The Francis Ford Coppola Disaster That Influenced Pixar’s INSIDE OUT

How the boondoggle of ONE FROM THE HEART inspired Pixar.

We first meet Joy in Inside Out right after Riley is born. Riley is the little girl in whose head most of the movie takes place, and Joy is her first emotion, coming blinking into the darkness of Headquarters. Joy looks at the viewscreen that shows her the world through Riley’s eyes and she sees Riley’s parents cooing over their newborn. And in that instant a memory is created - a glowing yellow ball of happiness that rolls down a track in the darkness, illuminating everything around it as it goes. It’s Riley’s first memory, and it’s a happy one.

That early sequence helps define the world and the look of Inside Out, and it wouldn’t have happened without Francis Ford Coppola’s costly 1982 flop One From The Heart… and without a couple of other cartoons from the Disney and Looney Tunes archives.

While visiting the Pixar Animation Studio last month Ralph Eggleston - who has been on the PIxar staff since Toy Story, and who has been either a production designer or has done ‘pinch hitting, mentoring and consulting’ on every single film - explained the way that Coppola’s movie influenced the look of this latest cartoon.

One From the Heart was the movie Coppola made to basically apologize for the enormous cost overruns on Apocalypse Now (which, being one of the greatest movies ever made, was surely worth the price). A musical set in Las Vegas, One From the Heart was shot almost entirely on soundstages with a projected budget of $2 million… which somehow blew up to cost $25 million. It earned less than a million dollars at the US box office and it bankrupted Francis Ford Coppola. He ended up making The Godfather Part III (and Jack and The Rainmaker and some other subpar films) in an attempt to just pay off his debts from the disaster.

“It’s not the greatest movie, but it’s a fascinating film,” Eggleston told us at the press day. “It’s very theatrical in terms of sets and lighting, and it’s sort of like a stage play on film. That’s one of the biggest influences on the lighting for this film.”

Another influence, specifically on this beautiful opening scene of Riley’s first memory? Old cartoons.

“Remember the Disney cartoons, and some of the Warner Bros, where the paint brush would come out and paint over the scene?” asked Eggleston. “When I was a kid I was like, ‘How do they do that? It’s amazing.’ I wanted to do that.”

Check out the trailer for One From the Heart and see the stage transitions in those opening scenes - this was very much what Eggleston was going for (and once you see the movie you’ll realize how spot on the lighting comparisons are, at least inside the world of Riley’s head):

For Coppola on a soundstage those transitions were achieved with selective lighting. It works differently in animation.

“We built a temporary [digital] set and we had the first memory coming out, and then we removed the set so that all we had was the lighting,” said Eggleston. “When we showed that to Pete [Docter] he was so excited. We knew we were going to have to show it to John [Lasseter], because if he didn’t like it we would have to start all over. I watched him while he watched it and he had this big smile over his face, and I just was so happy.”

The last film I would have ever guessed would be the biggest influence on the look of a new Pixar movie in the 21st century was One From the Heart, but this just reiterates the theme of the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune: sometimes the failures inspire as much as the successes.