Trailer Premiere: ‘Monsters University’ Winks to College Classics of Yesteryear

Bryan Enk
Movie Talk
'Monsters University'
'Monsters University'

John Goodman gets to revisit his "Revenge of the Nerds" roots with Pixar's prequel to "Monster's, Inc."

But instead of human nerds, Goodman's character, James P. Sullivan, convenes with the monster equivalent -- the not-so-popular of the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties. Yes, judging from the latest trailer, "Monsters University" promises tons of fun references to our favorite college movies such as the aforementioned "Revenge" (the 1984 comedy in which Goodman played Coach Harris) along with "National Lampoon's Animal House" and even "National Lampoon's Van Wilder" if we're lucky.

The film chronicles the early days of Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James (Goodman), two "student monsters" who meet as roommates at Monsters U. and develop a sorta-friendly competition as they see who's the scarier beast. The new trailer showcases a film that not only re-introduces us to some of Pixar's most popular characters but also affectionately satirizes those well-known college-set films of yesteryear.

Watch the Trailer Premiere of 'Monsters University':

It sounds like this summer's most amusing trifle, albeit one done with the usual Pixar class, wit, and skill. But believe it or not, this "college movie" raised the bar on animation techniques and took the entire production process to epic new levels.

"Monsters University" took more than four years to create, with the project employing more than 100 technology engineers. The film was so chock full of detail that it took over 100 million CPU hours to render the film into its final form -- or, roughly, over 11,000 years, with each individual frame requiring 29 hours of render time.

[Related: Visit Planet Pixar]

Keep in mind, of course, that that number comes from the collective work of all the computer servers at Pixar's disposal, which is "about 24,000 cores," according to supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi in a recent interview with VentureBeat. "Monsters University" required Pixar to more than double their standard "render farm," a giant room filled with computers (sounds a bit ominous, no?).

"Part of the problem was that there were, on average, more than 25 detailed animated characters in every shot," said Christine Waggoner, simulation supervisor on the film. "There were 6.2 limbs and 3.7 eyes per character. All of that had to be computer-animated because it was far too complex to be animated by hand."

"Monsters University" has tons of crowd scenes featuring the monster students traversing the campus, sitting in giant lecture halls and attending wild parties. That's certainly a lot of mass movement to create, but the real challenge came from all the individual character details. Sully, the big blue monster, has over 5.4 individual hairs -- over five times as much as the original film (hey, you lose your hair as you get older, after all).

"It tends to be when characters are really close up on camera, those hero moments, that's what makes it more difficult," said Waggoner. "The cloth and hair were pretty tough. I think it's deceptively simple, the idea of Sullivan wearing a T-shirt. Sullivan's hair is long. You can't just make all the hairs along the boundary invisible. The cloth is a dynamic thing. It moves and slides across the boundaries of the hairs. There isn't a simple solution -- 'Just paint away the hairs underneath!' The shirt can slide up at any time. Allowing for that freedom was difficult."

As Mike Wazowski is visually a much "simpler" character than Sully, you'd think he'd be easier to bring to life. But the pint-sized freshman presented his own unique challenges as the audience experiences the story through his eyes -- or, rather, eye.

"The eyes are the window to the soul," said Jean-Claude Kalache, a lighting expert at Pixar. "Mike's eye is the biggest piece of real estate on the screen, and that's always challenging for us. You can always see a reflection of who he's talking to or what he's looking at. It's always the eye, in Mike's case."

Mike is also a much more visually complex character than one might fully appreciate at first glance.

"He's very interesting, if you look at details," said Kalache. "He's very complex, but in a nice, subtle way. He has lots of freckles. He has the retainer. Depending on your lighting situation, you might reveal a lot of freckles and stop looking at the eye, so we have ways to control the freckles. Or if the retainer catches a lot of highlights, that's distracting, because you're trying to focus on his eye. I always tell my lighters to be very afraid of the simple shot, because that's the one that has a lot of people's attention, mine included."

You'll be able to pledge to "Monsters University" yourself when it hits theaters on June 21.