Adventure is Out There! An interview with the Directors of Up

up_bluray_coverLost in Reviews was invited to partake in a round table Q&A on Friday with Director Pete Docter, and Co-Director Bob Peterson of this summers Up which hits DVD and Blu-Ray November 10. Being the day before Halloween some of the questions got a bit festive as the Pixar duo were in costume and started ribbing each other about their costume choices. They also previewed one of the bonus features from the dual disc DVD and 4 disc Blu-Ray release; a featurette titled Adventure is Out There. It follows the creative team of UP as they travel to South America completing first hand research of the terrain and location that was used in UP.  Note: If you haven’t yet seen the film some of the questions and answers maybe be considered spoilers so fair warning.

Q: Up became the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival. Do you believe animated features are becoming accepted as a more serious artistic platform?

Pete Docter: Hello Folks! Bob and I are here and a plate of cookies just arrived, so we’re hyped up and ready to go! We were very honored to be the first animated film to open the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Walking around there, I kept picturing Hitchcock, Coppola, Truffaut; these big time directors… and US?!?! It seemed like some sort of mistake! But we do look at our work as filmmaking, just like any other film. And it’s nice to see the world looking at it that way as well.

Q: Were you concerned at all with delivering such an emotional gut-punch so early in the first act?

Bob Peterson: We weren’t concerned as much as we were vigilant. We knew that we were traversing deep emotional terrain early in the film and we wanted to keep that thread of emotion alive as the film progressed. The reason we went so deep was because we wanted the audience to buy that Carl would lift his house and go on such an audacious adventure. We wanted to keep Ellie alive in the 2nd and 3rd act – as if she were along for the journey, and so we created a few “talismans” to do so – objects with symbolic meanings – such as the adventure book, the house itself, the colorful sash on Russell (and his Ellie like sense of adventure) and the colorful bird. At the end of the 2nd act, when Carl reads the adventure book, Ellie is there to give him the wisdom to keep going. It was our hope that in keeping Ellie’s spirit alive through the body of the film, that her passing earlier would be more poignant.

By the way, Pete is wearing his Halloween costume – A giant kitten! He’s so cute!!!

Q: I absolutely adore the character of Dug, who’s vocalisations are both very funny and a pretty accurate reflection of what Man’s Best Friend actually thinks – what was the inspiration for this character?

Bob Peterson: THANKS!! I really enjoyed playing that character and creating his dialogue. Pete and I have always had dogs and they serve as the great inspiration for this character. My dog, Rosy, is a huge fan of squirrels. Also, I love to fool my dogs into thinking that I see something interesting for them. They’ll be sitting around panting, and I’ll join in, then pretend I see something, suddenly, stopping the panting. They stop. Then I go back to panting. They go back. I love dogs!

Q: How did Michael Giacchino (composer) come to the project? How was working with him?

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Up Director & Writer Pete Docter

Pete Docter: Michael had worked with Brad on “Incredibles” (The Incredibles, 2004) and “Rat” (Ratatouille, 2007) and of course did a great job on those. He’s a true collaborator. We started out talking through the film conceptually, discussing the things we were looking for — like paying homage to the films of the 40’s and 50’s, the Disney films and Frank Capra and films like that. We wanted to evoke that kind of a feel.  And then we went through sequences shot by shot sometimes and talked about the construction of the scenes and what I was hoping to achieve musically. Not necessarily like arrangements or anything like that, but more like, “Okay, it should start really low here, sneak in, and then build to this point…. and then jump out at us!”  We’d talk more emotionally like that and then I’d leave it to Michael to write the music.    He would play us these demos and we’d listen via teleconference, and anytime we’d have thoughts or suggestions, he would do changes, sometimes right on the spot.  He was very open to whatever the film needed.  He’s a filmmaker.  Really thinks about the storytelling and how music communicates to people. He’s got range that a lot of film composers either don’t have or don’t utilize.  His Ratatouille score doesn’t sound like the Up score, which doesn’t sound like The Incredibles or Star Trek. Amazing.

Q: Both of you are animators, does it help to have that background to be a good director on a film like this?

Bob Peterson: Pete is the gifted animator between the two of us. I (Bob) hail more from the world of storyboarding and cartooning with a bit of animation experience (I worked on Sid in Toy Story). The great thing that Pete posesses, partly from being an animator is that he is a good student of movement and entertaining physical actions. Being a cartoonist, I spent a lot of time with staging, drawing appeal and dialogue. It’s great that we bring different strengths to the table. That said, Pete is a great writer and story man and our skills blur. So to really answer your question, it does help.

Q: My favorite scene was Carl’s montage at the beginning. It seems like such a simple idea, but I’m sure it was complicated. Can you explain the process of how the montage evolved?

Pete Docter: Thanks, I’m glad you liked it.  That was probably the scene I’m most proud of in the film. It came into play early as we developed the story of this guy floating away in his house, and we asked ourselves, “Why is he doing that?” We figured there was some sort of loss or unfulfilled dream that he was trying to make right, and so we came up with the back-story of Carl and his wife.  We initially constructed it as a compressed series of small short scenes, with dialogue and sound effects. Little snippets of life.  Bob wrote it. When Ronnie del Carmen started to storyboard it, we felt like it would be nice to reduce it, simplify it, and take the dialogue out. My parents shot a lot of Super 8 movies of our family growing up. Watching them now, there’s something really emotional about not having any sound.  That allows, I think, the audience to participate more actively and kind of imagine, “What are they talking about there?”  Or “what happened right before this moment? ” And that feeling was all part of what went into that scene… these really little beautiful real-life moments showing the highs and lows of life. Carl’s true adventure — their relationship together.

Q: Who came up with the idea to cast Ed Asner as Carl?

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Up Co-Director & Writer Bob Peterson

Bob Peterson: Once Pete and I had arrived at the idea of doing an Old Man movie, the thought of Ed Asner came fairly early on. Good casting at Pixar is an exercise of balance. Woody in “Toy Story” could have been perceived as unappealing when he was jealous of Buzz if we had the wrong voice for him, but Tom Hanks brings such a natural appeal that he balanced any of Woody’s negatives. The same with Ed Asner. Ed’s soulfullness balanced his curmudgeon side. When Ed saw the small statue of his character when he came in to read for us he said “It looks nothing like me!!!” In a cranky (tongue in cheek) way. We knew from that, that Ed was the perfect voice for Carl!!

Q: Other than the trip to South America, what inspired the story of UP?

Bob Peterson: Various things – the lives of our grandparents. For example, I had a grandfather who always wanted to go West from Ohio, but never got the chance. I had the foresight to videotape my grandparent’s home after they had passed 20 years ago. There are the side by side chairs – one soft and one hard which absolutely paralleled who the were as people. Many of our life experiences with our wives and children were put into play in the script, and of course living with our dogs gave us great insight into dog behavior!

Q: I love the amount of research that’s been put into the look of the mountain tops; were any similar tests conducted into using helium balloons to lift an entire house?

Pete Docter: The first thing our technical team did when they started working on the balloons was to figure out how many balloons it would take to lift a house in real life. Here’s his math: * Carl’s house is 1600 sq ft * Somewhere I found some figures saying that the average 1600sqft house weights about 345,000 lbs, of which 160,000lbs is from the foundation, and about 30,000lbs is from the garage. * Since Carl lifts off and leaves the foundation behind, that leaves about 155,000lbs ( == 77.5 US tons == 70,306 kg) that the Canopy needs to lift. Accelerating toward the ground at 9.8 m/s^2, that’s 688,998 N of force from gravity that the Canopy has to overcome. * With the density of Helium at .1786 kg/m^3 and representing a balloon as a sphere with a radius of 2.78ft (85 cm, ~5.56 ft diameter — we’re talking weather balloons here…) — each balloon can generate 4.5N of buoyant force… * So to generate at least 688,998N of force to overcome gravity, you’d need: 153,053 helium-filled, 5.56ft diameter balloons. * If you’re trying this with big party balloons, say 1 ft diameter, then you’d need a whole lot more: 26,550,146….26.5 million balloons. * None of this takes into account the weight of the balloons themselves or the strings to tie them to the house.

(ED. note, there was a technical glitch here and the question didn’t come over with the following answer. We were promised a transcript but it hasn’t yet arrived. We shall updated accordingly when it arrives.)

Pete Docter: Well, I Identify strongly with Carl. I often grouse about how things are changing, and “why did they take that item off the menu?!?” I’m going to make a good old man. Weirdly, Kevin the bird is another character I really like. Not that I feel a kinship, but she was a fun character to play around with, because she’s so unpredictable.

Q: Was it intentional to have Carl look like he’s made of cubes? If so, why make him so blockish looking? Are all of the characters based on geometric shapes?

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Bob Peterson: Absolutely. Rick Nierva who is our head artist is a big fan of creating characters who’s shapes give clues as to their personalities. A cube is not something that rolls or moves fast – it is very stable – perfect for Carl. A circle can roll and move fast – great for Russell. The more realistic we go with our characters, the less appealing they become because humans have the great ability to discern what is real in a human face and what is not. Basing characters on shapes caricatures them, moves them away from reality, and in a way let’s the audience’ left brain relax so that they can be more involved with the emotional journey of the characters.

Bob is wearing his Amelia Earhart costume.

Q: We saw the video of the trip to gain artistic inspiration for UP … what are some examples of other inspirations for animated elements in your work that came from more mundane/conventional sources?

Pete Docter: Doing research is one of the best parts of working on these films. One day we brought in an ostrich. It was cool to see an ostrich running around on the front lawn here. And of course the film was a great excuse to bring in our dogs. We also went to a few Old Folks homes. We formed a band — we played Tin Pan Alley type tunes and went in to a local retirement home to play for them. As we were up there, all of us were secretly taking mental notes and doing sketches behind our ukuleles. It was great — we got good research, and they said we were the best act to play there in months!

Q: Peter and Bob, you’ve both worked as writer, director and even provided some of the voices for a few of the characters in your films. What do you enjoy doing most and why?

Bob Peterson: I like eating lunch the most. Who needs the rest of it? Food food and more food is my motto! No, I gotta say, I have been lucky to have worked in most of the animation spectrum – from purely technical over to purely creative. A new industry like computer animation (now 30 years oldish) allows for that sort of variance in jobs. I love the people I work with, I love writing a funny line and hearing it as a huge laugh in the theater, and I also love leaving my desk and performing in front of a mic and creating characters. THEY’RE ALL MY FAVORITE!! WHO AM I KIDDING?!

Q: When you release the final film is it like watching your kids go off into the world? You’ve shaped it, guided along, then you have to let them go and see how they do.

Bob Peterson: Yes. It is interesting watching the movie for the first time at our Wrap Parties with our crew. We don’t ever get to see our movies like a regular audience member because we lived through the creation of the film and see the memories brought forward by each shot and movement we see. When I look at my 14 year old (who I don’t want to grow up and go to college!!!) I see her as a 3 year old at the pumpkin patch, the the 5th grader at the spelling bee. Those memories are there. When our movies leave us we hope we’ve given them enough love and sense to do great things in the world!!

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Dug's Special Mission is a new short included on the DVD & Blu-Ray releases.

Q: How was the idea for collars enabling dogs to talk arrived at? How much of it was comedy and how much of it was inspired by fact?

Bob Peterson: We knew we wanted to give Carl a new family including a new “grandson” and “family dog.” It was a gauntlet laid down in front of him to accept new people into his life. Before Russell was invented, we just had Dug along for the journey and it turned out to a pretty quiet journey at that! So we invented the collars. We love comedy and we knew that the collars would provide plenty of laughs, peering into our beloved canine friends’ brains. But more importantly, Dug is a mentor for Carl – that new relationships are always offered to us, it is up to us to act on them.

Q: Was the choice of presenting the film in 3D a conscious decision from the beginning? How does it affect the production process?

Pete Docter: We start the process for Up in 2D, with the focus just on the story and the characters. It was about three years in that John Lasseter came to us and said, “Hey, there are some really cool new developments that have happened with 3D,” and of course Pixar had a long history of interest in 3D, John being one of the prime cheerleaders.  He shot pictures of his own wedding in 3D, as well as Knick-Knack, which is in 3D as well. So we did a ton of research, watching other 3D films, and made a list of things we liked and things we didn’t. I wanted to use 3D in a more subtle way than the usual, “WOAH! THERE’S A BIG BANANA CREAM PIE COMING OUT TOWARDS THE AUDIENCE!” thing you often see in 3D. We used 3D as another tool to communicate the emotion of the scene, like you would use color, lighting, or cinematography. In the end, we didn’t let it affect the way we approached the story at all. I didn’t want to compromise the 2D version — which is the way it will be seen most often (considering DVD and Blu-ray).

Q: How do the visuals of Up compare with other Pixar films?

Bob Peterson: Now I, Bob Peterson, don’t know any balloon math like that great mathemtician, Pete Docter, but what I do know is what looks good. This movie looks darn good! It hits a nice balance of caricature in the shape of the characters, and realism in the lighting, atmospheres. I especially like that many of the textures in the film are “hand made” created with single brush strokes of paint and then used as textures. Computer Graphics can now almost do anything – fur in Monster’s Inc – Oceans in Nemo – realistic trash heaps in Wall-E, but the nice thing, is that now we can all relax and just do movies where the look is appropriate for the emotional journey in the story. Up does that well if I don’t say so myself!

Q: As far as the animation style of Up goes, instead of going for “as close to realism as possible” kind of visuals, Up has an almost caricature style, especially with the facial features highlighting big points, rather than looking like a human head. What influenced the style of Up, and why did you decide to go this route?

UP_3_jpg_610x393Pete Docter: The story called for Carl to float his house into the air buoyed by balloons. For that to be believable, we felt it would be necessary to caricature the world — and therefore the characters as well. I think if we made it look photo-real, you wouldn’t believe it as readily. Besides, if you want something to look real, go get a camera and step outside. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper. We work in animation! We can do things that can’t be done in any other medium! So the idea of simplifying and caricature is always exciting to me.

Q: Do you remember the first time you drew something and thought, “wow, this is something I want to do for a living.” Do you remember what you drew?

Bob Peterson: I remember my teacher in 4th grade commenting on the hands that I drew on a surfer surfing a wave. That was the first time I was conscious of my drawings. But more than my own drawings, I was truly inspired by the cartoons of Charles Schulz as a kid, and I wanted to emulate him – my cartoon strips in college strived to have the Schulzian mix of surrealism and Charlie Brown angst. A bit of that combo shows up in Up.

At least my Amelia costume has historical significance. But Pete as a 6 foot 5 inch kitten is just disturbing!!

Pete Docter: You know how there’s always those kids in your elementary class that are really good at drawing? They sit there and “wow” everyone by drawing horses and tanks and battles and stuff? That was NOT me. I was lousy at drawing. But as soon as I figured out I could make something look like it was moving — and thinking — I was hooked. My parents are musicians, as are my sisters, so I was dragged to a lot of concerts growing up. I would always steal everyone’s programs and draw all over them, thinking up jokes like, “What would happen if all the strings on his violin broke?” or “What if someone fell in the tuba?” Comic gold, I’m telling you!

Amelia Earhart with a beard…. kinda creepy.

Q: Who or what was the inspiration behind Charles Muntz?

Bob Peterson: Charles Muntz in story terms is “Carl Fredriksen at the end of the line.” In other words, if Carl had made it to Paradise Falls without accepting others into his life, then he would have gone crazy, wallowing in his unfinished quest. Carl is represented by a square shape. So as far as shape language, Muntz is a “collapsed square.” He end up having more diamond shapes as if a square has collapsed upon itself. From real reference, we looked at the grand adventurers of the last century including Lindbergh. We looked at Howard Hughes, being a sort of inventor/adventurer. We also looked at photos of Errol Flynn and even the dapper photos of Walt Disney in the 1930’s with his pencil thin mustache.

Q: Bob – You said Dug is a mentor for Carl. Could you explain how?

Bob Peterson: Russell is a bit easier to pinpoint as a mentor. His line “it’s the boring things that I remember most” is meant to work at Carl and move him toward an appreciation of the small adventures in life. Dug’s undying and immediate canine love “I have just met you and I love you,” and “I was under your porch because I love you” is an indirect lesson for Carl that love is always around him, if he will only accept it.

Q: How did Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, The Visitor) get involved in the writing of Up?

Pete Docter: We had referenced Tom’s film The Station Agent as we worked out the structure of Up. It’s very similar — a guy who isn’t really living, he’s just walking through life, trying to stay removed and alone. Then he reluctantly gets drawn into this surrogate family. It’s a great film, really well written and directed. We got Tom to come here to Pixar to screen it and talk about it, so we’d meet him. Bob and I were working together at the time, but then Bob was drafted on to RAT for a while and I was left all alone. I cried a lot and talked to myself at first. I needed someone to spark off creatively, and so I asked Tom if he could recommend any writers he knew that might want to work on the film. He fell for it and said, “How about me?” Ha ha! Sucker. He was on for 3 months, and it was in his draft that we added the character of Russell, which of course we kept once Bob came back on.

Q: Does your Amelia costume carry a lot of luggage?

Bob Peterson: No. Need as little weight as possible when I’m flying over the Atlantic. A shaving kit will do, having an Amelia beard as I do. I also carry Pete Docter’s great book “The mathematics of household balloon travel”. A must have.

Q: What are the challenges writing for animated movies that one might not face with live action, and how do you overcome those challenges?

Pete Docter: We approach our writing exactly as one would approach a live- action screen play; the focus is on character and keeping the audience engaged. Our whole process is remarkably similar to live- action; we have cinematographers, lighters, costume designers, etc. We use different tools to get there, but the creative process is the same.

Up is out on single disc DVD up_dvd, dual disc collectors DVDUp_2-Disc_DVD_Box_art resize and Blu-Ray up_bluray, November 10. Docter’s first Pixar film as director Monsters Inc also sees its debut on Blu-Ray that day.

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