It’s Like a Magic Trick: Pete Docter and Dana Murray on Pixar’s Soul | Interviews

Pete, I heard that one of my favorite illustrators, Ronald Searle, was part of the inspiration for the look of the film. How did his work influence you?

PETE DOCTER: Pixar has always been fighting against the idea of a house style, but we do kind of have kind of have one. And so, Dana and I talked about why it be great to buck that somehow, so that the characters in this movie couldn’t just be airlifted into “Toy Story” or “Finding Nemo” or one of the other films. We wanted to find our own design sense, and I think we succeeded. There are probably people that still will say, “Oh, it’s very Pixar.” But if you look at Carl from “Up,” he’s two heads tall; he’s this big block. And Joe has, I think seven and a half or so, much closer to real human proportions. What we really pulled from Searle are those wonderfully stretched proportions, thin, spindly arms and legs, and kind of stockier bodies and he just fit really well with the look we were after. Jazz also played a huge influence in the design of New York City. It comes with its own visual sense, like those great album covers from the ’60s. So, we tried to pull that into the movie as well.

Pixar has had dogs and fish and monsters, of course, but a cat like the one in “Soul” is a real challenge for an animator.

PD: I think the animators had a lot of fun with the cat. A lot of times people accuse our films of being too adult or whatever. The cat was a real connection to kids. Dana, remember that was one of the last things we put in, the gag in the elevator, where the magnifying glass makes a little light that the cat jumps after?

DANA MURRAYYeah, we thought we could get a lot of humor with the cat. I love the design of the cat, chubby and round, and he’s playful.

PDI think the biggest challenge animation-wise were the counselors that are just a single line. You would think easy, right? If I could draw that I’d be done like that. Turns out it was one of the more difficult characters we’ve ever done. They were meant to be the universe dumbing itself down so that we could understand them. Without some guidance to help them prepare, these souls would just be all over the place and nothing would ever happen. Nobody would be born. So, they were kind of the camp counselors. And we were inspired by Alexander Calder and Matisse, Picasso, modernist sculpture. And they seemed really fun. Turns out they were very difficult. 

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