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Doing Their Homework: Back to School
Research is one of the keys to Pixar Animation Studios' success. "For every movie we do, authenticity is absolutely vital," says executive producer John Lasseter. "Our teams traveled to Scotland for 'Brave,' and for 'Finding Nemo,' everyone became certified scuba divers. 'Monsters University' was fun to research because it takes place in a college setting -- I have five sons and three of them are in college right now. I've been able to pick their brains. I'd go and move one of my sons into college, bringing all these ideas and observations back to the next story meeting."

Director Dan Scanlon, like a lot of members of the production team, graduated from art school. "We didn't quite have that experience as far as the look of a classic campus -- so we went to several schools to soak up the atmosphere. Just seeing the students -- so young and so stressed -- most of us were glad to be done with that phase of our lives. But we also got the distinct feeling that anything's possible. There are so many opportunities and areas to study -- we saw all these different schools within each college, which definitely got us all charged up imagining what a monster college could be."

Producer Kori Rae took part in the team's quest for knowledge and inspiration as the story was just getting off the ground. "Our first research trip was to the east coast to visit a number of schools, including Harvard and MIT," says Rae. "It was a blast. The first day of our visit, we were amazed -- just blown away by the scale of the campuses and all the activity -- saying, 'Are you kidding me?' We visited classrooms, listened in on lectures -- everyone really got into it."

Artists were inspired by the campuses they visited. "In 'Monsters, Inc.,'" says production designer Ricky Nierva, "they took the best of American manufacturing and translated it into a monster world. When we went and looked at all these colleges, we wanted to feel the spirit of the university so we could similarly translate that into our monster world.

"We realized that there's a lot of history -- particularly at a campus that still has buildings from when the school was founded," continues Nierva. "There's history in the way the buildings were designed and the way they were built. We could see how each campus evolved as time went by -- there were really old buildings next to really new buildings. We learned how the oldest -- often the most ornate -- building on campus was where the university started -- typically surrounded by big, really mature trees -- with the rest of the campus expanding from there."

According to Nierva, the team paid attention to the details -- ultimately incorporating much of what they observed into the film. "We learned about the walking patterns of the students, which we found fascinating. There were pathways snaking through the Quad on one campus that seemed random. We realized that many of the paths had been left by students who had to get from point A to point B as quickly as they could between classes, so they would cut across the lawn in lieu of the original paved paths, killing the grass. Eventually, groundskeepers just paved the short cuts because they didn't want to keep reseeding the grass."

As a result of their observations, artists made the School of Scaring the oldest building on the Monsters University campus, complete with big, mature trees, worn pathways that connected paved ones and a bevy of monsters to put it all to good use. Filmmakers even borrowed a tradition from one of the schools they visited: Students who enter the School of Scaring on their first day of school touch a statue's toe for good luck.

But there's more to college life than buildings, pathways and statues. The team visited schools in their own backyard, including Stanford and UC Berkeley, and checked out some of the more entertaining aspects of student life. Says Nierva, "Some of the schools felt much more open -- people throwing Frisbees around on the grass and laying out. We loved going to the fraternity houses. The fraternities were very open to letting us into their places -- we took a lot of photos.."

Some members of the production team attended a bonfire event at UC Berkeley prior to a big football game against Stanford. The experience served as great reference for the MU-Fear Tech rivalry.

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