Soul – Directors Pete Docter and Kemp Powers discuss new Pixar movie.
Virtual interview with Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, the directors of Soul, the new Pixar film, along with Dana Murray, producer of the project. Be careful, there may be a little spoiler about details of the movie!
The premiere of Soul is an important milestone in the history of Disney, since due to the current pandemic, from La Casa del Ratón they have decided to bet on their streaming service and recently it was announced that the new Pixar animated film would be released directly on Disney + the December 25th.
We already saw it a few days ago and here we tell you how Soul is shaping up to be one of the films of the year, in case you want to get a bit cheeky before its international premiere. Meanwhile, from Hobby Consolas we also had the opportunity to be part of a virtual interview with Pete docter and Kemp Powers, the project directors, together with Dana Murray, the film’s production company, and we were able to find out new details about what the process of creating a story like Joe Gardner’s was like.
We leave you here the full video in English, in case you are curious to see what the creators of some of your favorite films are like, but you can also read the Spanish transcription of the round table a little further down. Beware, there may be a minor spoiler on movie details!
This is a question for one of the directors: Pete, did you want to follow the style of your previous works, since there are certain similarities?
Pete Docter: I actually wanted to get away from my previous jobs and not do anything like what we’ve done before. There are some connections, investigations, and how we see ourselves … Investigating what makes us human. The other way around was more about looking inside ourselves to understand why you feel a way, and Soul is more about looking outside and seeing how you fit into the world. What do I do with the time I have in this world?
There are those who still have this notion that animation is only for children (as if that was bad), but in fact Soul deals with some very complex and existential topics that can be a bit difficult for some children to understand. Would you say that this is a more adult movie?
Dana Murray: We hope it’s for everyone, we make movies for everyone. We recently came across this Chuck Jones quote that said … What was he like, Pete?
PS: We want to make movies smart enough for kids, but simple enough for adults.
DM: Exactly. We usually think of children as the smartest people in the room, because of the way they process information, while adults often try to deconstruct things and make it all logical.
Pete, you say that you have tried to get away from your previous work … In Del Revés you explored the feelings of humans and now you have deepened exploring our passions and purposes in life. What’s up now?
PS: I think this is as far as we can go. It is time to step back and go elsewhere. I’m not going to direct for a while, we have a lot of new projects with new voices, with new directors, which is very exciting, with people who have already made several shorts. Our next film is directed by Enrico Casarosa, who directed La luna, and Domi Shee, the director of Bao … There are many new directions the studio is focusing on.
I laughed a lot with the 22 previous mentors … how did you choose them?
Kemp Powers: We actually had a lot to choose from. We had a whiteboard where we made a list, and a lot of mentors didn’t make it into the movie, of course. We wanted to make sure that the mentors weren’t offensive to a lot of people … so we all talked about our favorite historical figures and made a list, and then we had a joke and gag session about them and started testing them out. And our favorites ended up in the movie.
Soul’s message is that you have to live every second. Right now, with the pandemic, do you think this message is more necessary than ever?
PS: I think it is necessary all the time. Maybe before it was not a priority, until recently … But when you look back at certain moments in history, like in the Middle Ages, it is when death was much more present and it seems that there is something about that, with facing the reality that we have very little time, which makes us wake up and appreciate things more.
I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, of course, we want to live long, healthy lives, but I think that recognizing where we are in the world makes you appreciate the little things. In normal times, we set these huge, long goals for ourselves, and right now it’s a hit to just wake up and smell the trees, or sip coffee. The little things that we normally take for granted are the most important things in life.
This is a question for Kemp, because you have mainly worked in live action. How has the change from live action to animation been for you?
KP: There are a lot of similarities, to be honest. First of all I define myself as a narrator, the medium can change, but in the end what you want is to tell a story. I think the biggest change between live action and animation is how collaborative animation is. As a co-writer and co-director, people attribute a lot of the story to you, but the reality is that the story comes with a lot of voices in an animated film.
Our team consisted of about 350 people and unlike in live action, where you write a script alone and then edit it, and from there they make the film … In animation, the script is not even closed when you are making the film . You keep making changes throughout the process, and the writing is sometimes done out of sequence for much of the movie. What many people don’t understand when they watch an animated movie is that nothing they see there is by accident.
If you see a cup of coffee on a table, or a leaf falling, it is a conscious decision that that leaf moved that way and fell in that particular place. That is the most different element, I think. In real action sometimes things happen that are accidents, but in animation it does not happen that it was not planned.
In Soul you explore the concept of black culture with many themes, such as the club, the jazz, the neighborhood … How important has this year been, with the Black Lives Matter movement so active?
DM: When we started this movie, four or five years ago, it has always been a very important message. Obviously we didn’t know what was going to happen in 2020, with all this, but Joe became a jazz musician, and an African American organically during the story, not because we were setting things up to tell a story about a black man.
We are very proud of the movie, and the cast, but it all happened in a very organic way. And we looked to Kemp to help us, because we needed a lot of help, and we also brought in advisors to all kinds of people who could help us make the characters feel real.
Sometimes it seems like we are watching two different movies with Soul. The most obvious between Earth and the Home World, with its visual designs. And although jazz is very important, the soundtrack is by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross … How is this intentional?
PS: For me, the contrast is how you make people realize things. If everything is blue and cute and soft, you will not see anything … But if there is a lot of contrast, with spikes and red, then it stands out. It was great to have both in the movie, to represent the two parts of the soul. A soul is both ethereal and the pure and transcendental part of who we are, but it is also, if you think about food and music, the way to connect with your roots. And we were able to show all of this with the designs of the world and show what the movie talks about.
Can you tell us about the conceptual art of the film, especially the “Jerrys” and the immaterial world?
PS: We started doing a lot of research, talking to different religious experts, to understand traditions and how people see the soul in different parts of the world. Almost everyone said it’s invisible, ethereal, vaporous … And we tried to hint at this with the character designs and the world.
At first we had this concept, which I think comes from Greek philosophy, which said that in another dimension are the perfect and ideal versions of everything in our world. So we had the idea that the Earth had all the details and textures and hustle and bustle, and as you go up, everything becomes simpler. Even to become points of light, as happens at the beginning of the film.
It was a lot of fun and a challenge to play with all of this. Counselors are a bit like teachers or camp monitors … so there is a certain order because otherwise the souls would be circling around. It’s the universe getting “dumber” so that we can understand it. We rely heavily on modern sculptures, to distill and simplify everything in an abstract way.
The “essence” of each one is something very important within the history of Soul. Without revealing much … What would you say is your spark, your essence?
KP: For me it has to be storytelling, telling stories.
DM: I would say connecting with people, that is.
PS: That is why it is a great producer. You have to connect all these weird people who don’t want to talk to each other and who don’t speak the same language … (laughs). For me it is giving life to things, giving life to a character in these things that don’t really exist.
Inspiration is a word that is often repeated in the film … Where do you find the inspiration for all these ideas, the two worlds, using the music?
PS: Inspiration comes from everywhere. I was reading a book on Catholic philosophy and that’s where the idea came from for Dorothea’s speech to Joe, about the fish looking for the ocean. You don’t know where the inspiration is going to come from. Even in the beginning, jazz was a superficial thing that was there. I mean, it would be cool to hear jazz in the movie.
So we heard that story about improvisation […] about how jazz is about taking something they give you and turning it into something with value and beautiful, and that is personal. It comes from many places. At Pixar, the sad thing about being like this with the pandemic is that you go through the building and wherever you go you are inspired by what each person brings to the film. At the beginning of the film I had an idea, but you interact with people and it evolves, changes and elevates what you already had.
How did you react when they told you that Soul would be released directly on Disney + instead of in theaters?
PS: Well, it was a downturn, because we had made this movie to be seen on the big screen. We all love the idea of being in the dark, experiencing a story with a bunch of strangers. There’s something cool and very powerful there … But given the situation in the world right now, there was a time when we didn’t even know if the movie was going to be released, so the fact that it’s going to come out, that a lot of people will be able to see it around the globe on Disney +, which is a great platform with everything it has, because we are very excited. And it is also different, it is a more intimate experience, by hosting all these characters in your home and being able to see it as many times as you want. I think these are things that will benefit the movie and how people can enjoy it.