Production Designer Ralph Eggleston has taken us undersea (“Finding Nemo”) to outer space (“WALL·E”) and to other imaginative Pixar places, but nothing compares with going inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley in Pete Doctor’s “Inside Out.” It’s his boldest and most difficult achievement, designing in a more abstract, cartoony way and experimenting with light as a character. It’s literally mind-blowing: soft surfaces, super saturation, high-contrast light, electro-chemical colors and translucence. He was inspired by Brainbows and Francis Ford Coppola’s “One From the Heart” and David Hockney’s theater productions and we discussed his exciting and terrifying experience during my recent Pixar trip.
Bill Desowitz: This is new, uncharted territory but what was it like going back to the roots of animation?
Ralph Eggleston: We always knew in some way or another that we were going to be walking through some of this world. That was extremely challenging. What does it look like? The hardest part was we could come up with anything but what does the story need? And that just changed so dramatically several times in the film. I’d love to say we had a grasp on it — we never really did. We got enough of a grasp on it to produce elements that could be photographed as the story was shifting under our feet.
BD: So what was the process like coming up with a grand concept?
RE: I always try to come up with a grand concept and sometimes it has worked better than others. Nemo and WALL·E…even Toy Story. Even with this film I tried early on and it seemed to be working occasionally. For example, Riley’s grandmother was going to die at some point and the family was moving to New York City from the mid-west. And her grandmother was a hoofer for Florenz Ziegfeld and Riley was a dancer and she wanted to be like her grandmother.
And then the mind world was going to replicate from the upper rafters of the theater down to the sub levels of the theater. And the stage itself was going to become what later became headquarters. We had another version where they floated on the ocean of the mind and part of that became the lower levels of the mind where all broken memories went that formed the ocean. At one point, Joy jumped in there and swam through Riley’s history. It was such a great idea and I got really excited about it but it wasn’t right for the film. It just changes. There were little islands out there. Then they finally moved to San Francisco, where it was foggy, and I wanted to use that, and then over the course of the story it became less foggy and I wanted to use that in the mind as well, representing where she lived in Minnesota and what she knew. Now she doesn’t know San Francisco so it’s like starting all over again. So there were all these grand concepts but the characters always come first so they needed to resolve that. They knew it had to be about these five emotions, but nobody would care as much until they understood Riley and her parents.
BD: It’s about Joy and Sadness and learning to live together but it’s also about Riley learning to step up.