A World of Extremes
From rats in sewers to fine dining in the world’s most romantic city, Ratatouille was a study in extremes. While the story involved the natural—if unlikely—contrast between Remy’s rodent upbringing and his sophisticated human desires, it also added the challenge of animating food. The food not only had to appear real and edible, it had to be worthy of characters who look at what they eat with passionate reverence.
Having broken new ground with their elaborate CG renderings, the Pixar team decided to give Ratatouille an old-school finish. For the end titles, as well as a DVD short, they enlisted hand-drawn animation, filling the halls of Pixar with the unfamiliar sound of rustling paper. According to the animators, the hands-on process was “like going back to your hometown.”
On one side, Gusteau’s hushed, luxurious restaurant is almost like a theater, explained Production Designer Harley Jessup. On the other side is the clattery intensity of the kitchen. “So the doorway into the dining room is almost like a stage proscenium, where waiters come out from backstage to present dishes to the audience of diners,” Jessup noted. “We also thought of the dining room as a palace for food and designed it both to awe the viewer and to make the food and the diners look good.”
Brad Bird envisioned Linguini’s apartment as the cheapest in Paris. So the design took an unintended living space, much like an attic or storage space, that had been converted with as many inconveniences as possible. For example, Linguini has to climb up four flights of stairs with his bicycle that couldn't be left on the street for fear of being stolen, the door opens just enough to awkwardly enter, and he has to bend and stretch to maneuver around the furniture—but Linguini has what he needs: an incredible view of Paris to help him dream.
Going strictly by the storyline, Ratatouille could have taken place almost entirely within the kitchen. But the filmmakers took every opportunity to move the action out into the photogenic streets of Paris. While the City of Light would provide eye candy for the audience, it would also serve the story, a constant reminder of the rarefied human world that made Remy’s dream so daunting.
Production Designer Harley Jessup had long read about Paris's famous sewers, but when the Pixar team went to France for a firsthand viewing, they weren’t quite as evocative and romantic as envisioned. “So, because it’s entertainment, because we wanted to do something that was bigger than life and caricatured, we felt the audience would respond to us taking some artistic license and creating a grander, more Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables-type of sewer.“
A colorscript is a sequence of small pastel drawings or paintings used to emphasize color in each scene and establish a film's visual language.
Production Designer Harley Jessup conjured up his own admittedly “informal recipe” for a Ratatouille colorscript using gathered bunches of dyed yarns to create a rat character palette of stylized fur colors. Working with the film’s Director of Photography for Lighting Sharon Calahan, Jessup fashioned a coolly colored underground rat world against the warm, rich tones of the human world.