With the recent debut of Monsters at Work, many of us have been re-watching the original feature on Disney Plus. But as many times as you’ve seen Monsters Inc., there’s a lot of behind the scenes facts that have stayed largely behind closed doors.
Let’s head out onto the Scare Floor, and see what nuggets of knowledge we can unlock.
1.) The original pitch centered around a man haunted by his childhood fears, seen by him as monsters.
At the Screenwriting Expo 2009, Up‘s Pete Docter and Bob Peterson were interviewed by Jeff Goldsmith, senior editor of Creative Screenwriting Magazine. During the discussion, Docter shared the original pitch that led to Monsters Inc.
“Well, my idea was that what it was about was about a 30 year old man who is like an accountant or something, he hates his job, and one day he gets a book with some drawings in it that he did when he was a kid from his mom, and he doesn’t think anything of it,” Docter explained.
“…and he puts it on the shelf and that night, monsters show up. And nobody else can see them. He thinks he’s starting to go crazy, they follow him to his job, and on his dates, and all this — and it turns out these monsters are fears that he never dealt with as a kid. And each one of them represents a different kind of fear.”
“As he conquers those fears, the guys who he slowly becomes kind of friends with — they disappear as he conquers those fears. It’s this bittersweet kinda ending where they go away, and so not much of that stayed.”
2.) Unsurprisingly, a lot of thought went into Monstropolis.
Designing Boo’s human world was easy for the design team: we all know what a bedroom looks like. “Designing the monster world was the hard part. It’s a place based purely on imagination,” recounted Harley Jessup, a production designer. (Jessup won two Academy Awards as a visual effects art director at Industrial Light & Magic, the studio that created Pixar.)
Early on, Pixar’s creative team came to a set of three realizations. If monsters have been around as long as humans, then their world should reflect generations of change. Brick, stone, and steel should feature heavily, as materials strong enough to endure the monsters’ weights. The world needed to accommodate monsters of all shapes and sizes.
A lot of the growth in Monstropolis was in the immediate post-war, coinciding with the Baby Boom generation. But the area hasn’t seen much change since then, coinciding with kids’ over-exposure to violence in media during the 1960s and 1970s, making them harder to scare, and thus less productive for the factory.
Says Jessup, “At one point we asked, ‘should it be a spooky world?’ But then we figured out that the monsters wouldn’t want to scare themselves. We had to work out a monster aesthetic. We wanted their world to be fun and bright — a contrast to what you’d expect for monsters.”
3. Mike’s appearance never really changed in development, the first sketch made in 1997 looks like the final character.
Ricky Nierva has remained with Pixar to present day, storyboarding for films like Toy Story 2 and Soul, doing character design for Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo, and leading production design for Up and Monsters University.
4.) Sully has 2.3 million hairs on his body.
Monsters Inc. was a giant leap forward from the stiff hair in Toy Story, just six years before. Former professor Steve May, a PhD in computer science, was one of two Pixar staff who researched and ran the program that controlled the hair on both Boo and Sulley.
Said May in 2001, “Every single hair has a little piece of geometry in the computer, has a distinct shape that’s recorded and moved and lit by virtual lights and rendered in that final image on the film frame. We had to do that for every single one of those hairs in every single frame of the movie, which I think is about 100,000 frames. It was daunting. If you think monsters in your closet are scary…”
They developed a virtual hairbrush, to essentially stroke out the direction that the hairs should be going in any scenes. “After we brushed those hairs, we ran it through the simulation software that makes the hair respond to gravity and wind and motion.”
The end goal, though, was to make sure you didn’t pay any attention to it, and instead focus on the story and characters.
5.) The voice cast was announced in August 2000.
Disney often plays close to the chest with casting announcements, these days. We’re eight months out from the release of Turning Red, Pixar’s next film, but we’ve yet to much detail about the project, beyond the basic premise.
Back in August 2000, Pixar announced that Billy Crystal, John Goodman, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, and Steve Buscemi were the lead voices in their fourth feature. The movie itself was announced in May 1999, ahead of the release of Toy Story 2.
6.) Boo’s pigtails are because of technology, but also because of her voice actor.
Boo’s voice, Mary Gibbs, is now 23. “I’m sorry if that makes you feel old,” she said last year, on her YouTube channel. Her father, the late Rob Gibbs, was a storyboard artist for Pixar. Mary’s hair was always in pigtails, and so when she’d come in for animators to practice drawing a toddler, their drawings would have pigtails. That, and the challenges of animating hair, led to Boo’s pigtails.
7.) Boo’s scream during the first encounter with Mike and Sulley was real.
Mary eventually became the test voice, and the official voice of Boo. When she was recording the happy sounds for the door scene, Mary’s mom tried to make her laugh, by throwing her in the air. “When she catches me, her fingernail just catches right on my gum, and just cuts it a little bit, but enough to make me do that big cry,” Gibbs remembers. “But here’s my mom, trying to be a mom, and hugging me and comforting me, and here’s all the producers going ‘no, this is gold, hold her away from you, don’t muffle the sound.’ And my mom feels horrible, thinking, it’s going to come up in therapy later. But it made for a good scene, so it was all worth it.”
8.) There’s a teaser trailer made specifically to run in front of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
The boy wizard’s theatrical debut was just two weeks after Monsters Inc. debuted, so Pixar prepped a trailer solely to run ahead of that blockbuster.
9.) Bill Murray almost played Sully.
Accoriding to 2015’s The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, by Robert Schnakenberg, Bill Murray was the first choice to voice Sully. The actor has a rarely checked 1-800 number, where filmmakers can pitch projects. While Murray recorded an audition, when it came time to be cast, he was unreachable.
Animating a Pixar movie is expensive, so when you can economize, you economize. One of the way to save money in the film was to reuse body parts between the myriad of characters. According to The Science Behind PIXAR, 90% of the monsters in the film have the same tongue as Mike.
Which fact surprised you the most? What other facts about the movie do you know? Share them in the comments below.
Nick Moreau writes about vintage Disney content, on WhatsOnDisneyPlus.com and DisKingdom. He works at an archives, delving into his community's past.