What Makes ‘Inside Out’ Visually Unforgettable?

It might have been released over 2 months ago, but Pixar’s latest gem, ‘Inside Out’ is still causing a big buzz in Hollywood, since the company has recently released the first clip of the short, called ‘Riley’s First Date’, to accompany the movies home release. Because of this, I thought it would be a good opportunity to tell my watchers why I recommend this movie before it vanishes from your cinema screens, especially if you’re an admirer of strong visuals, as I am.

The Layout of the Human Mind


Whilst this isn’t the first time the human mind has been put to screen, it’s by far the most ambitious attempt to do so, so far. This is because of the actual design given to the setting of the lead character’s mind. Unlike ‘Toy Story’, where the animatiors just looked at the floors of their children’s bedrooms for inspiration, they had to build everything from scratch, this time around. The only exception of this is the setting for ‘Long Term Memory’, which was loosely based on the pattern of the brain. Impressively, the immense scale of the set gives equal credit to the elaborate design.

However, not only was the set a challenging design based on it’s scale and originality, but also on it’s accuracy. One of the worlds most influential psychologists, Paul Eckman, was brought in by the studio designers to keep a close eye on their set design. He made sure that the layout and system used by the writers was as close a match as possible to the way a real child’s mind would work. From the way the Memories are collected over the course of the day before Riley goes to sleep (replicating short-term memory), to the way the Core Memories fuel the different ‘Personality Islands’, this is one of the industries most accurate portrayals of human psychology, as well as one of the most entertaining.

The ‘Abstract Thought’ Scene


Whilst there are dozens of memorable sequences throughout the film, from the characters time in ‘Imagination Land’ to the moment they gatecrash the set of ‘Dream Production’, there’s one scene which stands out above the rest on a visual level: the ‘Abstract Thought’ scene. In this scene, which is as creepy as it is hilarious, the characters gradually go through a series of transformations into fragments, 2D figures, block shapes, and finally end up as nothing more than coloured lines.

Not only is this scene partially inspired by cubism, an art form of which relies extensively on abstract thought, but it also demonstrates something Pixar hasn’t been as famous for, 2D animation. They’ve demonstrated their skills in this beforehand with their short films, such as ‘Your Friend the Rat’ (2007) and ‘Day & Night’ (2010), yet this is really the first time their 2D filmmaking has taken centre stage in one of their feature films. It’s crisp, it’s clear, and it shows just how skilled Pixar animators are.

The Basic Designs of Each Emotion


At first, the design of each emotion might seem overly simplistic and uninspired. However, if you take a closer look, you actually realise that the 5 emotions’ body types are based on different shapes which resemble their personalities. Joy is based on a star, Sadness is based on a teardrop, Anger is based on a fire brick, Fear is based on a nerve, and Disgust is based on a clove of broccoli. It’s a simple move, yet an effective one.

Furthermore, when you take an even closer look, you actually notice that their animations are far more complex than you first thought. They don’t have ‘skin’ per se, or even fur or scales. Instead, they’re composed of bundles of energy, represented by hundreds of thousands of tiny, floating, disappearing and reappearing particles. As you can imagine, this must have been a nightmarish task for the effects department to bring to life, but they succeeded in this beautifully.

Joy’s Design


Whilst all 5 emotions are elegantly designed, it’s Joy who has by far the stronger look of the lot, and all because she’s more more colourful than her counterparts, both in terms of aesthetics, and in terms of personality.

The other four emotions are designed with bright, block colours which, like their shapes, match their personalities. Sadness is blue, Anger is red, Fear is purple, and Disgust is green. Whilst Joy is primarily yellow in her hue, she’s also styled with blue eyes, blue hair, and even a blue glow.

Why does she have hints of blue in her design? Because she’s essentially ‘tinted with sadness’. It’s a work of foreshadowing to tell us that, at one point in the film, we were going to see her no longer be happy and actually shed a tear. It manages to work perfectly with the moral of the film which, despite most of you already knowing what it is, I’m not going to spoil here.

Bing Bong’s Design

bing bong vaudeville

On top of that, there’s a 6th character in Riley’s mind who we grow to love, Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend. Whilst the other characters designs are ‘simple yet effective’, this one is practically the polar opposite, complex and utterly crazy.

Much like Beast in the 1991 classic, ‘Beauty and the Beast’, Bing Bong’s memorable look is based on being homogeneous of different creatures. He’s part cat, part elephant, part dolphin (apparently), and, get this, part cotton candy. The decision to combine several ‘creatures’ into one was based on the old art of taxidermy monsters, where different animal parts would literally be stitched together to invent a fictional species.

Furthermore, the costume he wears is based on those worn by Vaudeville performers, who used to perform on stage before cinema and television took over. Sadly, performances that are long forgotten.

You might be asking why Pixar took these two sources for the design of this unexpected hero. Well, because Bing Bong, taxidermy monsters, and Vaudeville performers all share the same trait… they’re forgotten! As time has moved along, the latter two have no longer been as relevant in our society. The same regarding Bing Bong, as Riley grows up and she gradually loses her childhood.