Behind the gates: An insider look at Monsters University

I’ve visited Northern California hundreds of times and have never been to Pixar studios. That all changed last Wednesday as I crossed the threshold into the ultra exclusive studio lot. I was there on a press trip for the blu-ray release of Monsters University (out today Oct.29th). There is something magical about walking into the campus/studio lot where you  just sense the amount of creativity oooozing from the walls. The studio itself is beautifully designed and no small detail was overlooked in building it.

As I walked along the rose bush lined path I found myself nestled between a giant LUXO (the Pixar mascot lamp) and a building named after the late Steve Jobs. I quickly entered the building and was greeted by a life size Sulley and Mike from Monsters, Inc. It was an incredible opportunity to be able to meet with the director and animators of the film and hear their take on how the movie came to pass and where they pulled their inspiration from.

If you are a fan of  Monsters University this might be a fun tidbit to know… Dean Hardscrabble’s character was originally a male figure for the better portion of production, then the team decided they needed a strong female character. It had taken them years to develop this male character, and at the last minute they had to scrap their ideas and come up with the female version of Dean Hardscrabble, they did it in four weeks! They pulled inspiration for her character from bats, a centipede, lizard heads, and Coco Channel. The direction was she had to be classy, but have scary characteristics, and be able to make you shiver in your boots.

We also got to view some scenes from the Monsters, Inc. prequel that were originally deleted, but have now made their way onto the DVD as a bonus. It was spectacular to see how the film came together from start to finish. One of the perks of working at the Pixar studios is they have Jennifer Johnston the executive chef on staff, and I had the privilege of making donut holes with her.

Here is her donut hole recipe and some of the photos from the event:

  • Sulley And Mike Of Monsters University 1 of 10

    These life size guys were the welcoming crew over at Pixar studios. 

  • Luxo 2 of 10

    The gigantic Luxo sits outside of the Steve Jobs building on the Pixar studio lot. It was so tall it towered over the trees. 

  • Models 3 of 10

    The Steve Jobs Building features Monsters University concept art  themed for the film, as seen on May 13, 2013 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

  • Living Room 4 of 10

    Within the Steve Jobs building they have a replica of this living room from the Monsters University movie set up. It was cool to see the actual artwork close up. Talk about giving the employees inspiration. 

  • Pumpkin Glazed Donut Holes 5 of 10

    An overhead shot of the pumpkin donuts we made. It's said that donut holes are a Pixar favorite year round. 

  • My Work Station 6 of 10

    When I got to my work station in the Pixar kitchen, all the ingredients and recipe were waiting for me to get my hands dirty. 

  • Dry Ingredients 7 of 10
    dry goods

    Dry ingredients labled and easy to measure out!

  • Lemon ZEST 8 of 10

    Zesting a lemon and trying to capture this photo with one hand was a task.  

  • Making Donuts As A Team 9 of 10

    I love the intensity of this photo. I look so serious. I am the one measuring the flour in all black with a super focus expression. 

  • A Shot Of The Bloggers With Chef Jennifer Johnston 10 of 10

    The end of the day well spent at Pixar!!!! 

Pumpkin Glazed Buttermilk Donut Holes:

  • 1 – teaspoon dry active yeast
  • 1/4 – cup warm milk
  • 2 1/4 – cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 – cup granulated cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 – teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 – teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2- teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 – lemon (zest)
  • 2 – eggs
  • 2 – ounces butter (melted)
  • 2/3 – buttermilk
  • 2 – teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 8 – cups frying oil

For The Pumpkin Glaze:

  • 1 – box powdered sugar
  • 1/2 – cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 – teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 – cup milk
  • 1/4 – teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 – teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 – teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 – teaspoon ground cloves


  1. Fill a heavy duty saucepan with frying oil. Preheat oil over medium heat to 360 degrees fahrenheit with a candy thermometer.
  2. In a small ramekin, stir the yeast into the warm milk. Set aside.
  3. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and a grid cooling rack. Set aside.
  4. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  5. In a separate small bowl, whisk the melted butter into the eggs followed by the buttermilk, yeast-milk mixture, lemon zest and vanilla extract.
  6. Form a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the dry.
  7. Gently combine the wet and dry ingredients with a spatula or wooden spoon. Do not over-mix or the doughnuts will be tough.
  8. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest in refrigerator for 1 hour.
  9. To fry the donuts, drop generous tablespoon sized balls onto lightly floured work surface. Roll into uniform ball shape and place gently into the 360 preheated oil.
  10. Cook several minutes on each side until golden brown, and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oil and drain on the baking sheet lined with paper towels.
  11. Repeat til all batter is fried.
  12. Let the donuts cool completely before glazing.

For The Glaze:

  1. Sift powdered sugar into small bowl.
  2. Place all remaining ingredients into a medium bowl.
  3. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Dip each donut in the pumpkin glaze.
  5. Place on a cooling rack until the glaze sets.

For more recipes from Nicole Presley click over to her blog: Presley’s Pantry 

Get social with Nicole on Twitter and Facebook.

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Article Posted 3 years Ago
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