Monsters University: The Cliff Notes Edition #MonstersUEvent

We make the kind of movies we like to watch. I love to laugh. I love to be amazed by how beautiful it is. But I also love to be moved to tears. There’s lots of heart in our films. 

-John Lasseter

Eight years ago, Monsters University was simply an idea.  Following the success of Monsters, Inc., Disney/Pixar knew that they wanted to bring Mike and Sulley back to the screen.  But what direction would these inseparable friends take?  Mike and Sulley were the top scarers at Monsters, Inc., but how did they meet and achieve such distinction?  Audiences will find out the “backstory” this summer when Disney/Pixar releases Monsters University on June 21st, 2013.


Last month, I enrolled at Monsters University in Emeryville, California to get “schooled” on the film. We participated in a number of “classes” which provided insight as to how the story and characters were brought to life.  Hearing from the filmmakers first-hand reminds me how much thought, research, and heart go into every aspect of a Pixar film.

Scott Clark, Monsters University

In Dramatic Arts, Supervising Animator Scott Clark described the animation process and we viewed a demo on a linux machine. Clark shared the challenges of animating a 500 pound monster (Sulley) and utilized the dance party scene as a reference for describing how the team created his movements to appear natural. With regards to movement, Sulley is based on us, but the challenges extend beyond simple forward/back, side-to-side movements.  With his small hips and large tail, the animation must be precise so that the scene is believable.

Robert Kondo,  Monsters University

In addition to creating characters that are believable, the world in which those characters reside must also be cohesive and consistent with the theme of the film.  In Anthropolgy 152: Monsterizing the World, Shading/Lighting Art Director Dice Tsutsumi and Sets Art Director Robert Kondo took us through the process of “monsterification.” The most prominent displays of monsterification are best visualized in the architecture.  The trapezoid is a heavily used motif and can be seen in the structures at Monsters University and the shapes of the monsters.  Since scaring is what Monsters University is best known for, you’ll notice when you watch the film, that everything is powered by “the scream.”  Lastly, since the film takes place at Monsters University, the filmmakers decided that they should create new, diverse monsters…monsters that fly and swim.

Jason Deamer, Monsters University

Creating a prequel, particularly when the idea was conceived several years after the original film, poses unique challenges. In Sociology 203: The Deconstruction of a Character, Production Designer Ricky Nierva, Character Art Director Jason Deamer, and Character Designer Daniela Strijleva talked us through how they took years off of Mike and Sulley and designed a slew of monsterific characters for the film. Since Pixar puts great emphasis on research, the filmmakers were asked to bring in photos of themselves at 18 and they brainstormed those things that age a person.  In the film, you’ll notice that Mike is slimmer and more vibrant.  The filmmakers took away his wrinkling and blemishes, shortened his horns, and added both a retainer and a hat.  Similarly, Sully is thinner with shorter horns and will be seen with a FoHawk.

Kelsey Mann, Monsters University

The most fascinating course I took part in was English 101: How to Tell a Great Story.  Story Supervisor Kelsey Mann storyboarded a scene from Monsters University right in front of us, utilizing Adobe Photoshop and Pitch Doctor.  This is the process the filmmakers must go through when posing ideas for scenes and elements of the story and it is quite an incredible phenomenon to see live.  The Pixar team is insanely talented and this was just a glimpse at the detail that went into creating this film.

Monsters University Drawing Lesson

We concluded this session with a drawing lesson.  I most definitely need to keep my day job!

Sanjay Bakshi, Monsters University

Our last class of the day was Physics 250: Global Illumination.  Director of Photography/Lighting Jean-Claude Kalache, Supervising Technical Director Sanjay Bakshi, and Simulation Supervisor Christine Waggoner showed us a presentation on the use of a brand new technology called Global Illumination which was used in both Monsters University and The Blue Umbrella.  Developed by Pixar, this technology used to create realism to 3D films through the use of lighting.  Admittedly, this is quite complex but the result is rich, visually stunning 3D world.

Monsters University

Monsters University opens in theaters June 21st, 2013

You can keep up-to-date with the latest news regarding the film by connecting via the following social media channels:


Twitter #MonstersU

No compensation was received for this post. I was invited on a press trip to cover the film’s release and travel was provided. #MonstersUEvent 

Images: Disney/Pixar, used with permission.


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