Sketches to Scares: An Exclusive First Look at Monsters University


It’s a long road from storyboard to final frame! Each scene from a Pixar film goes through a tried and true process of development to achieve just the right look, color script and lighting scheme. Take a look at the whole process below to get a sense of the steps that go into each stage of the animation process–what changes and what stays the same as a moment goes from a quick sketch in the Story Department to a final frame on the big screen. Then, we’ll break it down and take a look at each step in the animation process…


Monsters University Animation Progression gif



Story Department

Monsters University Mike and Sulley animation progression

Pixar Story artist Dean Kelly drew this storyboard to help artists pre-visualize the action of this particular moment in the film. Story artists created approximately 227,246 storyboards for Monsters University–more than any other Pixar film to date!


Art Department

Monsters University Mike and Sulley animation progression

Once the sequence of events is determined, it’s up to the Art department to determine the style and feel of the scene. Through concept art, artists like Shelly Wan explore lighting, textures, and the general mood of characters and locations.



Monsters University Mike and Sulley animation progression

Next, technical directors create characters and environments in the computer with a process known as Modeling. In Modeling, technical directors will design the shapes, textures, colors, and material properties of characters and objects.



Monsters University Mike and Sulley animation progression

In the layout stage of animation, a virtual camera is placed into a shot. The characters and set are then “staged” and arranged into positions for each camera angle.


Animation and Simulation

Monsters University Mike and Sulley animation progression

The Animation department now animates the primary and secondary characters and add textures and colors to garments and props. The scene is populated with hundreds of background characters, which are animated by the Crowds department. The Simulation department designs realistic movement for the characters’ hair and clothes through computer simulation so that they move naturally and believably with the characters’ actions.


Lighting/Final Frame

Monsters University Mike and Sulley animation progression

The last step of the animation process occurs when the Lighting department integrates all the elements into a final image. Lighting is achieved in the computer by placing light sources into the scene to light the characters and objects. Monsters University is the first Pixar film to use Global Illumination that allows for more complex and realistic lighting set-ups.

Learn more about Pixar’s story process.

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