Soul producers reveal real life inspiration for the Great Before and Great Beyond: “It took a long time”

Producer Dana Murray and co-director Pete Docter explain the design inspiration for the new Pixar feature.

Soul

While one of the settings for the new Pixar film Soul will be very familiar to film fans – a brilliantly animated version of New York City – there are also several prominent scenes that take place in another world entirely.

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This is the world of The Great Before and The Great Beyond, a sort-of otherworldy celestial kingdom in which central character Joe Gardner finds himself after falling down a sinkhole while crossing the road.

Like many of Pixar’s settings, there is a great deal of visual invention on show in The Great Before and Great Beyond, both in terms of the design of the world itself and the characters who reside there.

RadioTimes.com spoke to the film’s producer Dana Murray and co-director Pete Docter about the inspirations for that design.

Explaining the process, Murray said: “With all our films we try to start with research. Obviously, we couldn’t go on a research trip to this world, but we wanted to speak to a lot of spiritual and religious leaders, who would talk about the soul, and the words that they would use were like non-physical and ethereal.

“And so luckily we work with really incredible artists at Pixar, but it took a long time – and you know I think what was the major inspiration with the sets was probably the World’s Fair.”

Docter confirmed that the World’s Fair was indeed the main source of inspiration for the way The Great Before ended up looking, but he admitted that they almost went in a rather different direction. 

“We sort of started with Ancient Greece because you think of that as the centre of knowledge and philosophy,” he said. “And then we were like, well, we don’t want to say that everybody comes from Greece you know, it’s got to be more generic or at least non-culturally specific.

“And so with the World’s Fair a lot of the architecture is meant to be aggrandising and important so that felt like it fit. So some of these pavilions and things are these very simple shapes that were designed with the hope that they would imply something happens when you walk in, so you’re changed. Which is, of course, the purpose of this thing!” 

Soul arrives on Disney+ on Christmas Day 2020. You can sign up to Disney+ with an annual subscription for £59.99 or £5.99 a month.

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