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More Monsters Than Ever Before
With its college campus setting, "Monsters University" required a large population of students, teachers and miscellaneous monsters. Characters supervisor Christian Hoffman led the technical side of creating nearly 500 different characters, built from six basic archetype models. Supervising technical director Sanjay Bakshi was responsible for overseeing the rigging, shading and modeling teams for the characters, in addition to other duties related to sets, layout, effects and global technology. JD Northrup was in charge of the crowds tech team and their task of populating stadiums, classrooms and campus activities. Adam Burke supervised the crowds animation team.

"The sheer number and variety of characters has been a big challenge on this film," says Bakshi. "It's a college movie that takes place on a big exciting campus, so we had to create a ton of students to make it feel like a real campus -- only monster-y. Our rigging and modeling teams had to deal with a real diversity for the population, which wasn't the case in the original 'Monsters,' in which arms and tentacles were rigged independent of the bodies. For this film, we wanted to make our characters really fleshy and organic. We knew we needed hundreds of characters, so we created different species with archetypical characteristics. From there, we were able to build sophisticated controls and change the properties to fit the variety."

Hoffman adds, "We came up with six different monster types for background characters that we ended up pulling and pushing around, and adding horns, spikes, hair and other things to add variation. Charlies (named after a similar looking character from "Monsters, Inc.") are characters with eyeballs on eye stalks and tentacles for arms and legs. Spiffs are more human looking, but with a horn for a nose. Pills are castle-shaped with three eyes and skinny limbs. Blocks are a big bruisers with square-shaped bodies. Fungus monsters are slug-shaped and slide on the ground. They have two big bug eyes, a small round body and skinny limbs.

"One of the big advances on this film is with the animation controls or AVARs," continues Hoffman. "The sophistication level has really improved. We're able to get much bigger expressions than ever before. For example, we can move the corner of the mouth around and get a very sophisticated response in the cheek that wasn't possible before. The animators can really push the characters so they look and feel more fleshy and natural. There's much more movement in the faces."

Creating crowds of monsters for scenes on the campus, in the classroom, and at the Scare Game competition was another important part in telling the story and making it seem believable. "This was quite a big film from a crowd perspective," says Northrup, who headed up the crowds tech team. "In one scene at the football stadium, we have about 5,000 monster characters. Lots of other scenes have medium sized crowds of 200-400. What's tricky about this film is the density of characters. We probably have more characters in more shots than any Pixar film to date.

"One of the things that sets this film apart from the others is the variety of character types we had to choose from," adds Northrup. "We also focused on getting the walk cycles to look good, because it was a university campus and we knew we'd have lots of pedestrian shots. The early litmus test for us was in the opening sequence where we see Mike walking on the campus for the first time. The camera comes across very different locations on the campus, ending with him getting to his dorm. It's a big sweeping establishing shot, and the campus is bustling with activity. There are about 500 characters in the mini-quad area, and then he moves onto the main quad with about 800 more."

Northrup says the team is particularly proud of the final competition sequence that takes place in a big amphitheater. It was no easy task, he says, populating the arena with about 1,600 monsters who were all coming and going, cheering and storming the field.

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