One of the highlights of D23, aside from the live action movie news and learning the names of future features, was the insight shared by members of Pixar's creative team on the research process that goes into making every film.
The “Doing Your Research” panelists included Brave producer Katherine Sarafian, who served as moderator, director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo, Wall-E), director Pete Docter (Monsters Inc., Up) Lindsey Collins (producer of Wall-E, Finding Dory), Jonas Rivera (producer of Up, Inside Out), and Denise Ream (producer of Cars 2, The Good Dinosaur).
Here’s just a few things we learned from the animated assemblage of Pixar creators:
Andrew Stanton on why collaboration is crucial to the process of making a Pixar film:
“What’s great about doing it as a group, is you’re all collectively making the movie so when you sit there you can even say ‘I can’t tell what’s wrong, but we can feel something’s off’. It’s like we’re all chefs and go ‘Something tastes off’. There’s always that intangible sixth sense thing that you couldn’t have had you not all experienced it.”
Jonas Rivera on what the team generally spends doing while doing research:
“The truth is that 90% of this [research] is the lamest, most boring stuff. I worked on A Bug’s Life. I remember the first piece of reference I got to do with John Lasseter. His assistant calls because, as John was driving out, he saw some really great mud in the driveway. I ran out with the camera and took these pictures of mud and I remember coming down to Disney, they were working on Mulan and were like, ‘We just got back from our research trip in China’ and I’m in the driveway taking pictures of mud. That’s the bulk of it.”
Stanton on doing research on thematic and practical elements of Pixar films:
“For Brave, one of the earliest things we did was get as many people to come together who work at Pixar to talk about their mother and daughter relationships just to make sure that we were telling all the different facets (of these relationships). It’s like trying to do a control group, just trying to understand what were the common denominators as opposed to the very specific ones from certain situations. And like on Toy Story, we were our own research. It was just trying to go through [our experiences with toys]. Every day was just story telling about what toys you played with and we’d go to Toys R’ Us. That was the most we did. It wasn’t like we were skimping. That’s what we needed to capture.”
Katherine Sarafian on actors providing insight to make changes:
“Our actors are part of our research. Emma Thompson would look and say ‘This is great but a Scot would never say this.’ We used to have a line in the movie where Merida was very angry with her mother and Elinor just gets extremely thick in her Scottish accent, she’s so angry, and so Merida says to her mother ‘Careful mother, your Scottish is showing’ and we end up changing the line when Emma Thompson saw it and said ‘A Scot would never say that. Scot’s are extremely proud of their language, their culture. This is not something you would ever want to hide. You’re not trying to act English.’ That sort of changed the course of what we thought about everything.”
The Pixar team on what research really means:
Pete Doctor: What got us all into animation was sitting. For me it was like drawing on programs as I would sit in classical music concerts and you’re just watching and observing other people. And those observations are what you put into film and what people respond to. The essence of the films is research.”
Andrew Stanton: It’s the chance to go to school, where they pay you.
Katherine Sarafian: We use everything. The number one source of research is our family relationships. When you look at so many of our films they have either a parent/child dynamic or a sibling dynamic or a friendship dynamic. We take that from our real lives. So many moments from our films are from your last dinner conversation or a thing your kid said to you or something your parent used to say to you. We take it right from the family, our relationships. Rip off everything that we’re living and use it in the film.
Images and characters: Disney Pixar