AS: Some logic has to be in there.
RE: “A” logic. It can be made up, so long as you’re willing to spend the effort making it clear and consistent for the audience. If you’re throwing a new visual idea at an audience and they don’t understand what you’re trying to do with it right away, they’re going to spend the next few seconds asking, “What is this?”and then they’re not paying attention to the characters and you might lose them. You’ve gotta make it hyper-clear. You’re building a hermetically-sealed world that this entire film takes place in. So there is a lot of interdepartmental interaction. A lot of map drawing. A lot of conceptual work. More conceptual artwork done on Inside Out than on any Pixar film ever, times three. We did hundreds of designs of one of the set pieces. We were able to utilize confocal microscopic photography of brain images for inspiration. That’s where they inject different dyes into cellular structures and photograph them to see what’s going on. While we were designing the “mind” and not the “brain,” certain concepts of how the brain worked were just more clear to the audience—and we utilized them. As a production designer, finding a way to make yourself interested in all of it, even if it doesn’t seem that interesting to begin with, is really important.
AS: Finding your own way into the subject matter.
RE: Finding your own way into it, absolutely. And aside from this love of research, I also found that some of the best production designers that work in animation have made at least a film or two themselves. Even if it’s a student film. Understanding the element of screen time in putting an idea across is really, really important. It affects the contrast, the colors that you use and how you compose an image! It’s one of the most important things. People always ask, What should I put in my portfolio? You’ll need the normal stuff–some life drawings, some fast sketches, some color work, some paintings, but if you really want to get their attention make a short film. And by short, I mean two minutes. One or two characters. Not some twenty minute epic trying to solve your problems with your parents.
AS: And what do you look for in the crew you hire?
RE: Communication skills are really important. And while it’s really important to have a certain level of art skill, I think it’s really important that people broaden their interests besides just doing artwork. I’m not really trained as a painter but I’ve done lot of artwork. I look at a lot of portfolios of students and the skill level’s out of this world! And they’ll sit and explain a painting to me that they’ve done and they’ll tell me the whole story behind it and I listen, and when they’re done I say, Why isn’t it in the painting? You told me this whole story and it’s beautiful but shouldn’t I understand it just by looking at it?
AS: Did you, yourself, start out by going to art school?
RE: Yes, CalArts. I moved to California from Louisiana to study animation. Less out of a love for drawing, although I did draw a lot, but more for a love of filmmaking. I wanted to figure out everything as a kid. A great way to get out of class is to make little animated shorts and go show them around to the local schools! After CalArts I did a lot of commercial work and some television work. Brad Bird gave me my first job.