Pixar’s latest, “Inside Out,” packs all the feels. Quite literally.
The movie follows 11-year-old Riley, spirited and goofy, as her dad’s new job in San Francisco uproots the family from the Midwest. Helping to navigate Riley through this change are her emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith).
The anthropmorphic emotions live in Headquarters, the control center of Riley’s mind, where they work together to advise her through everyday life. It’s one of Pixar’s most daring concepts to date. Directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen reimagine the brain as a Rube Goldberg-inspired aparatus, where memories are stored in glowing orbs that play back like Vines and a literal train of thought runs on a track through her psyche.
“Inside Out” is an unmistakable Pixar production. Much like “Toy Story,” Finding Nemo,” and “Up,” the movie takes you on wildly funny adventures, all while tugging at the heartstrings. It strikes a perfect balance between childlike wonder and enthusiasm and smart, crass humour — appeasing both the kids and adults watching. And while “Inside Out,” which is the studio’s first release since 2013’s “Monsters University,” falls just shy of its predecessors’ emotional pull, it surpasses them in its stunning animation and technical feats.
In an interview at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California, Del Carmen (“Up,” “Ratatouille”) told Business Insider that the team set out to create the “largest set” of any animated movie. It was an absurdly tall order.
“We had to create the worlds that have never existed before. What does the interior of the mind look like? What are the systems in place?” del Carmen said. How do you visualise short-term memory converting into long-term memory, and the process of forgetting things? “We had to make that represented in the movie.”
A person’s personality, for example, is made up of large, amusement park-like “personality islands.” Each represents a core trait or value. Below, we see the emotions peering out into the vast landscape of Riley’s mind, where family island, friendship island, ice hockey island, and goofball island form her very essence.
The emotions interact with the real world through the looking glass: Riley’s eyes. The vibrant colours and detail are exquisite.
Getting an audience to care about such conceptual characters — emotions that you recognise, but have never seen manifested in the physical form — is an enormous challenge. But Pixar made their lives all the more difficult by advancing the tech used to make the film.
If you look at Joy, her clothes, teeth, and hair appear plain, however, her skin appears to shed twinkling particles of energy. Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter described them as “champagne” bubbles.
When Anger is particularly angry, his skin prickles even more. This technique informs the viewer how the emotions are feeling.
Del Carmen told us this bold style didn’t come cheap, but the effect was worth it.
“Having a character that is made of little particles that actually move around and lift up and disappear and not be distracting” was a tall order, he said. They blew through the budget in order to do it. But, “these characters are uniquely their own. They’re not toys, they’re not made out of plastic or wood, they’re emotions.” Their texture is how you know.
Typically, once the animators and voice actors finish their jobs, the footage is sent to the lighting department, where technicians manually light the frames and characters to make them more dynamic. This process can be arduous, particularly when the leads appear to be light sources themselves.
Pixar sped up this process by developing a new lighting technology that automatically made the characters’ feet and appendages emit light on their surroundings, Cinemablend’s Nick Romano reported in an interview with the filmmakers.
It’s as simple as that. Add some effervescent glitter, and boom — you’ve turned chemical firings in the brain into a digestible and iconic visual metaphor for understanding what role emotions play in your life and the lives of those around you. “Inside Out” teaches that each serves you in some way, be it Joy who fulfils you, Fear who keeps you safe, or Anger who defends you when you are wronged; and the film’s ambitious animation succeeds in executing that concept.
I certainly hope for an “Inside Out” sequel starring Puberty.
“Inside Out” is in theatres June 19.
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