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Students Go Behind 'Inside Out'

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(L–R) Pixar animators Stephen Wong, Austin Madison, Paul Mendoza and Terry Song. Photo by Bob Toy.

The hallways of 79 New Montgomery started filling up at around 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6 with students eager to hear from the evening’s presenters, who are living the careers of their dreams. Hosted by Tea Time Animation, four talented artists from Disney Pixar, Stephen Wong, Terry Song, Austin Madison and Paul Mendoza, were on hand to discuss the animation of Inside Out.

Inside Out is about a young girl, Riley, and how the emotions in her head interact and play off of each other. The character of Riley was inspired by director Pete Docter’s daughter, Elie. After “getting inside of her head” a little bit, he sat down with a picture of Elie and drew Riley. Docter’s research of neuroscience was another source of inspiration. The anatomy of the human brain, how our emotions work and how they’re triggered, along with speaking to multiple human mind specialists was enough to solidify Docter’s idea for a film. The specific tool of Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is what helped the creators pick what emotions to personify.

Crowd supervisor and animator Paul Mendoza first spoke about character design, focusing on the main emotion character, Joy. The first step they utilized was finding a basic shape to relate the character back to, whether that be for personality or physical appearance. Joy was modeled after a spark, as her character was always bubbly and energetic. The way she jumps and holds herself always has a four-point structure (arms extended, feet out, etc). Sadness resembles a teardrop, for obvious reasons. When the animators were developing the character, they made Sadness run and cry at the same time. This motion is what inspired a lot of Sadness’ actions in the movie. When it came around to Anger, Lewis Black was an automatic pick for the voice. The reference for his structure was a rectangle, resembling how confining anger can be. The crowd favorite was Bing Bong. He is Riley’s childhood imaginary elephant friend. Inspiration for Bing Bong came from cotton candy. It took many attempts with different body parts and features to get to the perfect “aw, shucks” look they were going for.

Mendoza also spoke about the technicalities that go into the animation process. The team had to develop new techniques to create these characters, because their features, especially their eyes, had a special construction. The techniques used specifically on Joy included the “new eye rig,” which was used on Joy’s eyes because of how tall they were, and also “flat lid control,” which added definition and prevented them from looking droopy. Other techniques included an iris and pupil shaping tool and a silhouette shaping tool. All of the professionals agreed that Inside Out was told through the eyes of all of their characters, so perfecting each movement of the eyes was quite important.

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Pixar animator Austin Madison. Photo by Bob Toy.

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Terry Song spoke about “Tony Time” with sketch artist Tony Fucile while working on “Inside Out.” Photo by Bob Toy.

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Pixar animators discuss 'Inside Out' at the 79 New Montgomery Theatre. Photo by Bob Toy.

Animator Terry Song spoke about how he would skip class to go watch the film’s celebrity animation sketch artist Tony Fucile speak and work and remembers his teacher asking him why he was late to class. Now working alongside Fucile, Song was feeling the pressure. 

There was a designated time for the Inside Out staff to meet with Fucile and have him help them with their work during a one-on-one called “Tony Time.” Song wanted to get his work perfect before he met with Fucile, so he didn’t go until he felt is was up to par. When Song sent Fucile his scenes outside of “Tony Time,” Fucile would make subtle changes, mostly on the eyes. Those adjustments came with helpful notes and tips. There were 80 to 100 controls just for the characters’ eyes alone, and for some scenes, all of them would be in use. “This is a rare opportunity to work on a film like this,” Song said. “It reminded me why I love animation and why I became an animator.”

Storyboard artist Austin Madison spoke about the tilt, twist and rhythm of characters. These aspects were pulled together by Glen Keane and first used on the Disney movie Tangled. Madison mentioned how the twist component has a lot of features based off of Greek sculpture. It is important to compose a clear silhouette of the characters in each scene. Madison provided an image that showed the difference from an animated body in action and a realistic body in action, the animated version being much more exaggerated and perfect. 

Madison is an instructor of the Pixar classes at the Academy and select students received exclusive feedback during the panel. One tip that he gave to the audience was to make your first scene, or the image that pops up for its icon, as interesting as possible. It should tell a story and leave a memorable impression. Madison’s live editing, small yet impactful, were amazing to see in an interactive environment. It was astonishing how a slightly higher tilt can change the story of what a character is doing.

Stephen Wong spoke about the new classes Pixar is offering at the Academy. They include P4 Acting and Shot Production, P3 Advanced Acting and Polish and P2 Intro to Acting and Physicality. There are also some new elective classes, all of which require a reel submission to get in. Song said that their objective is to foster an environment that allows everyone to continue to learn from each other. Mendoza mentioned that each of them have been working 60-plus hours a week for over 10 years. Madison touched on the importance of any artist’s sketchbook. If an artist is without his or her sketchbook, they are unarmed! It is so important to capture an interesting moment or gesture wherever it may be.

The Inside Out team’s presentation ended with some fun facts about the film. Family Island is the approximate size of Disneyland, and Riley’s hockey stadium location is where the Walt Disney Family Museum is located. Also, there are 17 billion shelves in Riley’s long-term memory and they hold 1.2 trillion memories! Thank you to Tea Time Animation for hosting a great evening filled with interesting information, entertainment and humor from this talented Pixar team.