Monsters University behind the scenes: From sketchbook to screen

Pixar has offered a glimpse into the animation and design process that went into its latest movie, Monsters University.


12 years after Monsters Inc, Pixar has finally released the prequel: Monsters University, which takes the characters back to college.

Pixar has offered a glimpse into the animation and design process that went into the film. In this slideshow we follow the characters from initial sketch to final animated image.

The initial storyboard sketch

More than 225,000 storyboards went into the creation of Monsters University

The animation process begins with a basic sketched storyboard for visualising the elements and the way they will fit into the narrative.

Pixar writes: "This storyboard was drawn by "Monsters University” story artist Dean Kelly and is from the sequence "Pig Chase." Storyboards are drawn by story artists for the purpose of pre-visualizing the film. They are placed side by side in sequence, so that they convey scenes and deliver a rough sense of how the story unfolds. This storyboard is one of approximately 227,246 that were drawn for the film. “Monsters University” story artists drew the most storyboards ever drawn for a Pixar Animation Studios film. The storyboarding process, in the form it is known today, was developed at Walt Disney Studios during the early 1930s."


Concept art

An exploration of the look and feel of the film

Next an artist fleshes out the ideas with concept art, providing a glimpse of what the film's completed visuals will look like.

"Once the storyline for a sequence is completed, concept art is created by the Production Designer and artists to determine the look and feel of the film," Pixar writes. "This concept art piece was drawn by artist Shelly Wan and showcases the exploration of colour and the design of new characters and new environments."

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Computer modelling

Building the characters and environment, ready for light and shading

Now the characters and environment begin to take digital shape.

Pixar writes: "Characters and set environments are created in a process known as Modeling in the computer by technical directors. Shading will be applied to the characters and sets to fill in the textures, colours, patterns and material properties that will add dimension to the scene when lit by the Lighting department."


Layout

Preparing the scene and the virtual camera

The next stage of the process is known as layout.

"Once the storyline for a sequence is completed, the scene is created in the computer," Pixar writes. "This frame shows the beginning phase known as Layout, in which a virtual camera is placed into a shot. The characters and set are “staged” or placed into positions that work visually within the chosen camera angle. Layout precedes character animation. Sets are simplified during this phase, but are seen fully built in the next stage of production."


Animation and simulation

Animating the primary and secondary character, and adding background characters and objects

The characters come to life, as the animation and simulation departments add movement to the scene.

The company explains the process: "When Layout is complete, the primary and secondary characters are animated into poses by the Animation department. In addition, hundreds of background characters are populated into the scene. These characters are animated by the Crowds department. The Simulation department adds movement to the hair and garments through computer simulation. This allows the hair and garments to move naturally with the characters' actions. Final character shading is also completed by the Characters department to add textures and colours to the garments and props."

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Lighting and final image

The last process brings all the elements together

Lighting is essential to the final effect.

Pixar writes: "The Lighting department is responsible for integrating all of the elements - characters, set pieces, cloth and hair, shading - into a final image. The lighting is achieved in the computer by placing virtual light sources into the scene to illuminate the characters and the set. In a scene, many dozens of lights are often required. “Monsters University” is the first Pixar film to implement Global Illumination, a new lighting technology that allows for ultra-complex lighting set-ups where light bounces in a physically realistic way."