The Pixar Way: How to Craft a Remarkable Story with Pete Docter
I’ve been a fan of Pixar Studios films ever since I first saw “Toy Story.” The ability that Pixar has to tell an amazing story in uncanny. After that film I started studying every Pixar movie that came out. It seemed that they had a secret storytelling sauce and they could do no wrong.
It was unheard of for any studio to keep cranking out one hit after another, year after year. Pixar Studios has released 15 feature films with 210 awards won and 211 awards nominated and counting.
“In Pixar and Pete I trust.”
SPOILER ALERT: The opening sequence of “Up“, Pete Docter compresses a lifetime of love in three minutes and without using any words. Just amazing. Most filmmakers can’t do that in a two-hour feature film.
I recently had a chance to see Pete Docter’s latest film “Inside Out” and all I can say is WOW! I see another Best Picture Oscar® this year. Just an amazing piece of storytelling. Whatever secret sauce Pete and Pixar Studios have it’s working.
Check out this amazing video on Inside Out:
Peter Docter’s Inside Out: Emotional Theory Comes Alive
When I saw this amazing hour-long interview with Pete Docter at TIFF 2015 I knew I had to share it with all of you. Even if the average independent filmmaker can grab just a few grains of Pixar storytelling magic dust to sprinkle on their film, the indie film community with be a better place. Enjoy!
BONUS: Some of the BEST Online Screenwriting Courses & Books available:
- Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting MasterClass
- Jim Uhls’ (Writer of Fight Club) The Screenwriters Toolkit
- Paul Castro’s The MILLION DOLLAR BUSINESS OF SCREENWRITING
- Paul Castro’s The Million Dollar Screenplay
- Stephanie Palmer’s Good in a Room – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
- Michael Hauge’s & Chris Vogler’s Screenwriting & Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys
- Karl Igelsias’s Writing for Emotional Impact – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSIONS HERE
- Save the Cat!® The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
- Linda Seger’s Making A Good Script Great – FREE AUDIO BOOK VERSION
Bonus: Empire Magazine interview with Pete Docter
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I welcome thoughts and remarks on ANY of the content above in the comments section below…
INSIDE THE CREATIVITY COMMUNITY
I am Cathy Warzo I am the host of the morning edition of the Minnesota public radio new and guest moderator of tonight’s forum. This event is being broadcast from West Minnesota Presbyterian Church located on the Linclon mall downtown Minneapolis.
It is my pleasure to introduce our speaker. Pete Docter is a film director animator and screen writer at Pixar Animation Studios he contributed to the story and characters Toy Story Pixar’s first full linked animated feature film and served as a supervising animator for that film.
He wrote story start treatments for Toy Story 2 and Wallie and directed Monsters Inc Up and his latest release inside out. He has been nominated for 6 academy awards and one best animated feature film per up.
He was born and raised in Bloomington Minnesota he graduated from the California Institute of the Arts where he received his student academy award. In 1990 following his graduation he began working at Pixar studios as its third animator, time has shown the great wisdom of their choice.
Ladies and gentlemen please join me in welcoming to the Westminster Town Hall Forum and back home Pete Doctor.
Thanks everybody for coming I got some slides to show you but of course we can’t see that in the radio so I am going speak enigmatically about them so that the home audience doesn’t feel as though they are missing anything and really it is photos like this of my home growing up.
I grew up a little ways from here in Bloomington so nice there in May you know, I was a happy kid I had a good fashion sense as you can see and for as long as I can remember I have always loved to making things, now the arts are full of people who have had the fight against their parents who forbid them for following their passion on the road to becoming artist but my parents were encouraging and supportive.
So where did that leave me I had no one to fight against so I had to develop a healthy sense of self doubt and insecurity which I nursed to this day. Actually this sort of started in junior high for me up until then everything was pretty upfront, but in junior high everything started getting confusing suddenly I was aware of wearing the wrong thing, what was cool and what wasn’t I had no real idea for that so I was most happy alone in my room fiddling with electronics or making and watching cartoons.
I love cartoons I actually don’t remember what the first was that got me hooked, maybe Pinocchio or Fantasia but whatever it was I was absolutely amazed. I love the drawings what really hooked me was the fact that they moved, right I know that they were drawings up there but it just seemed so believable to me it was always like magic or something and when I discovered that I could do this.
When I made a flip book on the corner of my math book I was hooked and since then I made a whole bucket full of flipbooks and 3M note pads which I think my mom still has in the closet and I still make them this is one that I made a couple, 3 years ago instead of family Christmas cards and you know the basic idea is that, you can’t see the end card say the joyous sounds of Christmas. So but from an early age I knew this was what I wanted to do this is what I wanted to know more about,,
Now as a kid I believed to things, number one the people who made these cartoons were unapproachable brilliant group of super geniuses and two that the stories they created must have formed fully and sprung forth from their brain like jewels you know I imagine that Walt Disney lying in bed and sitting up and go Dumbo and the whole thing would be there.
Well as it turns out neither of these are true. I left the blissful refuge of Bloomington to attend college at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia California which was at the time one of the few places that had a major in animation and when I graduated, I was born at a good time which I credited my parent for it was a time when animation was blooming and so the Simpsons were just starting up Disney was hiring and therefore it made no sense at all that I started at a small computer company called Pixar.
Now you have to remember this was a time before Pixar was a name that people knew, in fact if you had heard of it, it probably was because Pixar was a image computer which was their primary business, actually I am not even sure you could call it primary business because they were losing a million dollars a month making these things and in fact the first time I met Steve Jobs the owner was when he came to layoff half the company.
And I was like okay did I make the right choice coming to this studio I don’t know but within a few years we started working on a feature Joe Ranft myself John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton started to write and draw what we become Toy Story and believe it or not when we started on this film we were sort of upset we really were anger because there was an unwritten rule that if it was animated it had to be musical.
This is the early nineties and I am not against musicals I love musicals but we knew that the animation was capable of so much more than this and we really wanted to push things and we swore to each other that we would do something new. In fact when we first pitched this to Disney they say great we love the story where do the songs go, we say there is going to be no music we are going to try buddy film structure which has never been done before no cute animal sidekicks etc and so we really tried to push things and we tried to do that in every film since then.
When the film came out it was a huge which surprised the heck out of me because I felt we just a bunch of guys making these for fun but one of the greatest thing for me the side benefit was that I got to meet some of my heroes like Chuck Jones who of course directed a lot of the Bugs Bunny Cartoons and Road Runner and so on. I got to meet Frank Thomas and Ali Johnson two of Disney’s old men and speak and really get to know quite well.
Joe Grant who co-wrote Dumbo and picked the music for fantasia, this was I couldn’t believe how fortunate I was, but any way the success of Toy Story meant that we were going to need more movies so I asked John Lasseter if I could develop one and he said yes, so one thing that surprise me actually when Toy Story came out a lot of people came up to me and said you know I sort of secretly thought me toys came to life too when I wasn’t around and I thought I wonder if there is anything else like that that and I knew that there was monsters hiding in my closet waiting to scary me at night so what if we explored that world and we starred messing around and we tried to explain why the monsters in your closet might look like an item of clothing we thought about pairing monster with a specific fears like the fear of heights but most exciting of all we came up with is idea that monsters scare kids for a living.
That’s their job right, these guys work at the giant factory they clock in, they clock out they belong to a union and I was feeling really good about this concept when I pitched it people laughed we had a clever idea and I was feeling good and yet as I flushed out the story somehow it just didn’t work.
The audience was bored people tell me I don’t get what this movie is about, what do you mean you don’t get, it is a monster story scaring kids what is there to get. I had this really clever idea I thought and yet somehow the movie was failing and this is stressful for me you know because I love this job you know animated on twister I worked late into the night my wife Amanda would wait for me she would play solitaire on one of the other computers and about 2:00 in the morning I would wake her up and we would walk to our house is only 2/3 blocks away so could sure to be there first thing next the morning at 9:00 o’clock.
And then what happen was around then my wife and I had a kid and this was an amazing experience and of course you guys know it changes everything your brain just kind of explodes and I was still having a great time at work but now I wanted to be at home and watch this amazing creature, work home how do I can I be in both places how do I do this the answer is of course there is no answer and that conflict became the deeper story of what Monsters inc is really about it is not a monster who scares kids it is a guy who loves his job and comes to care for a kid.
So to me that was a real lesson that these stories are most interesting to people when they are about real unsolvable life issues. Luckily the film was a success and they said alright you can do another one so this time I wanted to do something really new and push some and do something nobody has ever seen before.
I had this idea about a floating city, there were these two princes these brothers they lived on it and they got in a fight and they fell of this floating city and to get back they had to follow this aboriginal bird creature, you remember this one, probably not actually t became UP, so the design work became really awesome and this whole story was to me clicking along in an interestingly way but it really didn’t just land with people.
I remember one of the guys Leon Christ said you know I really have trouble relating to Princes who gets everything they want so I went back to the desk and say okay this is not going to go what is it that keeps drawing me to this story why do I like it, one of the things that nobody told me when I was directing MONSTERS was that as a director you don’t actually do anything all you do is talk to people and so growing up as an introvert the idea of talking to people by the end of the day I would just crawl under my desk and just kind of rock to myself.
I found myself seriously doodling a lot about being stranded on a tropical island, I look back at all these books on travelling to the South Pole and jungles in South America and so I was really drawn to this idea the escape and this idea that sometimes the world just gets too much and so I went back to the floating city and we replaced it with a single house and those princess became a lone man and at its heart the feeling of getting away from it all which I think everybody can really relate to which is sometimes the world is just too much.
That is what became the central driver for this story of course I always thought it would be fun to do something with the gradual man character somebody who is kind of a jerk but could get away with it and you would still like him, so I did a bunch of drawing about things I observed in real life you know details like not eating spicy food, walking around with your mouth open things old people do which sadly as I get older I am starting to do all those things now.
So this might be a good time as any to talk a little bit about our process how we make our films, of course it all starts with an idea and as we develop that idea we move into what we call story development which is basically a lot of talking research kicking it around talking to each other and sometimes that’s really as far as it goes they just end there but if an idea still has promise we move on to the writing phase which for us means treatment scripts and then thousands of drawing story book boards even though it is drawing the idea is still writing.
It is an extension of the script process, meanwhile at the same time we have an amazing group the art department is figuring out what all this stuff is going to look like they do this by creating thousands of drawings and plans and then they give those plans to the technical department, they build those character sets and props and pass along all that stuff to the layout department.
Now the layout department is kind of like our camera group they set up everything they set up the camera they think in terms of wide shots masters over all of this kind of thing and we assemble all this together to a cut so it’s basically they edited before we shot it if it make sense, we know exactly what the shots are going to be before we get them to animation.
Now Animation is the equivalent of our actors they create the movement expression the jesters anything that is too complicated to do by hand say for example thousands of balloons tied to a house that is handled by the simulation group that gets folded into the mix and of course you have effects like fire rain water explosion even glitter explosions so that’s the effects group.
And then it goes to lightning which takes the flat plain colours that we see as we are making this thing and gives them shape and shadows and so it starts to look really spectacular then after a number of check points to make sure everything is behaving the way we thought it would where we do the final render which brings everything together the model the movement the lightning and each second that you see on screen requires about 24 frames exactly 24 frames.
Each one of those frames can be up to several days worth of render time so it is really a slow process made one frame at a time. All the stuff that I talked about first the planning the writing the drawing the figuring out of what we are going to do that is what we call pre production and then the later stuff the actual making the building moving painting lighting that’s all production. But it all starts with that idea and I am now going back finishing on UP, I start it again wanting to find something that everyone is familiar with and this as I know now is a fine line if it is too familiar you feel like I have seen that before boring but if it is too different like the floating city thing people say what is this I don’t relate to this I have no idea.
So really where this ideas come from I have no idea or I build them more often but I got this idea about a motions as characters and I had seen books and movies and things that takes you inside the body but I have never seen motions bring to life as characters so that seemed really intriguing to me I felt like boy if we do this right this could be like our version of the 7th war you know strong characters that you know instantly what they are all about and yet I knew that that wasn’t enough.
So I started thinking what is this going to be about I talked to friends at work Ronnie Delcarman who is a co-director and Jonas Rivera our producer and as it turned out about this time my daughter Ellie was about 9 when she did the voice of Ellie in UP, so if you have seen the film that character I was actually a lot like her.
She was always full of goofiness and happiness and energy until she turned 11 and suddenly we had a lot more moments of quiet and drama and I just though I wonder what’s going on inside her head because I remember that happened to me too and I talked to that, that’s a difficult time growing up too and I thought I wonder if we took this idea of examining what it is to grow up as personified as motions through these characters.
So with that basic pitch this is the pitch that I gave to John Lassiter that I gave you I went to tell him about it and John’s office is basically a toy heaven he has every single toys made from all the Pixar this is only a small portion of them in his office but it was too distracting in there so we went to this boring white room and I pitched John the idea.
We have a little girl but she is actually the setting because inside her hear are her emotions and he agreed that basic premise sounds interesting and so we were on to the development phase and as I mentioned we do a lot of talking and drawing on white board to get a basic sense of how this thing is going to look, but around this time we started realizing how little we knew about this subject so one choice I made early on was this was going to be set in the mind not in the brain so no blood vessel and dendrites and stuff.
We are talking about consciousness memory personality attributes and things which really freeing which means we get to make every things up but it was difficult because we didn’t know what it was suppose to look like you couldn’t look at a picture of a fish or a car and go okay, make it like that. so we turned to science for concrete answers to our problems.
Well we should have known better because depending on which scientist you talk to you get very different answers event things like how many emotions are there. One guy I asked he said they are four basic emotions the next guy said 27 so you know it is not agreed upon by science but we were fortunate to live in the same town as one of the pioneering scientist in the study of emotions Dr Paul Lectman and he had this basic theory there are 6 emotions happiness surprise fear sadness anger and disgust, as I was kind of doodling I was surprise that surprise and fear both seemed like they would react kind of similarly as a character so let’s just get rid of that and that’s how we ended up with the 5 that we have,
Of course we then learned that this is early work in his later work he has deposited 16 emotions but it was too late so, the real key benefit of this research not only identifying which emotion they were was that each emotions had a job. I never thought about that but its true and some of them are more obvious fear for example keeps you from taking on unnecessary risk keeps you safe and so its trigger is uncertainty.
First in the film we were able to get Bill Hater who is fantastic, we found this picture on line by the way we didn’t take it a thing, so anger is interesting I use to think of it as getting into fight things like you regret saying later and so on, but it turns out anger keeps you from getting raw deal make sure that things are fear which makes a lot of sense because social justice and fairness have a lot to do with the work that Louis Black uses in his stand up comedy.
So in fact this was interesting Paul Hackman he says a lot o times that anger gets a raw deal if you think about social justice you know helping people around the world often times that’s triggered by you watching something in the news and going that’s not right and feeling this indignation so anger can be a very useful emotion just like all of these.
Disgust basically a response that keeps you from getting poison in fact the expression that you make, this was in an early work by Charles Dorman/Darwin he said that’s probably a result and adaptation from spitting out food so if you feed bitter food to babies they go…so spitting it out so that face is the same face we make even in social situations.
If you see someone wearing an you know awful time or something you go…you so she of course is triggered by purity and we were lucky to get Mindy Kaylin from the Mindy product. Our produce Jonas had to call Mindy and say hey we would love you to be in a Pixar movie the character is disgust and she says what, and he said she is disgusted not disgusting so she said okay so she was okay with that.
Sadness is a lot less obvious in fact I think for a lot of us because we that sadness is a negative thing we try to avoid it or even self medicate it is not immediately obvious why you want sadness in your life which we used to our advantage in the film, of course in real life sadness is triggered by loss and helps you deal with loss and we cast Phyllis Smith from the US Virgin of the Office for this role who is just fantastic.
Of course there is a reason why our kid in the film is always happy and that’s because her lead emotion is joy and joy is our response to benefit to gain and of course she is voiced by the incredible funny Amy Polar so you can see all these different emotions have different jobs and that’s why I was so excited about this idea because they all strong opinionated charactery (21:22) that’s what animation does well.
So this is about where we start the writing process and of course all these character development need the characters we don’t quite know what they are going to look like at this time but most people think of writing as script writing and that’s true for us but for us we also draw so drawing for us is an extension of script writing process and we have this amazing team of artist and what they do is not only draw individual drawings but they put them together in sequence and that way you can flip through these drawings and then you can convey how the scene will unfold you get a pretty god sense of it.
We did about 177,000 drawings for inside out and it is not just one version of it I will explain that in a second, once I approve these story board they go to editorial and out editor Kevin Melton cuts the boards to get together with dialogue music and sound effects and stuff that we create ourselves and when it all comes together it gives you a basic sense of what the film would be like and we call this a story reel.
Now our first attempt doesn’t usually quite work so we start to thinking and talking and drawing and rewriting and recuting and we try it again and usually the second try is a little closer and still not quite it so each sequence takes about three to five working sessions so each session is about five working hours and that’s not counting all the work that of course builds up to that.
For any given film we have approximately only 27 sequences so if you do the maths that comes to a lot I don’t know I went to art school but we cut all of these together and we bring it into our main theatre and we run the film for everybody besides our crew or the kitchen staff whoever we can get in there we also have John Lasseter Leon Crich (23:15) and some of the other film makers who are making their own projects and after the screening we meet up here in this conference room where we share what worked and what did not.
The truth is a lot of these ideas are really great and some of them are not so great and it is basically understood that it is up to the film making team to figure out which are which so there is no mandatory notes it’s all just ideas things to throw on the pile and it is up to us to figure out which one is to use, now we will go back and do this whole process again we will take those notes we will go back and we start drawing again and again and again we do this about 7 or 8 times on every film.
So the film that you see in the theatre there is at least 8 versions of that that hopefully you will never see because they are awful. Unfortunately I don’t have time to get into the production end of things there is a whole other talk about the design props and sets and recording the actors like Amy Polar and Phyllis Smith Bill Hater of course camera work animation lighting all the production stuff but you know making this film takes awhile from concept through treatments and script and multiple versions of these of course.
Through story boarding putting it all together with dialogue music and sound effects screening the film and talking about what could be better doing that again and again and again, this whole process before we start to getting things approved for productions so that we can actually make the thing in total the whole thing from beginning to end is about 5 years.
Now after hearing this you might well ask yourself why? Why do you do all that why didn’t you get it right the first time. Well the problem is we know we are going to be wrong and if we don’t allow ourselves to be wrong we are never going to do anything new we are just going to rely on things that we know work so for us making mistake is an essential part of our process, we are not embarrass by it in fact we plan for it but bigger question is why even make films at all as I just told you it is a heck of a lot of work. I spend 5 years working on INSIDE OUT it took hundreds of people working thousands of hours why do we spend our lives making movies in the first place.
Well at their best movies are an art form and to me all art is story telling. It is about talking to someone telling them how you feel about something that happened to you.
I believe that art is as essential to our existence as breathing and eating the world out there is sometimes a big and lonely place and very easy to feel like we are all alone so we tell stories to each other, we talk about how it feels to love to have our hearts broken how it feels when our kids grow up and go out in the big wild world, we talk about our mistakes our triumphs the experiences of our life and when we tell each other about that about what it feels like to be alive it is in these moments when we come to realize maybe we aren’t so alone after all.
That’s why I make movies anyway and I hope it shows up in my work thank you very much.
CATHY WARZO: Thank you Pete Docter you are listening to the Westminster Town Broadcast from Westminster Presbyterian Church on the Nicklet Mall on downtown Minneapolis I am Cathy Warzo the guest moderator of tonight’s forum, our speaker is Pete Docter animator and director of Pixar animation studio whose recently released film INSIDE OUT has received wide acclaim.
Now the ushers are going to collect questions from the in house audience, right now I would like to invite the radio audience Thursday evening October 1st 7 P.M when Travis Smiley would speak on the topic NO ONE LEFT OUT CREATING COMMUNITIES OF JUSTICE, information can be found on line Westminster forum.org or Minneapolis idea exchange.com. Again Westminster form.org or Minneapolis idea exchange.com.
Pete if you would like to come up to the podium here I would like to present some questions from the audience I bet we have some good ones we always do here at Westminster Town Hall Forum. You had a quote awhile back “you can have academy awards sitting in your office but you still feel like it was probably just a fluke it was the right combinations of things that happen, can I do that again, I have no idea.”
Do you worry about the creative well going dry that has to be a lot of pressure on you how do you overcome that?
PETE DOCTER: I am not necessarily worry about it going dry worry about it never haven’t existed in the first place, somehow I was relying on the right people and then weird magic stuff happened and then I am not actually talented I think everybody kind have had those moments at the very least.
CATHY WARZO: Good questions here, what Pixar characters most Peter Docter ex. (29:00)
PETE DOCTER: I don’t, probably the Kevin the bird from UP, in fact I actually did the voice for that character if, you want me to do it now.
CATHY WARZO: And speaking of voicing characters many animated characters resemble their voice actors when you create the new character do you have a specific actor in mind or do you modify the animation once the voice is cast.
PETE DOCTER: We usually have the characters fully designed and build and even articulated that means they are able to move inside the computer before we think about casting but once we do cast we record before the animation is done and we are able to then watch and listen to those actors so that we can borrow little nuance and expressions and jesters and I think this is what people mean when they, you know a lot of people would say boy Billy Crystal looks just like Mick (30.10 names) and I don’t think Billy Crystal would like to hear that.
But that’s probably what they mean because we were able to do, he talks out of the side of his mouth where we borrowed the little opening at one side more and so no that’s a great observation on behalf of the part of animators that I work with.
CATHY WARZO: Do the actors and the actress kind of get into the process.
PETE DOCTER: Yes they do they love, the nice thing about working in animation is you don’t have to do costume and made up you just roll out of bed it just don’t mean there is not a lot of work they sweat we make them really work but they really contributed a ton.
In this film everybody but we work especially with Hector and Amy Polar and writers so we would just sit and workshop ideas and they really get into it and that’s what makes it fun.
CATHY WARZO: This is from a student what makes a compelling character.
PETE DOCTER: Well there are all those books that you read that talks about like self contradiction and nuance and multifaceted nature you know just when you think you know them you surprise the audience by bringing something else but the truthful answer is I have no idea.
I don’t know where these characters come from I have seen then created from nothing to finished and they just feel like they already existed somewhere out there in the world and we somehow capture the right little pieces of it and put it on film, that’s sounds very arty farthsy but it is a mysterious process I will say that.
CATHY WARZO: This is another student, good question how do you deal with creative disputes during a film’s production especially when all sides are equally passionate about their ideas.
PETE DOCTER: Mud fights, get in there and, no.
CATHY WARZO: I bet you could take somebody down.
PETE DOCTER: Yes right, We just continued to argue Steve Jobs had this saying if someone disagrees with me I just continue to tell them why I am right and I think I am butchering that quote, essentially we try to convince each other as desperately as we can sometimes adds to spirited discussion shall we say but I think that’s good, you know not everybody gets along all the time as long as the disagreement is about the work I think it is good to have some fights and buck heads a little bit so in the end what’s right is the audience so I might feel passionately about some idea or joke or turn in the story and then you put it up on screen and if it doesn’t land I am alright that didn’t work and go back and figure out what would.
CATHY WARZO: I like listening to you talk about the process the creative process and what goes into making a film audience wanting to know can you talk about the work environment looks like at Pixar it looks like it would be fun.
PETE DOCTER: It is it is a great place to work and I credit you know John Lasseter has an incredible sense of play in everything and he really brought that spirit to the whole place it is a place where you will see people riding scooters and you know wearing ridiculous clothing and making costumes decorating their offices we spend a lot of time kind of goofing around, well actually that’s not true, we spend a lot of energy goofing around but not a lot of time because a lot of it is devoted to work we work really hard so that is absolutely true.
Somebody is laughing it really is and the animators and we have gotten better at this but on Toy Story 2 people work so many hours people develop many case of varsi (34:03) for years we have producers who usually you kind of think producers who would come on work a little harder, the producers at Pixar say go home stop animated you know because people care so passionately about what we do and people do work very long hours.
CATHEY WARZO: Inside out being the very obvious example how did growing up in the Mid West shape the stories you tell.
PETE DOCTER: I think you know we are all sort of these bowls of soup made of all these ingredients thrown in and often times I am not even fully aware of went into that soup to make who I am but I think there is a sense of community here that obviously I feel like hopefully informs the stories that I tell and the characters sense of humour.
I know some people don’t believe that Minnesotans have a sense of humour but I think all of that went into the work and probably it is for somebody else to say that rather than me.
CATHY WARZO: What’s your favourite movie?
PETE DOCTER: That’s not a simple question actually that’s depending on the day and depending on what we are talking about there will be a list of 50 or so I mean there is Wizard of OZ, Dumbo is fantastic, Paper Mon, you better cut me off I will just keep going.
CATHY WARZO: You and I talked about Paper Moon back stage why do you like that movie so much.
PETE DOCTER: Are you familiar with that film Bogdanovich it is fantastic, Mr Bogdanovich up there no it is a fantastic film with a very wonderful relationship and I think to me if you really strip down why you like a film what compels you to keep watching I would say like 99% of the time is relationship.
It is watching a character grown and change and what changes people in real life other people so that film in particular I think is just so well done and crafted so brilliantly those characters bumping and rubbing up against each other it is just fun to watch.
CATHY WARZO: Your parents are enthralled with you tonight was it always the case.
PETE DOCTER: Oh yeah, yes as I mentioned my parent I think have been incredible supportive not of me alone and of my 2 sisters who are also in the arts and both musicians and my parents are both teachers and I think they have encourage a wide net hundreds and hundreds of people and I am very thankful for them.
CATHY WARZO: Another question about growing up, this is from a student, who was your favourite animated character when you were growing up and has it changed.
PETE DOCTER: To me the high point of the week was watching the Bugs Bunny Road Runner hour which was on Saturdays at 9:00 o’clock that shifted to 8:30 at one point, so you had to really watch out so you don’t miss any but Bugs Bunny was always the character that I secretly wished that I could be because he can get away with anything and say things to people plus he was fun to watch he was well animated.
So that’s a character that I really liked you know again it is like the question about your favourite film, depending on what time of day and the situation definitely.
CATHY WARZO: This is a tough question, where do you go for inspiration.
PETE DOCTER: I try to keep a sketch book I am not as good as some of the other guys at work but you know sitting at the airport instead of taking my iPhone out which definitely I am guilty of just ask my wife I am addicted to this stupid thing but I try to grab my sketch book and watch people because you never know where little nuances or ideas is going to come from.
The way somebody holds their fork or a particular way somebody walk or whatever things people do, I also like to go for walks by myself and think and get my heart rate going so that’s another thought another thing that we do if you are stuck for ideas this is kind of a trick is to just start making a list because a lot of times what’s holding you back is self censorship, gosh that’s stupid.
So if it is stupid or whatever just write it down and just keep going you force yourself to keep going by number 14 or 37 you wait a minute that’s actually pretty good, so that’s another trick we use.
CATHY WARZO: This is from a little animator, Hi Pete what is your favourite emotion or sensation to convey to convey animation.
PETE DOCTER: Most of my own animation is about jumping because it is really fun to animate characters moving around a lot so I would say joy for sure is the most fun from a movement stand point. In the film fear was also I didn’t get to animate any of the characters on this film like I say directors actually doesn’t do anything, but fear was a lot of fun to watch the animators because he was so wild and zip around that was a great character as well.
CATHY WARZO: I worked for the directors and producers in my past can you give us an idea what those pitch meeting are like because they can be pretty tough in there.
PETE DOCTER: Pitching the story you mean, well yes you really have to be kind of a salesman and think how is audience going to react to this what in particularly are they going to react too and how do I convey it in a way to makes them interested and lean forward that’s really the key but you know sometimes audiences are tough and the nice thing at the end of the day I know at Pixar even if the audience is sitting there and kind of you know not looking very happy they are there to help me.
I think that’s something that takes a little while for people to recognize the only way this sort of thing works when you really trust your collaborators you have to have a sense of trust with each other.
CATHY WARZO: Did any of your movies have a different ending that you wish stayed or one that you would like to have changed.
PETE DOCTER: Will I will say this is not quite the answer to the question, but we had a preview previous I should back up, by the time we were like usually half and seventy five percent finished in animation we often have an audience preview screening so we will go to some mystery theatre we would grab people off the street they would have to be will we don’t just grab them and we show them the film.
They have no idea what they are going to see in this case it was Monsters Inc so the audience watched it and the ending was not animated it was just drawings it was just story boards and someone I think in the audience previews screening they had like a question and answer afterwards said I want to see what happens to Sally and Boo and Sally goes to see Boo again and the guy say s how many people wants to see that and everybody raises their hands and all the executives turned to me and said you got to show them what happens to Boo next.
And I was thinking this going to be a disaster because I don’t, there is no way I can do something that is as good as what is in their heads and so I really stuck to that was one where we had to fight a little bit but in the end I think it was the right choice so sometimes stuff like that happens.
CATHY WARZO: This question was asked by the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies in the audience.
PETE DOCTER: The whole symphony is here.
CATHY WARZO: I am not sure, how did your musical up bringing impact the creative process of your animation career.
PETE DOCTER: Music is a lot like animation and then it is time based so I think the fact that I was exposed to music and play music from an early age it really influenced my sense of timing so as an animator I would sketch things out and then I would hear it in my head I would hear the characters like you know falling down stairs and I would time it with a stop watch based on the music that I hear in my head.
So in that sense it was a pretty big influence, I think too just from a story telling stand point the idea of music being so much a part of the film the process of making films I would like to think anyway that I have an ear for music that will work and really reinforced the story telling as well so I didn’t like practicing though make that clear but it was a good thing, alright I said it.
CATHY WARZO: Several questions here from young film makers and young animators, what advice do you have for young film makers and young aspiring animators.
PETE DOCTER: Do it there is nothing holding you back I mean it use to be when I was a kid you shot on super 8 film and you didn’t have enough money for that and you take it to ge tit developed and have to wait a couple of days for that now you have your iPhone you could literally make a movie with this thing.
Using your computer you can do stuff, a lot of times people come to me and say I am thinking about getting into animation and I say well do it. You would never expect a kid to pick up a violin and play at Carnegie hall that night right? Film making is the same way it takes a lot of practice there is going to be a lot of mistakes and you have to do a lot of it before you get really good.
I know growing up like I said I felt like these people who were born unfairly talented and that’s true but even they had to work really heard it takes a lot of work and a lot of practice.
CATHY WARZO: Your parents were your first teachers but did any of your other teachers have a particularly strong influenced on you.
PETE DOCTER: Yes I had a lot of teachers who really encouraged me in various ways, Mrs Kennedy who I my 4th grade teacher is she here, there she is hey, you seen I was drawing a lot of Peanuts cartoons basically copying then right panel by panel because I liked peanuts and she said why don’t you try doing some of your own and so just little things that people you might not even remember later but it doesn’t take a lot sometime to try and encourage somebody and push them in the right way.
I had a great teacher, I was lucky in high school to be part of this outreach program that kind of place students in different programs. I worked at this company called Bates Jones and again, okay so this company was in Adina I think they are out of business now they made commercials and out of the goodness of their hearts I don’t know why they said sure kid come on in here use any of the equipments and bother any of these guys who were supposed to do their work and somehow that worked for them and it was an incredible encouraging thing for me.
I earned a ton from those guys so anybody who can stand up and say I am a self made man I think they are full of baloney because everybody has shoulders to stand on and I have a lot.
CATHY WARZO: You and I were talking about writing and back stage to who really taught you how to write?
PETE DOCTER: A lot of them I mean Miss Switcher Miss Clarence Switcher was our 12th grade writing teacher there was a bunch of guys that I went to high school with they are nodding now she was tough she was tough because she would really there is a lot of red on the paper you know, but she was telling us stuff over and over and I look back and I go how thick headed was I that I didn’t understand what she was saying but I didn’t and it just took a while so.
CATHY WARZO: Well you weren’t ready for it at that point is she in the audience?
PETE DOCTER: There she is.
CATHY WARZO: Thank goodness you said something nice about her.
PETE DOCTER: I am kind of scared now.
CATHY WARZO: Since this is an ideas forum this is a good question, there is a lot in the world that needs to change can you help change the world through film and how might you do that.
PETE DOCTER: Oh that’s a big question, I know for me personally I mean I am as I talk about it I am trying to say something about my own life and I think Pixar definitely they want strong stories and we are always looking for entertainment and just so that it doesn’t come off like we are trying to be too highfaluting here as I talk.
What we are trying to do is just make funny movies right, that entertain people that move people I will say that this movie that I just finished INSIDE OUT have a number of people say especially with autistic kids it was really interesting they said that their kids have used this movie as a tool to talk about their own emotions that previously they had no way of communicating about.
That was pretty powerful I can’t take credit for that because it is just a great by product of the film but it does kind of point to it maybe in some way you can make small changes in trying to influence people and change people’s lives.
I remember seeing a film called the man who planted trees I don’t know if you guys have seen that short film Frederick Bock who just passed away recently it is a beautiful film about preservation and nature I encourage you to check that out of you want to see a great movie.
CATHY WARZO: Speaking of INSIDE OUT what was your daughter’s reaction to INSIDE OUT seeing that her moods inspired it.
PETE DOCTER: I didn’t tell her for a long time that I was making a movie based on watching her and so finally at the end I knew I couldn’t prolong the inevitable no longer I brought her and my wife to Pixar and they sat through one of the screenings and afterwards I kind of went up to her and said what you think and she is 16 now you know it has been a number of year since we started and she was 11 at the beginning and now 16 an I kind of went up to her and said what you think she said good movie dad.
I thought alright I really scored that’s a high praise for a 16 year old so she really liked it actually I am sort of exaggerating she did confessed to be moved by it and crying and laughing and so on so really cool.
CATHY WARZO: I think I have about 2 questions left since becoming a director do you ever get the opportunity to do more of the nitty gritty animation anymore and if you don’t how do you exercise those skills.
PETE DOCTER: On Monsters and on Up I was able to animate the last shot of those films so I get to do a very small amount and I still do flip books for my own fun because I want to feel like I actually do something and I do obviously I do some writing and things like that as well so I mean what’s interesting is work at Pixar is great and it is a collaborative process and so that full fills a certain almost like a sense of community in a way.
You feel like hey we are in this together by the end of these movies and everybody goes on to those movies it a sense of oh no, my family is moving to South America or something you have this sense of real sadness because these people have become so close the act of creating something together as a group is really pretty amazing.
But it is also nice it is a different kind of hitch to scratch just make something that nobody else has an editorial voice in, I can just do it and if it is bad then so be it but it is mine you know so I try to balance these things.
CATHY WARZO: Final question before we end it, can you talk about the outtakes at the end of your movie do you have fun at that point.
PETE DOCTER: That was an idea John Lassiter had on Toy Story that the very first film that we did that maybe we would end it by showing these outtakes we were barely able to finish the movie much less doing any outtakes but we started doing it on Bugs Life and the interesting thing is it is actually a lot of work.
Because like in live action those are actual mistakes right, if you film actors those are fine everybody laugh and you can show that. In our movie we have to write it, perform that, animate it and pretend it was a mistake when it was all planned out so that’s quite a different thing but it’s fun, it is definitely fun.
I would say just in closing I feel like I am probably the luckiest guy in the world I have this amazing job that allows me to do what I love and I know it is very rare I totally know this that somebody would say hey, come here what movie do you want to make.
I have that situation I don’t get to totally call all the shots but I don’t want to either because I think it is a necessary thing to have checks and balances and I work at this company Pixar and Disney is then able to turn around and show those movies around the world, go to South America, Russian and people would see these movies that I make that is crazy.
I am so grateful for that and I am grateful for you guys to come this evening.
CATHY WARZO: Well Pete you are fantastic, ladies and gentlemen Peter Docter.