June 23, 2013

Movies: Pixar's 'Monsters' crew goes to college

By REBECCA KEEGAN, McClatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 1)

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Sulley and Mike, above, in a scene from “Monsters University,” a prequel to 2001’s box office and critical hit “Monsters, Inc.”

Pixar courtesy photos

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Director Dan Scanlon, who with his team, made research trips to several college campuses around the country.

After years of almost impossibly glowing reviews from film critics, Pixar has suffered some of its own humbling moments, such as the critical reception for "Cars 2." Although its recent films continue to perform well at the box office and "Brave" won the animated feature Oscar last year, there is a perception that the studio is not producing sophisticated movies like the "Toy Story" franchise and "Up" that made its reputation.

Like most people who end up at Pixar, Scanlon's is not a failure story, but he had episodes of doubt. Growing up in Clawson, Mich., Scanlon was a doodler and a mediocre student until he got to art school and suddenly felt seized with purpose.

"When I went to college I thought, 'Oh, my drawings are up on my mom's refrigerator, I must be a genius,' and quickly realized that wasn't the case."

After graduation, when some of his friends got jobs at major animation studios, Scanlon stayed in Columbus and worked at a local shop. A few years later, a friend helped get his portfolio into the hands of someone at Pixar. Scanlon soon began working as a storyboard artist, and went on to co-direct the short film "Mater and the Ghostlight."

"Being able to go to an art college engaged me in what I really wanted to do and I ... suddenly was a completely different student and was obsessed with doing the best I could. As a result I didn't really go party it up all that much." 

TO STEEP THEMSELVES in the collegiate experience, Scanlon and his team, including producer Kori Rae, associate producer Nicole Grindle and story supervisor Kelsey Mann, took several research trips to campuses around the country, starting in their back yard at Berkeley and also heading to Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"We were always looking for those touchstones that in your mind most colleges have, like a gate, an open quad," Scanlon said. "Our hope was that we'd go to enough places and research enough campuses that we could make an amalgam that was original to our school but people would think it was their school."

In the course of their research they visited frat houses -- typically not during the parties -- but the morning after, when the sticky floor smelled like bleach and worse.

"We'd go into a fraternity house, we'd be loud, taking pictures and then our tour guide would come in and be like, 'Uh, hey, so there's a guy asleep underneath that bunk,"' said Mann.

One of the chief challenges of the movie was finding a way to depict traditional undergraduate pastimes in a way that was appropriate for a G-rated movie. Instead of students making out on the quad -- as a few couples were this morning at Berkeley -- the affectionate monsters in "Monsters University" hold hands. Instead of booze-fueled ragers, the fraternity and sorority members are high on the fun of scaring.

"We realized that as long as people were being kind of rambunctious and wild, you could hang out of windows and break things and eat garbage and it felt like, that's a pretty crazy party but it still could happen at an 8-year-old's birthday party," Scanlon said.

While strolling at Berkeley, it was easy to get nostalgic about the college years, but Scanlon said he has no desire to go back.

"It's so romantic to be here on a campus," Scanlon said. "But I'm so glad I'm just going back to work to helm a massive movie with no stress compared to having to turn in term papers."MOVIES


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