At the end of October, Cinematical was part of a group of journalists invited to Pixar's Emeryville, CA studios to get a look inside the making of the Ratatouille DVD. Walking in to the studio's bright, beautiful complex, it felt almost like visiting any other Bay Area high-tech company; that familiarity's erased as soon as you spot the life-sized Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc. by the reception desk -- or the larger-than-life-size replicas of The Incredibles standing guard over an upstairs common area. The walls were lined with framed concept art and storyboards; someone whizzed by on a Segway; it was just another day at the Pixar office. Check out our gallery below.
First, supervising animator Mark A. Walsh talked about his work as one of the prime architect of the animated rat characters in the films, as well as the challenges Pixar's animators faced in turning real rats into furry friends, and the kind of research involved in animating animals: "We'll kind of get to know rats as animals, and we'll tend to usually go overboard -- we did this with Nemo -- where we go to an extreme as far as animating rats. So we'll take clips of real rats eating and crawling and climbing and we'll animate exactly that and try to get a feel for how they locomote and the mechanics ... Then, when we get into blending the acting and the more human experience into the animation, we kind of have an idea of where that kind of line falls; we can do completely human characters, or we can do completely rat (characters) and then we look at all those tests we've done that are very realistic and we'll kind of pick and pull little ideas out of them and sprinkle that into our acting. On Ratatouille, we went through a learning curve during production, where we would do kind of sniffing and nose-twitching that are very common when you watch rats and put them into our acting here and there and we found that Brad (Bird, Ratatouille's director) found that as he was editing the movie together, these things were popping up a little more often than he would like, so he asked us to pull back from the 'rat-isms,' as we wound up calling them. ..."
Of course, you can pull back on the 'rat-isms,' but you're still making a movie about rats. Walsh spoke about the challenge presented by Ratatouille that reviewers and commentators noted -- that we see rats as disgusting, and in the real world try to keep them as far away from food as possible. "Some of the things that we were conscious of was making sure you saw Remy wash his hands before he was going to touch food, and if we were entering a scene where he was going to be cooking, to try to keep him from walking on all fours, to keep the hands clean ...we would subtly pull back on some of the rat stuff there, so we could subconsciously not creep the audience out too much when he was handling food. And then we would get more humanistic in our acting there ..."