Get inside the head of Pixar's Inside Out

24 Jul 2015 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

6 mins
Inside Out
Inside Out

Inside Out is set inside the mind of an 11 year-old girl called Riley, with the central characters being five key emotions who help guide her through life as she comes to terms with moving to a new city. An adventure story that takes place across the human mind, taking in weird areas like Abstract Thought and Long Term Memory, it is a hugely ambitious premise for a film, and something that requires all of Pixar's skill and charm to succeed.

This isn't the first time Pixar have devised unusual concepts for their films. A commitment to innovative storytelling - and not being restricted by the limits of live action - means they can set their films wherever they want, with whatever characters they like, be it a rat living in a Parisian kitchen in Ratatouille or an elderly man journeying to South America on-board his balloon filled house in Up.

The filmmakers designed characters for each of the five main emotions in Riley's mind, based around shapes that we might associate with them. Joy resembles a star, Sadness is a teardrop, Fear is a raw nerve and Anger is a firebrick. The artists are obviously not very keen on their greens though, because Disgust is designed to look like a sprig of broccoli! Our reporter Kaylum recently met director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera, who told him about some of the other emotions they considered for the film. You can watch it below.

Pete Docter first came up with the idea for the film in 2009 when he noticed differences in the personality of his daughter as she was growing up. The concept was also partly based on his own experiences as a boy, relocating to Denmark when his father got a new job. Struggling to fit in, Pete would spend most of his time drawing - a hobby that eventually led to him pursuing his career in animation. We think Pete's is an inspiring story about how we can turn universal feelings like awkwardness and shyness into something incredibly positive.

When making a picture, Pixar spend two to three years just on storyboarding alone before they even start animating properly. During this time, they sit down several times and watch the film as a work-in-progress, the result of which can mean that parts of the film get redesigned or rewritten, sometimes from scratch. One of Pixar's defining values is a belief that great animation comes from people, not computers. They would be the first to tell you that anybody can create a fantastic animation, with just a pencil, a piece of a paper, and your imagination!

When it came to animating the characters, the filmmakers felt it was important for the emotions to look real, but not too real. If you look closely at how they appear on the screen, the characters have a slightly sparkly quality, reflecting the fact that the characters are made up of tiny particles and not intended to be skin and bone. Listen out for the voice of Fritz, the construction worker, played by John Ratzenberger, who has appeared in every single film Pixar have made! His first role for them was as Hamm the Piggy Bank in Toy Story, although John has said his favourite role is P.T. Flea in A Bug's Life. He is often referred to as Pixar's lucky charm, and Inside Out is the fifteenth time he has worked with them.

Another Pixar tradition is for their films to be preceded by an animated short before the main feature. It was the success of their short films like Tin Toy and Luxo Jnr. that allowed them to move into production on their first feature film, Toy Story. The short ahead of Inside Out is called Lava, and is a musical love story involving two lonely volcanoes, and takes place over millions of years. Short films are often really useful places for animation studios to test out new styles and techniques, as well as allowing exciting new filmmakers the chance to have their work seen before potentially moving on to make full length films. Screening short films before the main event is nothing new, though: from the earliest days of feature films, cinema visits would often include a whole series of short films before the main film started.

Pixar's huge success comes down to the fact that they do not treat their audiences differently. Like Japan's Studio Ghibli, Pixar's films allow adults to indulge their inner child, while also treating children with the intelligence that they deserve. This is why their films hold such universal appeal. In the case of Inside Out, the film is actually about universal experiences; those we can all relate to, like trying to settle in a new school or a new home, or seeing our personalities change as we grow older, often without us even realising it's happening!

As well as Ratzenberger's voice, there are lots of other references to earlier Pixar films during Inside Out. Some of the scenes that take place inside Riley's memory feature scenes from other Pixar movies. Reckon yourself a Pixar Pro? See how many you can spot!

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Curation Manager

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has been with Into Film (and beforehand FILMCLUB) since 2012. 

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