Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I’m currently getting ready to hit ShoWest. It’s going to be a lite con this year, but I did lock in an interview with the great Michael Caine. In preparation, I’m watching a ton of Michael Caine movies, some I’ve seen, some I haven’t. Just watched THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING for the first time and it was awesome. So, between packing and watching a dozen Caine movies I’m finally catching up on some interviews that have been backing up since WonderCon. I’m kicking this off with a chat with UP director and Pixar veteran Pete Docter (MONSTERS, INC) and producer Jonas Rivera. We conducted this interview in a hallway, of all places, behind the scenes at the Moscone Center. So you’re going to see a cameo show up as the TERMINATOR: SALVATION people leave their roundtables. Also, I have a sketch book that I brought with me to the Con hoping to get someone cool to contribute to. Actually, I was angling to get Dave Gibbons to sketch me a Rorschach if I’m going to be perfectly honest, but I didn’t get the chance. So, I figured a great from Pixar would make it worthwhile for me to have lugged my book all the way to San Francisco. Docter was sketching as we talked. I’ll include a pic of the final sketch at the end of the chat. As we settled in we talked about the footage shown at BNAT and much earlier at the Disney Animation presentation in New York a while back, much of that incomplete, some storyboards and half-rendered scenes. Enjoy!
Quint: I actually really love that process of seeing the animation. You know, growing up you would always see them… I remember seeing something when I was growing up… it wasn’t WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY I don’t think, but where you would see the pencil animations from SNOW WHITE…
Pete Docter: Yeah, where they would show the guy flipping? That was so cool.
Quint: I love that stuff. I collect comic art and animation cells and all of that stuff, so I love seeing the various steps…
Pete Docter: That’s one of the cool things that I really love about animation, that you know it’s all phony. You know it’s just a bunch of drawings or in our case computer images, but when it’s done well, you totally get sucked into it. You fall into it and fall into love with these characters. You cry. You laugh. There’s something really intriguing about that duplicity, or whatever, of knowing that it’s fake and yet getting totally drawn into it.
Quint: It’s pure magic of the movies. It’s a pure illusion. That’s the joy of film. That’s why creature features, where they actually build the creatures and they have to make it work, like John Carpenter’s THE THING and stuff like that…
Jonas Rivera: Yeah, it’s tactile. It’s there.
Pete Docter: I think you can take it a lot further. The fact that people believe in a bunch of felt with ping pong balls and talk to them… That shows you how far people can be kind of fooled into believing in these characters.
Quint: As long as they like them, it doesn’t matter what they look like. People like Kermit and Ms. Piggy and Gonzo.
Pete Docter: Yeah totally. Those guys are great characters and I mean that’s one of the reasons I got into this, just digging on the Muppets. That and Disneyland, which is kind of the same thing. When you go on Pirates of The Caribbean or The Haunted Mansion, you are taken away to this other world and you know you are still in a warehouse somewhere in Anaheim, but somewhere in your head you are like “I am down there getting shot by pirates.” It’s really cool.
Jonas Rivera: Was it Bob [Peterson, co-director of UP] who said that the ingredients of Pixar were like Charles Schultz, the Tiki room and Snow White? And Star Wars? All those things, our favorite things.
Quint: What’s amazing about Pixar and why people love them so much is because there is always that attention to quality first. Lasseter’s famous quote is “Quality is the best business plan.” It’s true and you look at something like WALL-E and that’s something that no other studio would have done and definitely not done in that way, but that’s something that has touched so many people. It was one of my favorite movies last year. If it had been nominated for best picture, that would have been my pick.
Jonas Rivera: That’s nice to hear.
Pete Docter: In terms of the quality, I think it’s almost like we can’t help ourselves, you know? Part of my job as a director is to tell people “Alright, that’s enough. You don’t need to spend all night working on this, because that’s just going to be in the background. Save your energy for this guy who is going to be full screen,” knowing kind of where to spend your attention, because everybody would kill themselves to get everything absolutely perfect.
Jonas Rivera: Our crew would not stop. They are like Terminators. I swear to God they wont stop. We have to tell them “It’s good enough.”
Pete Docter: “Go home!” Then even after you tell them to go home, they sneak in.
Jonas Rivera: I come back in and have to go “Get out of here!”
Pete Docter: But also you are talking about the type of films that we get to make. I can only credit John [Lasseter] and Ed [Catmull]for building a studio that would take risks like that and not think about what are the consumer driven things. We don’t really think like marketing people, we just think like humans, like the audience. “How is the audience going to react?” We think of ourselves as the audience. We are making these for ourselves.
Quint: I think the danger that a lot of people, especially making animated movies, fall into is that they try to think for only certain parts of the audience. They don’t try to make movies that appeal to kids and to adults and to the teenagers, to everybody, which is one thing I’m really looking forward to your movie. I grew up on movies like COCCOON and BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED and it’s like… People think that kids don’t want to see old people, but it all goes to character. It doesn’t matter what they look like, but if people want to see them.
Pete Docter: I think there is something intrinsically appealing about old people.
Quint: Everybody has a grandpa.
Pete Docter: They do have this charm and almost this “old man license” to say things that other people couldn’t get away with and yet you just feel like “Well, I guess he can say that, because he’s earned it!”
Jonas Rivera: It’s like how we would go to eat with Joe Grant and he would call the waitresses “Honey.” I wish I could call a waitress “Honey.”
Pete Docter: You’d get slapped!
Jonas Rivera: And then I’d get thrown out, but yeah the charm and the grace of that era.
Quint: You do find that freeing, then? Being able to work with a character like Carl, it just let’s you go to places that you usually couldn’t.
Pete Docter: Bob [Peterson] was calling it the “Clark Kent Syndrome.” Maybe that’s not his original term, but your main character, because you have to make him likeable and he can only do things that the audience won’t be turned off by, you sometimes end up with and it’s very easy to, very bland characters as your lead and with Carl, he can say stuff like when the kid asks if he can come in the floating house, he says “No” and slams the door in his face, you still like him and the audience seems to really like that. You don’t turn off the character, you are kind of drawn in, because it’s more unique.
Quint: All of the characters that you remember and this is a way bizarre example, but you remember the Snake Plisskins, you remember the anti-hero. People like the gray areas.
Peter Docter: It’s what makes it interesting, for sure.
Jonas Rivera: Or Woody, another main character who is consumed by jealousy.
Quint: He’s flawed, but he’s still likeable, yeah.
Pete Docter: And that was one of the things in doing that film, we started out, because we had all taken the various story classes, “What’s the character’s problem?” and you have to put that out there in the front and something we learned on that film was “Okay. Woody… at the beginning of the film everything is in balance, so it’s only when you bring Buzz in that suddenly this fault that he has of jealously is brought forth” and Carl is kind of the same way.
Quint: Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the first film that you have directed that you didn’t write, is that right?
Peter Docter: No, I wrote on this one.
Quint: Oh, you did?
Peter Docter: It’s kind of inevitable.
Jonas Rivera: The screenplay is really you and Bob Peterson.
Quint: So, what was that collaboration like then?
Peter Docter: Well, we would sit and talk in our offices about “Where is this character going,” just bouncing ideas around and then at some points, at crucial points we would split off and just bang our heads against the computer and then just comeback and compare our notes. It was not unlike other projects like MONSTERS, INC. or even TOY STORY.
Quint: I got to get a little bit of a look inside the process, on BOLT, they invited me in to do a series of articles from about eight months before it came out and my first time was having a three hour day where I just shadowed John through his process and meeting with everybody and giving his notes. It’s kind of mind blowing, because you kind of build people up sometimes, especially as geeks. I’m such a big Pixar fan and everything that he has done and everything that he has influence over and that whole mentality and I love seeing how he is extending that to the Disney family.
Jonas Rivera: Yeah, he’s doing a great job with that and trying to plug that energy into what they do and returning them to becoming a director driven studio and the process drive. It’s cool to see.
Quint: I love the collaboration and I love that everybody had a voice and that there was a conscious strive to always make everything better, even at each single frame. So, what would you guys do without a Pixar? What it Pixar never happened? Where would you be?