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Pixar’s Braintrust and Inside Out: Creativity Without Borders

“I must explore and experiment. I am never satisfied with my work. I resent the limitations of my own imagination.”

-Walt Disney

Inside Out

Next summer, Pixar will be releasing the first of two movies planned for release in 2015. A movie called Inside Out, which could prove to have the emotional power of Up. A little over a year ago, I had the opportunity to view a sequence from the movie, which was still in storyboard format, while in attendance at the 2013 D23 Expo. If the final film is even half as good as what I witnessed, Pixar will have another original film become an instant classic. The scene was tense, set around a dinner table with a mom, dad and daughter. It was after the girl’s first day of school in a new city, and she was not very happy. This scene partially takes place from the “headquarters” that is found in each character’s head. The headquarters is a control center, and each emotion is a living being that sits at the controls, informing the human’s response. The sequence begins to get funnier and funnier as it goes on, and I lamented the fact that it would be nearly two years before the final product would be hitting the big screen.

Now, Pixar has a process that they put all of their movies through. It involves a group they call the Braintrust. It’s a group that has a few requirements, not least of which is the ability to tell stories. It’s made up of directors, screenwriters, and others that are part of Pixar. They also ask that everyone speak with complete candor. It’s something that can be hard to take the first time you’re in a meeting with them, but is important to the process of telling a great story, finding a better story in the ideas that you have.

Here’s a quick peak inside of a meeting of the Pixar Braintrust, in which they are talking about Inside Out.

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 [Doctor]’s film [Inside Out], 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 [Stanton] 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.”

This set Brad [Bird] off. “A lot of us in this room have not grown up–and I mean that in the best way,” he said. “The conundrum is how to become mature and become reliable while at the same time preserving your childlike wonder. People have come up to me many times, as I’m sure has happened to many people in this room, and said, ‘Gee, I wish I could be creative like you. That would be something, to be able to draw.’ But I believe that everyone begins with the ability to draw. Kids are instinctively there. But a lot of them unlearn it. Or people tell them they can’t or it’s impractical. So yes, kids have to grow up, but maybe there’s a way to suggest that they could be better off if they held on to some of their childish ideas.

“Pete, I want to give you a huge round of applause: This is a frickin’ big idea to try to make a movie about,” Brad continued, his voice full of affection. “I’ve said to you on previous films, ‘You’re trying to do a triple backflip into a gale force wind, and you’re mad at yourself for not sticking the landing. Like, it’s amazing you’re alive.’ This film is the same. So, huge round of applause.” Everyone clapped. Then Brad added, “And you’re in for a world of hurt.” (via)

This is a fascinating look, to me, at what it’s like to sit among some of the greatest storytellers working in film today. It’s also very inspirational to me. It inspired me to really think about all of the writing that I do, and try to imagine what these folks would say about my storytelling, the stories that I’m trying to tell, and if I am on the right track. This brings us back to the Walt Disney quote above. Even if our own imaginations are somehow limited, by reaching outside of yourself, to friends or family that you consider to be great storytellers themselves, we can reach beyond our own limitations… from the inside out.

Look for Inside Out in theaters on June 19, 2015.

About paulmartin

I'm a social media enthusiast and a fan of motion pictures. My movie and TV show collection is as diverse as my taste. My favorite movies include Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid (1984), The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. I also enjoy Disney magic, have a TON of comic books (I like Marvel and DC equally), and still play mostly Nintendo (Wii U is awesome). My interests and favorites go well beyond these things, but I'd have to write a novel to explain it all. My day job is as co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of ProTrainings, LLC.