A Look Inside A Pixar Braintrust Meeting – And Pete Docter’s New Film, Inside Out‏

Inside Out

Top dog Pixarian Ed Catmull has written a piece for Fast Company that, really, you should read in full. It’s an insider’s point of view on what happens at one of the studio’s infamous Brain Trust meetings.

This one took place after a screening of Peter Docter’s upcoming 2015 movie, Inside Out – a story that, appropriately enough, is set inside a young girl’s mind where various emotional forces try to work everything out together.

Some details of the film’s “mythology” were up for discussion at the meeting Catmull describes, and particularly in how they related to the film’s themes and clarity of storytelling. Of course, the details cited may have changed since the meeting, if not indeed because of it, but we’re given some insight into how the storytelling process was going at Pixar that day.

Here’s an excerpt from the section where Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird gave Docter their notes, helping him to strengthen some weaker parts of his set up.

Every Pixar movie has its own rules that viewers have to accept, understand, and enjoy understanding. The voices of the toys in the Toy Story films, for example, are never audible to humans. The rats in Ratatouille walk on four paws, like normal vermin, except for Remy, our star, whose upright posture sets him apart. In Pete’s film, one of the rules–at least at this point–was that memories (depicted as glowing glass globes) were stored in the brain by traveling through a maze of chutes into a kind of archive. When retrieved or remembered, they’d roll back down another tangle of chutes, like bowling balls being returned to bowlers at the alley.

That construct was elegant and effective, but Andrew suggested that another rule needed to be clarified: how memories and emotions change over time, as the brain gets older. This was the moment in the film, Andrew said, to establish some key themes. Listening to this, I remembered how in Toy Story 2, the addition of Wheezy helped establish the idea that damaged toys could be discarded, left to sit, unloved, on the shelf. Andrew felt there was a similar opportunity here. “Pete, this movie is about the inevitability of change,” he said. “And of growing up.”

There’s an awful lot more in Catmull’s full account, including some gems from the Braintrust consultations over Wall-E and Toy Story 3. His final conclusion paints a very encouraging picture of Pixar’s coroporate culture:

Believe me, you don’t want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or policy are being hashed out. The best inoculation against this fate? Seek out people who are willing to level with you, and when you find them, hold them close.

This year’s only Pixar movie is Party Central, the Monsters University short that’s shipping out with Muppets Most Wanted. Thank heavens it’s funny and charming.

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