Monday, June 3, 2013

Clawson native directs Pixar film 'Monsters University'

Clawson native directs Pixar film 'Monsters University'

From a young age, Clawson native Dan Scanlon loved to draw, dreaming someday he would work for Walt Disney animation.

At 36 years old, Scanlon has achieved those goals and is now making his directorial debut in Pixar’s new film “Monsters University.”

Scanlon, a graduate of Clawson High School, began doing illustrations as a young child.

His mother, Betty Zych of Rochester, said even when he was in kindergarten, her son was an artist.

“The background is his father died when Dan was 17 months and I have another son, Bill, and he was 3,” Zych said. “His father died in a car accident, so I raised them myself. Dan loved to draw from an early age — he was always drawing.”

Scanlon received recognition around town as a preteen and teen, as he drew caricatures at parties, won contests and was featured on local news.

“I drew a lot as a little kid — I loved drawing,” Scanlon said. “And I think that turned into an interest in animation and an interest in film. ... I think I always (had an interest in film). I got an 8MM camera when I was a kid that shot 24 frames per second and that got me into film.”

Zych said: “When he was a little older, he would film videos for public access, he and his friends and his brother. He just loved doing video and filming from a really young age.”

When Scanlon was still preparing for college, the family took a trip to Disney World. Zych said she asked for suggestions on schools that they would recommend for someone that is interested in doing animation, and Disney supplied them with a list of schools.
The two picked the Columbus College of Art in Design, where Scanlon ultimately received a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in illustration on a full scholarship.

“I think I always wanted to work in movies somehow,” Scanlon said. “I certainly dreamt of working for Disney and then at the time when I was younger, Pixar was making mainly animated shorts, but I was a huge fan of their shorts. I definitely wanted to work for them, but I just wasn’t sure that it was a job that anyone had yet at that point. It’s amazing that they’ve kind of grown as a company and are making these great films. I just feel so lucky to have the opportunity to work there.”

After school, Zych said Scanlon got a job with Character Builders, an animation studio in Columbus and then started at Pixar in 2001.

He served as a Disney storyboard artist for “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” and “101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure.” His work on previous films led to Pixar asking him to direct “Monsters University.”

“I was a big fan of the first movie (‘Monsters, Inc.’), I actually started at Pixar the month that Monsters, Inc. came out,” Scanlon said. “I was luckily asked to direct this film.

“I think that I was asked just because I had just worked in the story department on the movie ‘Cars’ for many years with John Lasseter and I had also worked on ‘Toy Story 3’ for a lot of years. I think just my story background is what got me this job.

“That, and I had made my own feature animated film during the time I was working on ‘Cars’ and ‘Toy Story 3,’ I made a film called ‘Tracy’ ... I think that it always helps that they know I can tell a feature-length story.”

Scanlon also co-directed the Pixar short “Nader and the Ghostlight” with Lasseter.

“I always hoped (he would be this successful), when he was younger, he loved cartoons. I always hoped it, but it takes a lot of luck too,” Zych said. “... It’s wonderful because that was always his dream.”

“Monsters University” is Pixar’s first prequel, which was exciting for Scanlon.
“It’s actually Pixar’s first prequel, so it takes place before Monsters Incorporated, which has its own challenges, but they’re fun challenges,” Scanlon said. “Learning how you tell a story where audiences, more or less, know how it ends. But I think they’ll be surprised.”

Directing the film was a different experience than working on the storyboard, Scanlon said.

Scanlon said: “It was pretty educational, as a story artist you really only see the movie as rough drawings and maybe some early-on animation and next time you really see it is when it’s done and it’s colored and beautiful.

“For me to get to actually watch the process and see how individual artists and technicians better the film as it goes was an amazing learning process. I got to watch the film and guide the film through that entire process, which was very different than being in the story department — that was one of the biggest takeaways, was seeing how that process works.”

Scanlon said that audiences can expect the same level of humor as “Monsters, Inc.”

“We definitely wanted to have a fun college movie, but also they will be pleasantly surprised by the level of emotion that it has and heart,” Scanlon said.

“It was really important to me and the crew to try to capture that, which was a big part of the first film, as well. Even though this is a fun college movie, it’s very much about another part of college, which is self-discovery and realizing life’s going to be a little harder than you thought and realizing that you need to learn a few things about yourself. That can sometimes be difficult, but sometimes it can be really eye-opening.”

The film will be released in theaters nationwide on June 21, which is also Scanlon’s 37th birthday. It is rated G.