Back in 2001, when Disney•Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. first hit the big screen, audiences were introduced to the residents of monster-laden Monstropolis, who were busy scaring children worldwide to power their city. (Screams can be turned into energy, of course.) But when a little girl, Boo, snuck into the monster world, friends and top scare team Mike and Sulley had to find a way to return her to her family. Just in time for the holidays, Mike, Sulley, Boo, and the rest of the scaring crew return to theaters on December 19—only this time, the beloved film will dazzle in Disney Digital 3D. Returning fans as well as those viewing it for the first time will delight in the immersive, eye-popping experience of seeing this classic return to theaters in a new dimension.
Getting the entire Monstropolis gang back to the big screen was quite a process. What audiences will experience and enjoy in theaters is not a conversion; it’s a complete 3D re-creation of the original movie. The talented folks at Pixar were tasked with applying 3D creatively to the original film, using it to tell the story and make the film more visually interesting. Led by Stereoscopic Supervisor Bob Whitehill, the team completed the yearlong multi-step process of resurrecting the film from the original files and re-filming it in 3D, thoroughly enjoying themselves along the way.
“What a joy it is for someone who hasn’t worked on these films originally to be able to go and live in those worlds and hang out with these characters that are so beloved,” Bob says. “It was really a joy for me to go back and be able to touch these movies.”
To enhance the film’s visual depth, the folks at Pixar altered the level of 3D throughout. “To film one of our movies in 3D is like a visual accordion,” Bob says. “We can spread it way out and make all the characters really elongated in a sense, really deep, or we can make it more subtle and have it closer to how it feels in 2D. We have a wide range to play with.”
Each object, character, and background in the film has unique visual parameters, allowing the team to expand or minimize the use of 3D depending on the mood of the scene. For instance, when Sulley puts Boo to sleep for the first time, this nuanced and emotionally rooted scene has a diminished 3D focus, which visually brings the audience closer to the characters. This is in stark contrast to the harrowing alpine snowstorm, where 3D is heightened to highlight the swirling and pelting snow, the harsh mountainous background, and the mounting tension between Mike and Sulley. Bob notes that the crew is constantly striving for the right feel, “mixing and matching to make it feel rewarding and yet comfortable to watch.” Audiences will be enthralled by this deft visual storytelling.
This undertaking was certainly not without its challenges. “Sulley’s fur was created by what we call a random number generator,” Bob explains. “All of that beautiful wind and motion across his fur would be slightly different whenever we would re-render it from the original movie.” While this creative technology added a dose of reality to Sulley’s appearance, it presented a challenge to artists, who needed to carefully monitor every single hair for a consistent visual effect during the final rendering. To combat challenges such as this and ensure accuracy, the team reviewed sequences called “dif movies” (short for difference), which highlight changes between frames with a white mark on screen. This painstaking process ensured that Bob and his team correctly re-created each object from the movie, something that surely makes resident stickler Roz one happy monster.
When this process is finally complete, what emerges on screen is truly magical for audiences and creators alike. “There’s one shot where we pan with Sulley and Mike as they’re riding a door into the door vault for the first time, and we see the door vault sort of emerge,” Bob says. “I remember years ago being struck by that in 2D, blown away by the scale of that space and how expertly it was designed and filmed by the original Monsters, Inc. crew. To make that feel pretty perilous and then to see that in 3D is really pretty jaw-dropping.”
To truly appreciate the re-creation, Bob encourages everyone to head out to the theater and see what all the fuss in Monstropolis is about. “I think it’s such a great movie and such a great experience just to be able to see it again on the big screen,” he says. “Having that added layer of 3D makes it really very worthwhile and a great time out at the theater.”
By D23: The Official Disney Fan Club’s Brian Gay