There might not be any holy grails left for Pixar to conquer but there are still major tech hurdles. A new kind of lighting approach was needed for Pete Docter’s Inside Out given the nature of the five key emotions personified by energy particles, particularly Joy (Amy Poehler). She’s not only the main character but also the shining light. Indeed, she’s a direct source of light. As a result, Angelique Reisch, the character lighting lead, had to create a special model to illuminate Joy, who’s comprised of glowing particles and possesses her very own luminescence.
Still, there were interesting tweaks: “Fear [Bill Hader] has that little hair on the top of his head and it was getting hard to read that hair against dark backgrounds. So we ended up adding another light to his rig just for that hair. So we learned those things as we were lighting shots. On Disgust [Mindy Kaling], she had this spark and it was going flat so I added an extra light to bring out some detail there.”
But they also needed Joy to cast light around her that was full of detail. If she picked up a frog, for example, they wanted to see the light between her fingers.
Since Joy’s the brightest character, she’s the only one that casts light. For Sadness (Phyllis Smith), they relied on irradiance. But the inner glow was shared by all five emotions, with the procedural particles close to the skin made by the character department and the outer particle sim created by the effects team.
And obviously there was no physical reference for the mind world — you couldn’t Google it. “So that gave us the freedom to really push the lighting and especially the theatrical lighting in the mind world. And when they get to the subconscious, the theatrical lighting is amazing and it pushed the aesthetics to a place that we’ve never done before. And then in the real world, we pulled back on the saturation more than we’ve ever done before. It’s a much darker world than you would normally see in a Pixar film because of Riley’s state of mind.” That’s why Minnesota is more colorful than San Francisco.
“The opening sequence when we see the very start of headquarters and we see Joy and Sadness for the first time, and it’s a really sweet moment when Riley starts to cry.”
And it sets up the bi-polar tension that turns Riley inside out.