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Disney Pixar Inside Out Q&A with Jonas Rivera And Pete Docter

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We took a trip inside the mind Producer Jonas Rivera and Director Pete Docter in an exclusive Inside Out Q&A session in Beverly Hills this month to learn more about the latest Disney•Pixar animated film that has Oscar written all over it.

Disney Pixar Inside Out Q&A With Jonas Rivera And Pete DocterPhoto Credit: Disney•Pixar

We sat with Producer Jonas Rivera and Director Pete Docter back in January during our visit to Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, California where we learned about Director Pete Docter's daughter and the inspiration she had on the film ‘Inside Out‘, how much leeway the actors were given to go off script, and if the dad in the film was really created to be the oblivious, uninvolved, doofus many stereotype sports loving fathers to be.

Now that the full film has been released, we delve deeper with our questions to get to the core of this movie that is guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings, as we watch Riley say goodbye to her childhood memories, and we watch sadness emerge as the hub of Riley's emotions.

‘Inside Out' opens in theaters everywhere on June 19, 2015!

Disney Pixar Inside Out Q&A with Jonas Rivera And Pete Docter

Q: Let's start with the inspiration behind ‘Inside Out' and, specifically, how you pitched this to John Lasseter.

Pete Docter: Well, I noticed my daughter growing up, being a little less goofy and wacky and funny and a little more shy and quiet because she had turned 11. And at the same time, I was looking at different ideas for a film and thought about emotions as characters.

So the basic pitch that I gave to Jonas at first, and then ultimately John, was, ‘What if we have an 11-year-old girl who's moved across the country, but she's actually not the main character; she's the setting, because inside her head are her emotions that help her deal with everyday life?'

Q: A recurring theme across Pixar movies, really embodied in ‘Inside Out,' is saying goodbye to your childhood, like Bing Bong has to. She has to let go of Bing Bong to move on. She has to accept that the Minnesota memories are sad now that she moved.

Is that theme, saying goodbye to your childhood, something the artists at Pixar talk about a lot, or is it more subconscious that seems to seep into a lot of the movies?

Jonas Rivera: There's almost nothing more emotional to me than thinking. I'm a parent now. My kids are nine, seven, and three, so they're younger. And I guess I've always been drawn to those stories, and it just feels like that is common at Pixar. Maybe it's because we actually act like we're ten-year-olds all the time. I don't know what it is, but Pixar does feel a little bit like this Neverland we've built and that maybe we're the Lost Boys or something.

It's just important to us, and what Bing Bong does, that's why that part was so important to me. When we first animated that, it really got me because it felt like that's the statement I've kind of been looking for.

Pete Docter: I think the other thing that affects us is we're trying to put our own life experiences up on the screen. I don't think there's been anything that has impacted me near as strongly as having been a parent. That experience just continues to inspire and challenge and move us in ways that everybody can resonate with.

Disney Pixar Inside Out Press Conference

Q: Pete, could you talk a little bit about picking five emotions to go inside the head, rather than six or four? Is there a mathematical reason for that? Also, were there some of the voices, in the case of Lewis Black, did he just cast himself?

Pete Docter: The very beginning pitch, I think I had pitched optimism, which we learned later is not really an emotion, and joy. So I had fear, anger, and some other ones, and we realized we don't really know anything about this. So we did a lot of research, and that's where this came from.

There is no consensus amongst scientists about how many emotions there actually are. Some say 3; some say 27; most are somewhere in the middle. So we realized we get to kind of make this up.

We arrived at five, mainly because it's a nice odd number. It felt like a good crowd, enough contrast and conflict between them, but not so big that you're, like, ‘Wait, who's that again? Schadenfreude? Okay. Lost track of −' so, if we were to represent all 27, my brain was hurting thinking of writing for all these characters.

Q: You guys make such amazing animated films together. Is that something you consciously do together when you're gonna pitch a new movie that you wanna be as a team to make films for Pixar? And why do you like to make people cry?

Jonas Rivera: I think we found, as we were working, we both kind of grew up at Pixar. I've been there 20 years. Pete's been there longer, going back to the first ‘Toy Story', and we've found along the way that Pixar's a place that's just made of a lot of really cool people, and it's an amazing place. We're spoiled with all the talent that surrounds us.

We realized we love kind of the same movies, and we love the Disney movies of the '40s and '50s and '30s. That Golden Age, sort of echoing what you were asking about, that feeling we had when we were kids that we didn't want to ever lose, going to Disneyland for the first time, and all those things.

As we talked and started to work together, even back on ‘Monsters', we were craving a similar movie, which was completely different from the movie we did last. That was something we talked a lot about. Even finishing the film, ‘Up,' which came out six years ago, the very first thing was, ‘How can we do something completely different from that?' We're very proud of that, but it is always about character and emotion and that feeling.

Pete Docter: I think we have similar tastes and different but complementary skills, and a mutual respect for each other and what each other brings to the show. I can't see how I could be able to do these without Jonas, and I don't know if you feel the same way, but I think it's been a really great relationship.

Q: I'd like to go back to the five emotions, but in this case, there was a reference to Lewis Black casting himself, and I'd love if you talked about the casting of each of the five and why those particular actors are suitable for creating those emotions, because without those performances this movie never would have worked. That was a crucial lynchpin in the entire production.

Pete Docter: Lewis Black was one that, even as I was pitching the concept, I would say, ‘Imagine the fun we're gonna have when it comes to casting. We could get people like Lewis Black as Anger,' and people would go, ‘Oh, yeah, I get that.' So, when we cast him, Jonas called him.

Jonas Rivera: I called Lewis through our casting department at Pixar, and we pitched him the movie. We wanted him to play Anger, and he immediately, I think what he said was, like, ‘Great, real stretch casting, guys, brilliant.' Mocking us for calling him.

That was even more perfect. He was so great. He does one of the great lines in the movie, too. He's got that great line where he just says, ‘What have we done?' And he says it in a non-Lewis Black way that has a punch. He's just a great actor.

Bill came on pretty early. I was a fan of Bill Hader since ‘Saturday Night Live,' and it turned out Bill was a fan of Pixar. He shows up one day at Pixar and our casting director calls, says, ‘Bill Hader's in the atrium. Does anyone wanna go have coffee with him?' So we go down there, and there's Bill Hader drinking coffee by himself. He had, on his own dime, flown up, just because he loves animation.

We just fell in love with him, and he came on to write with us actually because he's such a great writer, and he was so much fun in the story room. We went through the script and he started developing voices, and he kind of leaned towards Fear, and he was perfect at it. He really brought this sort of, I don't know, Don Knotts, sheriff of Mulberry, quick turn on a dime that made us laugh, and he fit.

Disney Pixar Inside Out Press Conference

Pete Docter: To run through the rest, because I know we have limited time, Disgust, we struggled with a lot, because we weren't sure whether she should be disgusting or disgusted. Once we arrived at disgusted, Mindy's voice came up. She takes lines that are fine writing and makes them amazing to listen to.

Like most of the cast, we would come with the script and I would say, ‘Do you have any other ideas for this? Go ahead and play around.' She would come up with little alternate lines and asides, and added a ton to both the character and the film.

Sadness was one that, early on, we actually had that character as male in the very first versions. Then, as the film went on, we realized we have too many guys in this movie, especially if it's taking place in a girl's head.

Phyllis Smith was just so funny in ‘Bad Teacher.' She was hesitant and couldn't even order a chicken sandwich. Like, ‘I'll have the chicken sandwich?' Everything had a question mark, and that felt right, and it worked. That's how we ended up playing the character, and she just nailed it.

Joy was the last one to be cast, and it was the most difficult of any of the characters to write for because she had a tendency of being really annoying. If you write someone who is always chipper and upbeat and, ‘Come on, guys, we can do this,' you wanna sock that person.

Amy was able to put that in some way that made it just entertaining. It was not insufferable. You root for her, and I think there were a couple other smaller writing clues that helped break that open a little bit, too, but we can talk about that extra, if we need to.

Q: Building off of what you had mentioned earlier with the casting, Riley has both male and female voices in her head. Mom's got all females. Dad's got all males. How did you arrive at this decision? Was it just purely based on casting, or how did this all break down?

Pete Docter: It was largely based on clarity, frankly, because that scene presented itself. Ronnie del Carmen wrote and boarded that, and when we tried it with a mix of male and female and moms and dads, it just got confusing. So you're cutting from 4 locations, 18 characters, and you're, like, ‘Where am I again?' So we just went for the obvious of all dads have mustaches; all moms have the glasses and the hair, so you instantly know where you are and that just made it work a lot better.

Disney Pixar Inside Out Press Conference

Q: This film speaks very strongly to an older kind of target demographic than a lot of animated films, and Pixar films have in the past. I was wondering if, when you started on this project, was there ever a point where you were imagining the main character being a younger character than she turned out to be in the film?

Joans Rivera: I think because that age felt right at 11, that really felt like the fork in the road for most kids. Obviously, we have versions where we see her grow up and stuff, but it always felt about like the right age.

I think there's something about seeing a little older kids in movies. I always think about even the Spielberg movies of the '80s. I was always a hair younger than those kids. I thought that was cool. We didn't really talk about that, but I've always thought that was interesting.

Q: I think it's interesting that in Disney's ‘Big Hero 6', San Francisco was cool. In this one, you successfully managed to make it pretty downer there. Could you talk a little bit about making San Francisco look quite a downer?

Pete Docter: One of the things that seems to happen is that even memories are affected by the way you feel today. So, if you're walking around depressed, and it's a beautiful sunny day out, you're gonna notice all the things that reinforce your emotion.

We tried to make the city reflect the way Riley felt about herself and her environment. We definitely emphasized certain elements of San Francisco, the wires overhead, the graffiti, and the sort of dirt, to reinforce the adult kind of desaturated colors and the way she was feeling at the time. Of course it's a beautiful city, and hopefully we got a little of that across, as well.

Jonas Rivera: It made sense to us, from a kid's point of view and in contrast from where she was with all her friends. I love the first few shots as you drive in. It is sort of picture-postcard. But then, when you get home, it's not what she thought, so we needed it to stay there to kind of amplify that.

Disney Pixar Inside Out Press Conference

Q: Joy is the captain of Riley's mind, and I notice that mom's mind has Sadness in the center seat, and Dad has Anger. How much I should read into that?

Pete Docter: We noticed in real life, people do have tendencies, right? There are friends of mine who would more likely be sad or depressed or angry or whatever. So we felt like we were touching on something that was truthful.

We also had an earlier version where Joy was kind of in charge of the happy childhood, and she believed that her time was gonna come to an end, and so we wanted to further prove that by showing that other characters around were not led by Joy. That worked itself kind of out of the picture, but we ended up keeping with it, just not commenting on it, just as a way of kind of fleshing out the world and making it a little more dimensional.

Jonas Rivera: That was kind of fun, because it was such an abstract process. Pete had said he wanted these characters to look like our emotions feel, which was hard for the arts department to then chase down what that would be. We didn't want them to be little people or little Muppets.

Albert Lozano, our character art director, came up with this great little simple drawing of shapes, and I thought it was really cool. It was just each one of them as a different shape.

Joy was a star, and she was literally this golden, illuminated, almost like a sparkler, like an explosion. Even her body language, she's always out. Sadness was a teardrop, so even the shape and color and her hair, sort of almost a waterfall. Fear was just a raw nerve. He drew this straight line, like he is tight and conservative, and he's wound up. Anger's a brick, this immovable briquette or something that could blow his top. He just was a square. And Disgust was a stalk of broccoli. He just drew that like our kids would be disgusted by that.

That was just this metaphoric way to attack them all, and they sort of retained that shape and color as they went on.

Disney Pixar Inside Out Press Conference

Q: I notice at the center of emotion is the emotion console. How did the idea for the emotion console come, as well as the theme of a spaceship, driving those emotions?

Pete Docter: From the very beginning, we thought of the emotions as being some sort of controls because I feel like that's probably how they would work in other to affect us emotionally. Early on, we made it much more specific. We had heart rate, and body temperature, the things that emotions actually do physically affect in us.

The idea of each emotion, I don't know if you notice this, when they touch the console it changes color. It's like those fancy cars when they can sense when a certain person sits in it. The seat adjusts. So it's a little like that. It adjusts, depending on who's driving.

Jonas Rivera:  I remember looking at the Millennium Falcon. You just buy that there's a throttle. You kind of don't need to know more than that. I've always sort of accepted those buttons worked and did things. We kind of wanted the similar grammar, but in a fun way.

We had talked with the art department as they started coming up with it, that and the whole room. It was almost like this combination of ‘It's a Small World' and an Apple store. That's what we kind of kept saying. It was whimsical and whirligigs, and same with the console, but it was also serious. It was just clinical enough to work and be functional and so forth.

Q: Joy has blue hair, and you pair her with Sadness throughout the movie. Are they reflections of one another? Also, are you already planning now for Riley's teenage years?

Pete Docter: Too scary, can't go there.

Jonas Rivera: Yeah, that'd be a horror film, and we're not brave enough.

Pete Docter: Originally, we had Joy with orange hair. The thinking was that every character would be kind of more or less monochromatic with shades going one way or another, but then there was something that just felt like Joy needed more dimensionality, more contrast. By giving her blue hair, which is complete opposite of yellow, it just rounded her out, made her the more complex visual character.

We did like the idea that, even though she doesn't understand Sadness, she's got an element of that in her right from the very beginning or just a foreshadowing.

Q: There's a great equitability on-screen, both in the dialogue and visually with each of the emotions, as well as an equitable codependency. How important was it to incorporate each of the emotions, give them their fair share, and show you can't really have one without the other?

Pete Docter: That was fairly central to the whole theme of the film. From the beginning we felt like Joy has a character who's rootable. We all want to be happy. We want our children to be happy. Yet, life is not always like that. It's full of disappointments and loss and difficulty. So that's really where all the other emotions come in.

We knew that we wanted to talk about that from the beginning, but it took us a long time to find the right specifics to be able to dramatize it, even pairing Joy with Sadness. We've talked about before, she was initially paired with Fear for quite a long time during the story development process, but Fear didn't really provide Joy the message she needed to know.

At the end of the film, we wanted her to go back and do something that she could have never done at the beginning of the film, based on what she'd learned. Sadness, which at first seems like something to avoid, it's negative; we don't want it to be part of our lives, you come to realize that's actually an essential part of dealing with loss. It slows you down. It allows for recovery. It even exhibits signs to other people that you need help.

That really was, to me, the central theme of this film in coming together and finding the most important thing, and I think everyone would agree, is relationships with our family, with our friends. Sadness, though she seems negative, is really central to that community.

About Inside Out

Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for Riley. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Joy (Amy Poehler).

The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley’s main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.

Disney's Inside Out Red Carpet Premier Event

‘Inside Out’ opens in theaters June 19th, 2015.

Portions of the material and expenses for this event have been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.