Monsters University’s Director Dan Scanlon On Mike And Sulley’s Prequel

The makers of Monsters University tell us what to expect from the prequel to Monsters Inc

s175_13TpubMonsters University director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae gives us the inside skinny on the prequel to Monsters Inc. It wings us back in time to when Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) were at university on the prestigious Scaring Programme.

While Mike has his eye fixed on a career in generating screams for a living, his class mate Sulley isn’t so keen. He’s a natural-born Scarer and fits in easily with the cool creatures like Johnny (pictured center), voiced by Firefly legend Nathan Fillion.

However, when something goes horribly wrong, the pair find themselves expelled from Monsters University. The only way they stand a chance of regaining their places is if they pull together, along with a band of misfit monsters known as the Oozma Kappas, and win the annual Scare Games.

Monsters Inc was released way back in 2001, so why the long wait for a prequel?

Dan Scanlon [Director]: Part of the reason why it took so long was that we needed an idea, after Monsters Inc [director] Pete Doctor went onto make other films and we weren’t really thinking about it but as years past we we wanted to revisit them. The idea of going back in time to university and getting to see how these characters met each other was what really got us excited, especially Mike’s story, the idea of telling a story about a characters who doesn’t get everything they want and that was what made it original to us and worth making.

Do you see yourself as more of Mike or as Sulley?

DS: I definitely saw myself as a Mike when I was in college, I came to school thinking I knew how to draw great because that’s what my mom said, and then I got there and realised it was going to be harder than I thought. It’s intimidating and it makes you think ‘Maybe I was wrong about all of this, maybe this isn’t for me’. I went to school to learn illustration and now I’m not doing that so in a lot of ways I did kind of back away from my original plan.

How did you make Mike and Sulley look and sound younger when the voices are older?

Kori Rae [Producer]: We made the characters a little thinner like we all were in college and a little brighter so we actually worked on the physical models and their design to make them look a little younger and in terms of Billy [Crystal] and John [Goodman], they had to come with more energy. We didn’t want to alter their voices because they are Mike and Sulley, we wanted them to be themselves, but they came with more energy which is hard because with animation you already have to bring that. Sulley was a new take on the character so we described to John who this Sulley was and he got into it, he said ‘That’s relatable, I was probably that 18 year old who thought I knew how the world worked.’

s111b_45apub2How much has the technology advanced since the first film and what has it enabled you to achieve this time around?

KR: The tools have changed quite a bit in the last 12 years and the level of talent and skill in our own animators has increased. Animation just gets better and better with each of our films but in terms of tools and software, the tools need to serve the story. In Monsters Inc we could never have had as many monsters as there are in this film, we could never have had a shot with 500 distinct characters, we couldn’t have animated or built them all before. We also have a new lighting tool that we’ve used on this film called Global Illumination, which adds a richer quality to the light than we’ve ever had before.

The message of the film – that you don’t always get what you wish for – is pretty brave! Did you feel that way?

KR: That’s why we like it, it’s a new message you don’t see a lot in film but we found it’s so true for ourselves and a lot of the people at Pixar. When you ask them how they ended up there, they say ‘I failed out of medical school’, or ‘I was gonna be an attorney’ and so the message that we wanted to tell was that when you hit that wall, there’s usually something around the corner that’s even better and you’re finding out a different aspect about yourself.

Are there any Easter eggs to watch out for?

DS: Yes lots, we have the usual Pixar things and then we have a nod to the next original movie coming out – just watch the toys is all I’m saying… you have to find it, that’s why they’re Easter eggs.

Monsters University is released 12 July 2013.