Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Thinking Inside Out

When you think of Pixar, you don't usually associate the animation studio with the word failure. Hit after hit, it seems that they can do no wrong. One of their latest films, Inside Out, is arguably one of the most creative animated films of our time. So, what's the secret to their success?

To begin, the story of Inside Out follows 11-year-old Riley as she navigates through the challenges of being a pre-teen. The narration of the film switches between reality and the perspective from inside Riley's mind. Five emotions - Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger - are portrayed as human-like characters who reside in a control room referred to as "headquarters". Here, they attempt to maintain the emotional balance of the young girl. Inevitably, the characters face challenges that lead them onto a fascinating, but terrifying journey

The depth of development in this film is undeniable. It took 6 years to complete from start to finish, with the entire team working endlessly during all of those years. Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen created the original story line and also directed the film. Docter also wrote the screenplay with the help of Josh Cooley and Meg LaFauve. Now, these are only a few of the people who made up the creative team, but they are very representative of all of the great minds that work at Pixar. Development for the film began in late 2009 and was triggered by the personal experiences of Docter. As a child, his family had relocated to Denmark, which was very challenging for him. Much like the character Riley, Docter struggled with his new surroundings. Many years later, he saw many of the same emotions that he felt in his own daughter. The simple idea of emotions and how they work inside the mind intrigued Docter and caused him to delve deeper into the subject. In an interview, Docter said "I got thinking about the human body, and realizing I've seen traveling through the bloodstream [depicted] and into the stomach and things, well, what if we did this in the mind as opposed to the brain? So instead of blood vessels and dendrites, what if it was consciousness and dream production and that would allow us to have characters that represent emotions and that felt like — man, that's exactly what animation does best: strong, opinionated, caricatured personalities — and that just got me excited."

While the idea of the film itself is creative, but there are so many small details that take the creativity even further. One of my favorite parts of the film is the explanation of why certain tunes, whether a song or from a commercial, randomly pop into our heads. Outside of the headquarters in Riley's brain is long term memory storage. Everyday, memories are created and sent to long term. In this area, there are certain maintenance crew who dispose of old, unneeded memories. They are also there to recall certain pieces of information via a recall tube. Occasionally, the workers decide to send the jingle from a gum commercial up the tube just for fun. When this happens, the memory of the gum commercial and the song play automatically in the headquarters to which the emotions that reside there become annoyed with. This was a simple explanation for something most people experience on a daily basis. Although it is not the true, scientific explanation, it is a funny and clever way to solve one of the mysteries of the mind. 

Although the film is a fantastical version of the human mind, extensive research was done during the production of the film. Docter enlisted Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner, both psychologist who study human emotion in order to properly decide on what core emotions to use in the film. Ekman's six core emotions were anger, fear, sadness, disgust, joy and surprise. The only one that did not make it into the film was surprise. Through this research, the creative team learned how each emotion plays a role in our lives and how they affect our relationships with others and with ourselves. If you've seen the film, the ending relies heavily on the importance of all emotions, even the more negative ones. This is an important example of collaboration. Without the input of the psychologists, the ending of the film would not have been the same.

Pixar, as a company, promotes collective creativity and collaboration. The president of Pixar, Ed Catmull believes that core of a creative organization is its people, not its ideas. Ideas come from people, and therefore, people must be guided and relationships need to be fostered in order for ideas to develop. At Pixar, there is a strong sense of community and that is one of the keys to their success. Catmull states that their philosophy is "You get great creative people, you bet big on them, you give them enormous leeway and support, and you provide them with an environment in which they can get honest feedback from everyone." He also says that taking risks is a big part of their challenges. As executives, they want to try and minimize risk, but at a company that needs new and innovative ideas, risks are the only way to create. He also states that "if you want to be original, you have to accept the uncertainty, even when it’s uncomfortable, and have the capability to recover when your organization takes a big risk and fails. What’s the key to being able to recover? Talented people!" Risk and brain capital go hand in hand here. In the reading by Lubart, he says that "perseverance and risk taking have often been identified as important for creativity." Without taking risks, they would not be the studio they are today.

While, their success seems unparalleled, Pixar is not perfect. Many of their employees know better than anyone else that failure does in fact occur at their company. We may not witness these failures, but they do in fact happen, and very often at that. What is unique about Pixar is their ability to recover from failure. They take risks and they don't always work out, but they have the ability and courage to solve the problems in order to release the great films that we see in theaters.

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  1. I think his article was an awesome idea! I watched the movie with my siblings a number of times, and their reactions are always wonderful. I love that Pixar uses children's films to creatively reach a wide audience. We used this film in one of my psychology classes to talk about emotions and it was so neat to see how it applies to a wide audience.

  2. Man, I love this movie. I think that the best part about it is that it is able to communicate how negative and complex emotions are good and necessary for a mental health, especially to children. It's very rare to find a children's film willing to delve into such a heavy issue While "Inside Out" does have a couple of kinks here and there (the translation of the emotion's commands to Reily's actions can be a bit abrupt at times) I think that the fact that Pixar pulled it off so well is incredible!

  3. This is such an interesting post! I, shamelessly, went out and saw Inside Out the opening night and absolutely loved it. I think it is really interesting to see how our emotions play together, and when looking at the end of the movie, it is important to understand that feelings aren't always black and white. Things can be bittersweet, you can be sad to be leaving home, but excited to start college, etc. I really like that you talked about the failures of pixar, which I think we can see in somethings, although you do point out a lot of failures are hidden from us lay people. I definitely think this can be reflected in some of their shorts that have been criticized, as well as some sequels that "didn't live up to the originals." This definitely was a very innovative and creative movie, and I'm glad someone brought it up on this blog! I look forward to see what Pixar comes out with next! :)

  4. I've seen this movie at least three times already; it's simply spectacular. It is not only very charming and funny but has a lot of educational value to it too. Though it obviously doesn't translate everything from science, it does a good job of keeping major things scientifically accurate and educating children that not every emotion will be a positive one (which is OK!). I really like the part you mentioned about risk taking. I agree wholeheartedly that risk taking is very necessary in order to come out with an original idea. What I like about Pixar is that they are a major movie making corporation that doesn't have anything to prove, yet they aren't afraid to push boundaries and create something special (or not).

  5. The story line behind Inside Out and all the mechanisms created within it really were awesome to see. I especially liked how they represented fading memories. If memories weren't used they would be shipped out into a pit and they would eventually crumble away. Not only can Pixar create abstract ways to represent actual neural processes, but they can make it entertaining. The consistently successful culmination of their talents and ideas into one relatable movie is, what I think, makes Pixar a big C.


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