Monsters Inc 3D: “We made changes,” says animator

Monsters Inc Stereoscopic Supervisor Bob Whitehill on the 3D reconstruction, Sully’s hair and working toward Monsters University

Monsters Inc door vault
Monsters Inc 3D Sully
Sully in Pixar’s Monsters Inc 3D, in cinemas now.

As Pixar’s Stereoscopic Supervisor Bob Whitehill has overseen the 3D on the likes of Cars 2, John Carter, Up, Finding NemoToy Story 3, Brave, and most recently Monsters Inc 3D – over a decade on from the film’s initial release. An undisputed animation classic, Whitehill talks us through the process, his favourite scenes, and how there’s more to Monsters Inc 3D than a mere 3D conversion…

Is it intimidating to go back to a film that’s as loved as Monsters Inc?

It’s always that battle, we try to find that sweet spot that people enjoy in 3D – people’s tastes can be somewhat subjective. Some people like it really intense, other people like it really subtle and graceful and so we try to find that sweet spot where every shot feels three dimensional and rewarding, and you note that it’s different and unique to what you’ve seen before, and yet it doesn’t distract you and constantly draw attention to itself.

Nerve-racking might be a strong way to put it, but it’s concerning – you wanna really hit the mark with the most people you possibly can.

Josh Hollander, Director of 3D Production, and Bob Whitehill talking about Finding Nemo 3D at the California Academy of Sciences

Are their any challenges that are unique to converting Monsters Inc? The hair effects at the time were quite advanced…

Exactly right, yeah. We tend to thing of it as a recreation of the movie rather than a conversion, because we’re not taking the old 2D images and cutting them up and dimensionalising them. We’re able to go back and resurrect the movie into our software and refilm it essentially, and so the first challenge you asked about is this resurrection process – we call it digital archaeology.

You have to go back to files and assets that were created round a dozen years ago and bring them back to be active in today’s software, so it takes quite a while to do that. The other challenge is creatively to make it look as interesting and as rewarding as possible without making it overwhelming.

You touched on a interesting part of it with Sully’s fur. Sully’s fur was really beautifully generated, but it was sort of done but a random number generator, and so we weren’t able to exactly match Sully’s fur in every shot. We call it AB, if you go back to the original monoframe and just AB it with a new stereo window, the fur is in a slightly different position, it has all the same properties, the same movement, the same thickness, but it’s as if he had been brushed in a different way.

So we just had to go through and make good decisions about not just Sully’s fur, but about all the other assets of the movie that are slightly changed just due to things out of our control. And how different is it, and can we move forward with the movie being a little bit different in these ways but essentially the same movie.

Sully Mike Monsters Inc 3D
Sully and Mike in Monsters Inc 3D

Can it be different to deconstruct a lot of the work that was done, because a decade in software terms might as well be a century?

Yeah, it is. And we’re fortunate to have a lot of the original architects of Monsters Inc still with us here at Pixar, so we employ every resource we’re able to, to get these systems and these processes back available to us even though they are a bit antiquated by now.

We’re fortunate to be able to overcome those challenges with the people we have and the systems that they designed long ago. We joke that we’ve now archived these two movies – Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc – for the 8k holographic 360 degree version that we’re gonna make in a decade! But yeah, it was kind of a challenge to find every single kind of file and make it work again.

What do you think’s so wonderful magical about Monsters Inc that it deserves to be reinvented and reintroduced to a new generation?

It’s such a unique environment first of all, like Finding Nemo. Monstropolis, just the city itself and the factory that they spend so much time in, is really beautifully designed, and so to see that in 3D space and to walk those halls and live in that world in 3D space is really interesting, and I do think that the 3D take on it enhances the impact of it, and that also works with the emotion of it.

When your characters are in peril – in the door vault sequence for instance, when you see them ride the door into that vast space and they’re desperately trying to find Boo’s door so they can rescue Boo, when you see the depth of the drop when they are looking down to the bottom of the door vault, they look at the array of those thousands of doors that they have to fight through. I think the 3D makes it even more impactful and powerful than the original 2D version. It’s a great way to introduce it to new audiences and to bring it back to people who have already seen it.

Monsters Inc door vault
The door vault scene in Monsters Inc 3D

Was it a concern, when you were rebuilding everything, to bring it in line with Monsters University?

It can be as simple as the fact that Mike is this wonderful little unique, rounded character – so you wanna make him feel like you could reach out and hug him, or hold him. He should look like a beach ball, and so we learnt a bit on Monsters Inc on how to set our stereo parameters such so that he feels rounded and rewarding, and so we’re taking that knowledge into Monsters University.

Are there any other scenes you’re excited about people seeing in 3D?

I think in addition to the door vault that we talked about, the Himalayas scene is also fun, because you have the falling snow which gives you a nice sense of volume and depth, and also the point of view shots of Sully racing down the mountain on a sled toward the village are quite stirring in 3D. I also enjoyed the sushi restaurant, chaotic scene when Boo, the human child, scares all the monsters and things go kinda haywire and the PDA comes in with their helicopters and SWAT team and action. Those are pretty fun sequences.

Monsters Inc 3D is in cinemas now while Monsters University is due 21 June 2013. Buy Monsters Inc on DVD for £11.99 and on Blu-ray for £14.75 from Amazon.co.uk.