Director Pete Docter Talks about Up

By Broadside Staff Writer Ross Bonaime

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Photo Courtesy of Pixar Animation Studios & Walt Disney Pictures.

With only nine films, Pixar has become world renowned for their great animation, overwhelming stories and incredible characters. This summer, Pixar will release their tenth film, Up, written and directed by Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter, about a septuagenarian who flies his house to South America with the help of thousands of balloons.

“We came up with this idea first of a floating house with balloons and then we started working backwards” said Docter, who is also one of the co-founders of Pixar. “Bob Peterson and I—he’s a writer and co-director—we had always wanted to do something with a curmudgeonly, grouchy guy.

The character of Carl Fredrickson is the first ever main protagonist of a Pixar movie that is simply human, and even though Pixar has tackled many animation problems before, Fredrickson was still an issue. “Anytime you work with people, you run into problems. I think they solved it really well on The Incredibles where they tried to do more of a stylization. That’s the approach we took, but in a different way.”

But even though the character is animated, Docter hopes to get some very real emotions through. “He’s a very cartooned, caricature guy. We took some hopefully very relatable, real kind of situations, but put it in this caricature, cartoon world and I think in the end that worked really well. I think it played to the strength of what animation can do.”

Up will be Pixar’s first film that will be in Digital 3D. Also, Pixar is currently taking a stab at live-action films with Toy Story 3 coming next year and rumors of other sequels; it truly is an evolving period for Pixar. But Docter is not too worried about all these changes. “Pixar’s been changing ever since it started,” Docter said. “It’s a fun time because there’s so much going on and so many ideas floating out there that it’s pretty exciting.”

Docter was influenced heavily by the Bugs Bunny cartoons of his youth and shows like The Muppet Show and he even said that with Up, “we wanted it to sound inspired by a Capra film or an action-serial from the ‘50s.” But his childhood experiences with a soundless Super 8 camera really affected the making of this film.
“There’s something about that that is more emotional to me than watching video with sound, and you sort of bring the thing to life in your own head because you are sort of contributing to it.” Docter said.

Docter was mentored by animation legend Joe Grant, who was with Disney in the early days and helped create now classic animated films like Dumbo. But it was a simple idea that Grant had that helped influence the way Docter makes films.
“He always came back to this idea of what are you giving the audience to take home, what sort of emotional core are you setting forth that people can relate to and resonate with them. Even though it’s a bug or monster or fish, they understand what that character is going through and they feel it for themselves.”

Thankfully, Pixar is a very open and fun environment that shows through their movies.

“The cool thing is there’s really no rules to the way we work, it’s almost like theater, where you start improving and putting together new ideas and editing and reworking, it’s very malleable.”

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, computer animation wasn’t considered anything special.

“When we approached Toy Story, we got a lot of concerned people saying ‘you’re never going to be able to carry a whole feature with computer animation, it’s cold and lifeless’ and we knew that if we had a good story, a compelling story, you could make a film with matchsticks or whatever,” said Docter.

With the help of Docter, Pixar has proven 10 films later, that computer animation is something amazing and a future of film that is continually amazing.

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