BUILDING MIKE'S NEW CAR
© 2002 Ron Barbagallo
Mike Wazowski showing off his new car from the 2002 Pixar short Mike's New Car.
On September 17, 2002 Pixar’s highly successful film Monsters, Inc. made its home entertainment debut on DVD and video. Besides including last year’s Academy Award® winning short For The Birds as one of the DVD extras, a new short called Mike's New Car was specially created by Pixar’s shorts department for the film's home entertainment debut. Taken from an idea
co-director Pete Doctor sketched seven years earlier, Mike’s New Car picks up after the events in Monsters, Inc. and extends the world of MIke and Sully.
It also answers the question -- what if Mike Wazowski bought a car that was too
much car for Mike?
Co-director of Mike's New Car
Creative Director of Shorts Department / Pixar
When we started to talk about doing something special for the home video release
[of Monster's Inc.], we thought the world of Mike and Sully and Monstropolis are so complete, as
characters are so full in our heads. So, let’s pick another moment, a next day sort of moment and keep telling their story.
We talked about all different kinds of things, and then this idea from Pete Doctor
came up, from these thumbnails he made seven years ago about this
one guy who was struggling to start his brand new car. That really
became the core of the idea.
Then we took Mike, who is such a great character, full with bravado and always
tripping himself up, and we thought -- let’s give Mike a new car. He and Sully really turned Monsters, Inc. around and made it into a huge success. Maybe Mike got a bonus and bought this
crazy SVU sort of six wheel car.
With that, the car itself became the centerpiece. By itself, if this were a live
action film about two guys in a car, you could do some pretty silly
things with the car. But a car in the monster world has greater room
A car seat in the real world -- you can adjust it vertically a couple of inches
up or down, but because monsters come in so many shapes and sizes,
a monster car would have to be able to have a hydraulic lift that
could raise or lower the seat five or six feet within the space of
the car. Those were the kinds of things we could go berserk with
when the car started to go crazy and MIke and Sully started to get
slammed around inside it.
Another important element is that Mike and Sully really are a great comedy duo
-- like Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello. We really wanted
to make a film that was like one of those silent shorts. Even back
when we first started boarding, we thought that maybe there would
be no dialogue at all, even though we found great opportunities for
a little of it. What we really wanted to do was style it like an
old fashioned, simple, comedic routine. Take the personalities you
know, Mike and Sully, and play it up to the extreme.
Story art panels from MIke's New Car: 47213, 47215, 47217 and 47219.
The artist on all these panels is Jeff Pidgeon.
Hand drawn story panels flesh out plot points, character poses and expressions.
These drawings are used by the CGI animators as they bring the world of
Mike and Sully to life.
Story Artist on Mike's New Car
Story Artist / Pixar
One thing that is great about Mike is that you can’t hurt him too much. While working on the short we found it started to get more
entertaining the more we hurt Mike. We had him fall out of the car,
then had his fingers get slammed in the hood of the car. I remember
doing some drawings of the engine when the hood is open, to play the
scene up a bit I made the engine more intimidating by adding more gears
to make it look like it is going to be painful. You know, if you leave
a couple of board artists in a room too long by themselves without
supervision, it can be dangerous.
At first, we were only going to do about a one-minute short. That was one of
our biggest limitations because it really can take about that long
to set up a situation. I think it is now about three minutes long.
We were able to go from something a lot shorter and having them give
us more time to play really helped out.
We could really get going on things like Sullivan's seat adjusting. It starts
out very subtly, having the time to play with Sullivan going back
and forth and up and down in the seat, and then building it, and
escalating it to where everything is going really fast. The timing
on it was great -- being able to build from "it’s kind of bad, but not too bad" to where Mike gets a little bit frustrated and screams “Get out of my car!” You know, the scene when Sullivan breaks off the rear view mirror. So, I think
the build we were able to establish was very effective.
We also had fun playing Mike and Sullivan as opposites. Playing Sully as more
of the straight man and really really hurting Mike as much as we
could without it being too violent. Their characters were already
developed and we felt like we knew them already. When you take someone
you know and you put them into a situation it is a lot easier to
kind of come up with ideas.
Story Artist on Mike's New Car
Story Artist / Pixar
Mike is a very aggressive character. He tends to be a gag magnet. We were always
working hard to make sure Sully got equal time and had some good moments. Sully
has always been a little more mellow and passive. Mike is so volatile. He can
get so visually frustrated that he was a natural to win the car and have a
lot of things happen to him. In many ways, it's a study of the contrast of
their characters -- put them into a simple situation and just let them go.
Maybe that's why they're so fun to watch.
I really feel the short looks beautiful -- the animation, the renderings, everything.
Pictorially it is lovely, but I think the animation was really given
a chance to shine and, because the film is so pantomime heavy. Because
of that, overall, I think the animation really became the highlight.
I like the builds, I like the quite reactions. I like the explosions in terms
of characters getting frustrated or something. I like it all. Getting
thumped around in those seats is really very funny. The animation
really took the boards to a place where it was more than we described.
I mean, we really worked the gags out in the boards as carefully as possible.
From there, things opened up when it went to animation. The animators
would add a movement or a gesture or a pause. They brought a lot
to the party because with this type of short. There’s a lot of very subtle things, lots of pantomime, and lots of facial reactions,
which are very funny. You can draw them in a board, but there is
something about animation that really brings it to where it should
be. There were a lot of those opportunities in this film. Especially
with Sully, where his stuff was quieter, subtler and harder to make
entertaining in the boards.
All images are © Disney/Pixar. ALL RIGHTS
The author would like to thank Karen Hartquist, Howard Green, Ray Morton and
Dave Koch for their help.
Particular thanks goes again to Sarah Baisley for guest-copyediting this article
and to Howard Green, Harley Jessep and Sharon Calahan for the extra
steps they took to make this article happen.
This article and interview is owned by © Ron Barbagallo. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
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