Last week, we were sent to Emeryville, CA to take a peek into the minds of Pixar’s best and brightest, as well as their latest film, Inside Out. Helmed by Pete Docter, the writer/director behind Pixar gems like Monsters, Inc. and Up, Inside Out is a journey into the mind and emotions of Riley, a twelve-year-old girl who’s lost her way. As Riley struggles to adapt to a cross-country move, her dad’s new job, and the perils that inevitably stem from just being a twelve-year-old girl (do not recommend), we see her key emotions — Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) —learn how to adapt along with her. We were able to watch the first hour of the film, and if, like me, the score for Up still gives you serious heart pangs, this one’s going to be a real doozy.
Without giving away too much, Inside Out is really all about Joy and Sadness, who, through a series of events, are propelled from Riley’s mind (“Headquarters”), along with the core memories that make Riley who she is, and end up lost in the seemingly endless caverns of her mind. As they try to make their way back to headquarters before all of Riley’s “Personality Islands” (physical lands that represent family, friends, honesty, goofiness, etc., pictured above) are lost forever, Joy and Sadness weave their way through long term memory, abstract thought, Dream Productions, and even into the depths of the subconscious. Throughout that journey, Joy is having a pretty tough time dealing with a) the loss of what she sees as Riley’s entire personality, and b) the perma-bummer that is Sadness (who, spoiler alert, is one of the best parts of the film so far). The result is a deeply personal, painfully honest look at parenthood and family — exactly what we’ve come to expect and cherish from Pixar.
The animation studio is back in a big way with Inside Out, which was inspired by director Pete Docter’s attempts to understand his own daughter. He, along with longtime partner producer Jonas Rivera and co-director Ronnie del Carmen, all drew from their experiences as parents to create a rich, somber-tinged world of growing up and letting go. Doctor, Rivera, and del Carmen shared that they were each going through the different stages of parenthood, from Jonas’ young kids to Docter’s teen daughter to del Carmen’s more grown up children. You can sense the creators’ raw emotions in every scene, from when Joy first “meets” Riley, gazing upon her with utter adoration, to the moment that Riley’s “personality islands” start to crumble. Who here hasn’t witnessed their parents’ frustration when they gave up a childhood hobby like piano or, in Riley’s case, hockey? Parents go through a loss of sorts when their little one grows up and changes into someone new, and Joy is the outlet for all these issues.
As with any Pixar film, the world that the characters inhabit is a large part of why the story is so effective. To convey the rich, inner world of Riley’s mind and the emotions that inhabit it, Production Designer Ralph Eggleston had to contrast it with reality. The outside world is flat, realistic, and filled with a more muted palette of colors, while Headquarters and all the emotions are amped up to the point of oversaturation. Everything is softer, brighter, less tangible in Riley’s mind. (Eggleston referenced the look and feel of Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart several times.) And though Inside Out is not set in the brain, but the mind (big distinction there), much of Headquarters was inspired by DNA’s double helix structure and the curves and folds of the hypothalamus.
On the character side, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust were all specially designed, through years of development, to look like emotions feel. Joy is framed by a jumping, shifting luminescence, an effervescence akin to champagne bubbles that follows her everywhere she goes. She’s also a direct source of light, which means that Lighting Artist Angelique Reisch had to create a specific lighting model to illuminate Joy from the inside out. (Sorry.) In fact, all of the lighting in the film was used to convey character and mood. We were surprised to see what a huge change the animation underwent when the proper lighting was added. (Inside tip: pay attention to the saturation and lighting as Riley’s emotional roller coaster kicks off. You won’t be disappointed.)
We’ll have more from our one-on-one interview with Pete Docter closer to the film’s release, but for now, take a peek at the inner workings of Inside Out in the gallery below. We can’t wait to see the third and final act, and we have a feeling you’ll love what you see, too.