I wanted to be an animator even when I was a grown person. I just loved those cartoons those characters were characters that affected me. I would encourage everyone at any age, if there’s something that brings you joy and happiness and you’re interested in it and you have that sense of wonder, please pursue.

This is the first time that you’re co-director on a Pixar film, were there any big challenges in making the transition from the art department?

I was in the story department first, then primarily the art department, and then head of story. So all of those are very different missions. The co-director position is very challenging because there is no one way to do it. It’s kind of anybody’s guess, I had to figure out myself. The biggest challenge for me is that I wanted so many things to happen for this movie that we couldn’t fit in an hour and a half.

Which emotion from the movie would you say was most active in your head?

Most active in my head there are two emotions that qualify. One character that I can relate to in her mission is Joy. Being a parent, I want my children to be happy. The most native emotion in my head is Sadness, because at the studio I get all of the scenes that are about making people cry. That’s what I get so maybe it’s because I can communicate that better that other people, but maybe it’s because of some other thing.

There are so many emotions that humans can experience, with some psychologist suggesting that there are as many as 27 different types. How did Pixar manage to narrow it down to just five?

Well the 27 were going to be unmanageable, that’s for sure. We actually thought that we were going to have the main emotions and then have an outer ring of emotions that are waiting in the wings. One of them was Shadenfreude [takes pleasure in others’ misfortune] and the other was Ennuyé [who is] bored with things. But it wasn’t relevant to the story so we just nexted those. We used to have a character, Hope, who’s always ringing her hands and always hoping for the best things to happen, hoping some bad things don’t and she became terribly limited. [We] couldn’t write her dialogue without saying “I hope”… Gone! The other character was Surprise and every time she came in [she said] “Oh!” Which is funny as a gag but it was a one gag character. She was annoying even to the other characters, so gone! So that’s how we do it, trial and error.

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