2 words that carry a lot of weight for all the Disney Pixar magic that you see: Pete Docter.
For those of you who don’t know who he is, we can at least bet our bottom dollar that you know his work.
Peter Hans “Pete” Docter is an American film director, animator, screenwriter, producer and voice actor from Bloomington, Minnesota. He is best known for directing the animated feature films “Monsters, Inc.” (2001), “Up” (2009), and more recently, “Inside Out” (2015). Pete is also a key figure and collaborator in Pixar Animation Studios.
To date, he has been nominated for 6 Oscars (1 win thus far for “Up” – Best Animated Feature), 3 Annie Awards (winning 2), a BAFTA Children’s Film Award (which he won), and a Hochi Film Award (which he won). To himself he’s just a “geeky kid from Minnesota who likes to draw cartoons” but to others, he’s a genius.
Pete as well as “Inside Out” co-director Ronnie del Carmen were in town last week as part of the “Inside Out” filmmakers Southeast Asian tour. During the press conference, we asked if they’ve had any creative differences in their 5 years of working together, and how they overcame those differences:
Pete: Yeah, there are a lot of creative differences. Sometimes it’s between Ronnie and I. Sometimes it’s with John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. But it’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong. It’s about what does the story need. A lot of times, I will be absolutely convinced that this is gonna work and then when you put it up in front of people, it goes “Poof!” and falls over. Or vice versa. In the beginning of the film, Ronnie pitched…Wait, actually, was it you (Ronnie) who pitched the birth or somebody else?
Ronnie: I pitched the birth. It was in discussion with Andrew and John.
Pete: Okay I was convinced that was wrong. And then Ronnie went off and boarded it. I came in and I was just like, “All right I’m just gonna look at this thing and tell him that it’s wro- Oh man, that’s really good. All right I guess we will have to do that.“ So, there are a lot of times you just don’t know until you prove it, one way or another.
Ronnie: And there is one way to describe creative differences in the studio. Creative differences are not antagonistic and they are actually something to be celebrated. Creative differences are actually a way of not having the same voice happen all the time. So if Pete and I are actually one person split up into two bodies, there’s no point in having me, right? Because I will say whatever Pete will say. If Pete is exactly like John or Andrew, there’s no point of having at least 2 of them. You will just need one person. Creative differences is a way of actually having a variety of points of view and that creativity can happen, and you’re going to experience a lot of that when you watch “Inside Out”. It’s not just the product of a certain small group of individuals. It’s done over time, rethink over and going through a lot of creative choices that come from a number of stories that want to help us make this movie. The differences of those opinions make that movie more stronger and more entertaining.
Pete: Yeah, sometimes it’s just yelling at each other, but not very often actually. Most of the time, it’s a very spirited and everybody takes what everyone else’s got and goes, “Oh yeah! And..”
We had the opportunity to speak to Pete later in the day about all things “Inside Out”. Lucky us :)
Here’s what went down:
“Inside Out” now holds the record for the highest opening for an original title in the US. What are your expectations for “Inside Out” in Asia?
Well, I don’t know have any expectations. I have hopes that it will appeal to everyone. Because one thing that surprised me, actually, is that when we did the research on the subject matter, that being emotions, is that they’re universal. Everyone around the world no matter where you are..one of our experts found a remote tribe in the middle of Papua New Guinea that never had any outside contact with anybody and they have the same facial expressions, the same emotions that we all do. So this film has the potential of being very universal and appeal to everybody even though, you know, we have specifics. I think it’s a very universal subject matter.
How many emotions did you originally have before settling down with 5 and why did you settle with the ones made the cut?
What would you guess? How many emotions do you think we have? :)
A lot, yeah! Well, the thing we found was..depending on which scientist you talk to, you get different answers. So there’s no, like, universal consensus, everybody agrees that we have 7. Some people say 4, there was one guy who I think had 27 different emotions. So we made a big list and we started just drawing different characters, and thinking about what would be fun to see. It’s..we did a lot of scientific research but ultimately this is entertainment so it’s supposed to be fun and funny so what characters are going to be the most fun? And we ended up with these 5 really because of clarity and entertainment, and 5 seemed like a good group that you could still have lots of good fights and arguments but enough to really cover pretty much what we needed from Riley. What’s interesting is, and this happened I guess just a couple of months ago, Paul Ekman the guy we consulted said, “We just did a study of 270 different scientists around the world and over 70% of them agreed on 5 emotions.” and they were Anger, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Joy. So that was pretty cool!
But if you could add a character to the existing 5 emotions, what would it be?
We did try. We played with Pride as an emotion which was kind of fun. He would walk around and go, “Hello everyone! Yes, please, hold your applause, thank you, thank you.” and he was fun to write for. And his thing was, “Riley is a genius! She should be a president.” but she’s only 11 “It doesn’t matter! Riley is a genius!” What we ended up doing was..we said well..that’s the kind of stuff we want to give to Joy. So we took him out and gave those attributes to Joy as a character. Joy actually inhibits more than just strictly happiness – she also has hope and pride. And some of these are the characters that we played around with.
How long did you take to research for the characters and for the film?
The way I sorta work is..I sit down and I start writing and then like, “Oh, wait a minute, how many emotions are there?” and then I’ll go talk to scientists and then go, “Okay, great!” and then come back and write some more until I get stuck again. So I assemble this list of things that I don’t know, that I’ll go out and specifically ask them for. But along the way you get all this other stuff that in the end will kinda surprise you, that I’ll try to fold in as well. I’d say that in aggregate overall we probably spent about 2 – 3 months doing research, but it was over the course of 2 – 3 years. Even things like, what does the mind look like? I was pretty clear with the guys upfront because this is not the brain, it’s the mind, it’s not the piece of meat in your head. It’s the concept of thought, you know? And dreams, and memories, and things..you can’t really point to those things. It’s much more complex than that. So what that meant was we were left in this place of having to design a world that we had no idea what it looked like. And we had no reference. We couldn’t look at a fish and design a fish like they could for “Finding Nemo”. Some of the research really helped us in that area.
Where the “Inside Out” characters inspired by any Hollywood celebrities during the pre-production stage?
We would..a lot of times we would make lists for characters just to try to get a handle on who they are and be able to talk to each other about at them. I remember Joy was like uhm, Audrey Hepburn mixed with Bugs Bunny, and maybe Audrey Tautou from “Amelie”. So she’s like a combination of those things and obviously we can’t cast any of those people. It’s more of a point of departure so that we’re all kinda talking about the same thing and what kind of person they are. We generally don’t talk about voice casting until quite a bit later. In fact, for this film, which is pretty typical, all of the characters were designed and built on the computer before we got around to thinking, “Oh, Bill Hader might be good for this..”
Which character would you say was the hardest to write and if at any time you were stuck, what reference point did you use to get past being stuck?
Easy. Joy was the hardest. Joy was the hardest because she needed to be joyful and energetic, and every time we wrote for her like, “C’mon, guys! We can do it, let go!” you kinda wanna just like punch her in the face because she’s annoying. When we started working with Amy Poehler, we were pretty upfront about that. I think there were a couple of keys that she really helped unlock in that character because she’s very self-knowledgable about what she can get away with. She actually told us, “I can say things that other people can’t” and she’s right! She can kinda get away with saying certain things and you won’t judge her for it because she’s funny. So that was a real key. We also found little spots to show vulnerability, so instead of..when something awful happens, instead of Joy just saying, “Well! We’re gonna get back and go and solve this problem!”, we gave her little moments where you saw the effect that it had on her. I think..between those couple of things, it was part of the solution but she was really hard to write”
Want more inside scoop on “Inside Out”? Check out some fun facts here. Special thanks to our friends from Disney Malaysia for making this chance-of-a-lifetime interview happen!
We’ll leave you now with the “Inside Out” trailer:
Directed and co-written by Pete Docter, co-directed and co-written by Ronnie del Carmen, and produced by Jonas Rivera, with music composed by Michael Giacchino, “Inside Out” is slated to be released in Malaysian cinemas on 20th August 2015.
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