When Tom Porter joined the Monsters, Inc. team he began by making a list of the technology they had to develop to get the film completed. One of the big problems was making hair move realistically. Sulley, a star of the film, is an 8 foot tall horned monster with a 700 pound body covered in blue-green hair. Having animators animate his hair by hand would have been an impossible task. Developing hair simulation software that can control hair movement was the answer.
They also developed simulation technology to move clothing independently of body motion. The big problem for Porter’s staff the first year of pre-production was to develop these programs. “We spent a lot of time up front making sure we could get the simulation working. In the end it worked fine.”
Another problem was creating the visual feel of atmosphere in large spaces. Monsters, Inc. was going to take place in an enormous factory and in vast outdoor spaces. They knew they had to suggest wind blowing, smoke, snow and other atmospheric effects. Porter said that historically computer graphics has presented a rather clean or crystal clear view of the world.
If you have seen the ads for the film on TV you may have noticed a line of monsters marching toward the camera. In that factory sequence they become easier to see and their colors become richer and brighter as they move toward the camera. This naturalistic effect suggests some of the subtle attention to detail Pixar’s team has achieved.
Lighting on this film was also a lot more sophisticated then it was in Toy Story. Lighting a hard plastic surface is a lot simpler than lighting fur and clothing. Therefore, they got involved with the principles of back lighting, rim lighting and other problems that they hadn’t experienced in their previous films.
A typical day for Porter found him going over shader reviews, lighting reviews, keeping track of the big issues and running render checks to examine individual frames for problems that can develop. He oversaw approximately 100 people in the departments of lighting, shading, modeling and shots. The shots department was established for this project to implement the hair and clothing simulation.
Pixar also has a new laser recording system that was used to transfer digital images to 35mm film. It offers a wider range of colors. Despite the use of this state of the art system to create the finest 35mm prints possible, Porter prefers seeing the film digitally. It will be shown this way in some larger markets. He says, “Digital projection looks terrific! It’s rock solid. It’s so much better than watching film going through a projector. Film has a slight jumpiness to it and grain; it looks a little different. Digital looks exactly as it does on the monitors here when we are doing the lighting reviews, the effects reviews and everything else. That is what the director wants to see.”