Kori Rae has like the coolest job ever. She is talented and lucky enough to be producer of the Pixar film Monsters University. Yes, she gets to not just hang out with Mike and Sulley everyday but she leads a team of extremely gifted Pixar artists in the creation of what will soon be another beloved Disney/Pixar classic. She’s basically surrounded by awesomeness.
While at Pixar in the heart of Emeryville, California, a group of us got the chance to sit down with Kori Rae and talk Monsters, prequels and the power of story:
What took you so long to make a follow up to Monsters, Inc.?
It’s always the creative that drives the films and the ideas. And so I think it was more how much we love the movie. Maybe not even the success of it, but how much we loved that world of Monsters, and we loved those characters so much. I think Pete (Doctor) had always thought about revisiting it and seeing what the (could be done but) had come up with something great.
Why a prequel instead of a sequel?
It was decided pretty early on when Pete (Docter) and John (Lasseter) and Dan (Scanlon), and Andrew Stanton all got together. When Pete started to throw out some ideas for another film in the Monsters, Inc. franchise that – there was a two or three day offsite with them – and they were just bantering about ideas, and the idea of a prequel (came up). Mostly just meeting Mike and Sully before Monsters, Inc. and kind of getting to know them, and how they end up becoming who they were.
So that idea was kind of born at that time. And so it was kind of a, “let’s go backwards,” and then they just thought the college setting would be fantastic, a world that we hadn’t really explored before.
Do you think there ought to be a sequel to Monsters, Inc?
If a great idea comes around and Peter and somebody wants to make it, sure. But there hasn’t been any talk of it thus far.
I think when we started to discover and really get into the story of Mike, and, and how he overcomes the failure and not getting his dream, and kind of how he comes out of that, and how Sully helps him. Just the story about what do you do when that one door really, really closes, and it closes hard, and how do you kind of find what the next thing is, or what, what you were really meant to do.
Cause sometimes you think you’re meant to do something and then you discover that, well, that wasn’t really the thing. This, and you find another route. So that part of the story is really meaningful to me, and I love that. And I’m, I’m super happy that we’re telling that story. A different version of the story that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. It’s like, yeah, sometimes that is true, and sometimes you hit that brick wall, and you have to figure out where to go from there.
And I just, I think that’s really, really cool. It’s happened to most of us, and that’s when we talk to our friends, and our co-workers, most of the people working here, a lot of them had other dreams, and ended up here in a circuitous way, so I think that’s really cool. I love that part of the story.
You have a background in education?
Yeah. I majored in secondary education, in English, and, I taught and coached right out of school for a little bit. And then decided to change directions and, and do other things, and that led me, um, here to Pixar eventually after a few years. Producing is definitely a lot like teaching and coaching, I think.
What made you change directions?
You know, I wanted to go explore a little bit. I had been an athlete all my life. I’d been involved in, in sports and everything, and I wanted to travel a little bit, and then I just wanted to explore other things. I did editing for a while and journalism and stuff like that. And then I just, there was a period where I just did a whole bunch of things, and it was fantastic, cause I just, did everything. And it was really great. I just wanted to discover more. I wanted to see what else was out there. So. And then ended up here, so that worked out…
What were some of the challenges about going backwards basically in Monsters University?
The story, definitely, again, just trying to make a prequel without being predictable. And that is the challenge when you know how a movie ends… how do you make it interesting? How do you make it interesting enough for an audience to sit through 90 minutes of the film? And still be surprised, and still, even route for something that they know isn’t necessarily gonna pan out. But the other, one of the other challenging things on this film was just the scope of the film, and the sheer number of characters.
So we knew being set on a college campus, we knew that we were gonna need a ton of characters for this film. So one of the first things we did in production was we started with the background characters before even a lot of the primary characters were designed. We started, creating, designing, and making the background characters. And then the volume and the number of characters…and animating a shot with seven primary characters, when it’s the misfits of Mike and Sully, and it’s the whole group. And then you have background characters behind them. It’s incredibly challenging, just scene after scene, to have that many characters in all the shots. And so, animation-wise it took us a little bit longer, and was a little more challenging than we anticipated. And well worth it.
And it certainly was well worth it! Monsters University opens everywhere June 21st.