“Adolescent Chaos”: Pixar Animator Discusses ‘Turning Red’


The new Pixar movie Turning Red will be streaming on Disney+ on March 11, and one of the animators who worked on the main character Mei Lee has revealed what he and his fellow Pixar animators used to make Mei’s red panda self as realistic as possible!

The answer? Cat videos! “We were watching videos trying to capture the shapes and silhouettes of what happens when a cat gets agitated,” animator Jacob Brooks explained. Pixar staffer Jacob Brooks was also the Simulation Supervisor for the movie, leading the charge to create all of the characters’ hair, fur, and clothing (including giant red panda fur).

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Jacob Brooks, Pixar animator and Simulation Supervisor Credit: Pixar Studios / Deborah Coleman

“When Mei (as a panda) gets frustrated, she sometimes looks like an angry cat when her fur rises. That’s what our team does.” It took a team of 20 animators to create a convincing red panda version of Mei Lee, with Jacob Brooks leading the team. If you look at the image below from the Pixar film, you can definitely see a resemblance between an agitated red panda Mei and an agitated feline!

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Mei Lee, the girl and giant red panda played by Rosalie Chiang in Turning Red (Directed by Domee Shi in her feature directorial debut). Credit: Pixar Animation Studios

The premise of the new Pixar Animation Studios film Turning Red certainly sounds strange upon a first introduction: a Chinese-Canadian 13-year-old girl inherits her family’s “curse”, which involves turning into an abnormally large red panda whenever she is excited or agitated. The title obviously refers to Mei’s inherited tendency to turn into a red panda, and it also seems to be an obvious reference to blushing (which is often common in embarrassed teens who ‘turn red’).

The themes of Turning Red have been under heavy debate by fans, with some fans deciding that the movie’s main plot must be a metaphor for a girl’s experience with puberty instead — but Pixar staffer Jacob Brooks says otherwise. This Pixar movie will certainly “illustrate some of the adolescent chaos” that happens to boys and girls around Mei’s age, Brooks confirmed, but friendship is meant to be the main idea.

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The giant red panda Mei Lee (or Meilin Lee) played by Rosalie Chiang in Turning Red Credit: Disney

“Our job is making those comforting moments where the characters are interacting, hugging and leaning closely on one another feel natural,” Brooks revealed in the interview about the animated movie. “Those moments help create the emotional beats in the film.”

Are you excited to see Turning Red streaming on Disney+? Do you find the premise of this Pixar Animation Studios movie (helmed by director Domee Shi) to be confusing, amusing, or heartwarming? And which voice actor are you most excited to hear in action: actress Sandra Oh, veteran voice actor James Hong, Disney Channel singer Jordan Fisher, Wai Ching Ho, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan from Never Have I Ever, or newcomers like Rosalie Chiang, Ava Morse, Mia Tagano, and Orion Lee?

About Sharon

Sharon is a writer and animal lover from New England. Sharon's two main focuses in her work are Disney's correlations with pop culture and the significance of Disney princesses (which was the basis for her college thesis). When she's not writing about Disney, Sharon spends her time singing, dancing, and cavorting with woodland creatures!

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