I have a couple more bonuses to go along with the release of Up this week. Interviews with Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera, and some great progression of a scene images. These are a couple of very fun interviews, and it’s pretty interesting to see how the final product comes together.
A: I think of the keys to our success is that we grew up together as artists, working on the various commercials we did, and then Toy Story. John Lasseter [chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and principal creative advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering], Andrew Stanton [writer/director of WALL•E], and Joe Ranft [writer/co-director of Cars], who has since passed away — we all got to work with each other early on, and now that we’re split up, we still check in with each other. We speak a common language, we know each other’s strengths, and so on. That collaboration has been really key.
Q: Tell me about the genesis of UP.
A: Looking back I’m not even really sure where the idea came from – it was a very organic process. Bob Peterson (co-writer, co-director) and I came up with this concept of a floating house, and that was something that spoke to me. I’m really not much of an extrovert. As a director, by the end of the day, I’m exhausted from just talking to people. So there’s this great temptation just to escape and get away from everything and everyone… and it seemed really appealing to be able to float your house off into the sky. So we started thinking, “Who would be in there? Why are they doing it? Where are they going?” And it was answering questions like that that led us to this film.
Q: What do you think UP is about?
A: UP is the story of Carl Fredricksen, who ties thousands of balloons to the roof of his house and flies to South America to have a adventure. On a more foundational level, it’s about discovering what adventure really is. Carl and his wife, Ellie, had always dreamed of exotic travel, seeing wild beasts and plants that no one’s ever seen before… but what Carl comes to discover is that even though he and Ellie never got the adventure they wanted, they had life’s greatest adventure: a wonderful rich relationship. The things that make life really special, our family and friends, the little events that happen every day… that’s what life is really about.
Q: How would you describe the film’s style, and what do you think are the features of that style?
A: Up is a to caricatured world. We wanted to take advantage of what computer animation can do — rich textures and detail and lighting — but also to stylize the film to a place where you could believe that a house could float off with balloons. Most real people are about seven heads tall, if you use your own head size to measure height, and Carl is three. So he’s quite cartoon-y and caricatured. To me, the joy of animation is in simplicity and reduction, and by taking certain things away and bringing other things forward. A good analogy would be the great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who with just a few lines could capture someone and make them look more like themselves than a photograph. He could distill them down to their essence, which is just amazing. Good animation can do that as well, in design as well as movement, and that’s what we were trying to do in this film.
Q: Can you talk about your main characters, and if there were any inspirations or references for those characters?
A: Carl is largely inspired by our own grandparents, and a few other folks as well. There have been some people that I have met over my life who have been older, and at first blush it would seem kind of like a non sequitur that my wife and I’d be friends with them. We met this man named Mike Oznowicz who lived in Oakland, California. He was a widower in his 70s, and though he clearly had a huge gap in his life without his wife, he was incredibly full of life. He surrounded himself with young people. He’d always seen every new movie before I did, every show, every museum exhibit, was always looking for new ideas and culture. He was just incredible, and he taught me a lot about really engaging with the world. It’s people like Mike that teach you the way to live. He was like Carl at the end of the movie.
At the beginning of the film, Carl is stuck in a box of his own making. His wife Ellie showed him how amazing life is and how much it has to offer, and after she died he just withdrew and went into that box. We tried to use squares in the designs of Carl and in the house, to symbolize Carl and his approach to life. You see a lot of him in framed, small, flat, confined spaces in the beginning of the film. And as he begins to open up, you get more rounded shapes, more open air — kind of like Ellie is speaking through this other character, Russell.
Russell is the reincarnated spirit of Ellie. He’s that spirit of adventure — getting out there in the world and becoming interested in everything. He’s basically the opposite of Carl, and we designed him to pull Carl out of his shell. Carl is saddled with this kid, and in caring about him ends up re-engaging with the world in a more meaningful way. It’s mostly through Russell that that happens. We designed his basic shape to be like a spinning top, or a balloon. He’s always moving, and he’s relentless in his optimism and enthusiasm.
Dug the dog actually came from another project that Bob [Peterson, co-director / co-writer] and I developed. Those of us who have pets, we often end up making up dialog for them. Our dog will come up to my kids and stare at them, and I voice something like, “Could we go for a walk now, could we, could we, please, please?” And we thought of this unique approach to have these collars that translate what the dog is thinking, rather than have lip synced dialog. Bob wrote the dialogue for Dug and ended up voicing him – he channels dogs really well. Oh – also, Bob tells a story of being a camp counselor in High School, and this kid came up to him, gave him a big hug and said, “You are my counselor and I love you!” Dug is just a simple dog, he just wants to please people.
Muntz is a world traveler extraordinaire. He’s a combination of Howard Hughes and Charles Lindbergh, and a little bit of Walt Disney thrown in — these people who had taken these amazing risks and done things no one else had done. We looked at a lot of real life adventurers like Percy Faucett and Roy Chapman Andrews and combined them into one guy. For Carl and Ellie, Muntz represents what they want to do with their lives: “Someday, I want to be like this guy!”
Q: UP is the first release from Disney•Pixar authored in 3D, and you’d just come off of directing the huge 2D hit, Monsters, Inc. How different was the process for you?
A: Well, 3D was not figured in from the beginning. We came up with the story first, and 3D got introduced along the way. I wanted to make sure that the 3D did not get in the way for an audience. A lot of times you go to a 3D movie and there are things flying at you and the whole audience is going, “Whoooooaaa! Look, it’s 3D!” And when that happens, you get taken out of the story — you’re more aware of the medium than the story. Our goal was to draw you into this world, to take you somewhere else, and let you lose yourself for an hour and a half. For us to break that spell for people by calling attention to the 3D is doing them a disservice. We tried to use it more subtly, treating the screen like a window you look into. So you still get the sense of depth and perspective, but it’s not in your face.
Q: Your studio is known for the amount of research that goes into a film. Can you talk about the amazing research trip you took that went into the creation of UP?
A: Yeah, it was great! On Toy Story, we got to go to the toy store, on Bug’s Life we crawled around in the grass. But on this one, we got to go to South America, where the story takes place! We needed a location, story-wise, where Carl and Russell could go and end up stuck with no outside connection. We initially thought of a tropical island, but that’s been used so much. Then we discovered these tabletop mountains – they are almost like islands in the sky. It was difficult to find photos that had useful views of the unique plants and rocks. We decided that there was no other way to create this place believably than to go down there and experience it ourselves. And we did—there was a group of ten of us, and it took about three days just to get there, plane rides and jeeps and helicopters. We hiked up this mountain called Roraima [of the Venezuelan Tepuis], it inspired the book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World. When it was first discovered by westerners in the 1800s, they figured that these mountains had been separated from the rest of the world for so long that there might actually still be dinosaurs or undiscovered creatures up there! Unfortunately we didn’t see any, but it was a blast anyway.
Q: Can you talk a little about your working relationship with producer Jonas Rivera?
A: Jonas and I first worked together on Monsters, Inc. where Jonas was the manager of the Art Department. To say both of us “like” Disneyland is sort of like saying, “we like to breathe.” We bonded over our love for that place, as well as our love for Disney movies. It was a great pleasure working with him on this film – he’s got such a passion for animation, and though he claims he’s not an artist, he’s got a deep understanding and appreciation for what it takes to make these films. Plus he’s such a nice guy, and he put together a great team of talented people who were also just fun to be around. Jonas and his team put our schedule together in such a way that everybody didn’t have to kill themselves to finished on time. At the same time, I think we were still able to push the artistic limits of what we have done in the past. Quite amazing to be able to do both. Jonas and I hope to continue working together on more of these.
Q: If there were such a thing as an average day during film production, what would that look like for you, the director, who probably has to be three places at once all the time?
A: The thing is — and again, this is Jonas and the production team — they know what needs attention when, and they balance it all out, which is an impossible job. Usually, they would tell me at the beginning of the week, “Well, we added up all the requests for your time and it totals 700 hours, and we somehow have to fit that in this week.” So we decide where I’m needed most and what sort of information the departments need to finish their work on time. I’ll walk in at the beginning of the day around 8am, and my assistant Vic Manley hands me what they call a “dance card” that has my schedule mapped out down to five minute increments, usually until 7 or 8 pm. It’s mostly meetings and reviews. Meanwhile, Jonas and the team are trying to figure out how to deal with the stuff that I’m not getting to and still finish on time. It’s pretty crazy.
Q: Given that, what were your biggest challenges on this film—not necessarily technical?
A: I think the biggest challenge was our doing something more caricatured than we had done before. I don’t want to make it sound like we haven’t done caricature. I think The Incredibles was a wonderful foray into that. But a lot of the computer scientists we work with start from a logical, reality-based approach. Clouds, for example. They’ll start by learning everything there is to know about how clouds form, where they come from, what is happening on a molecular level to create what we see, and then try to duplicate that in the computer. That’s where we want to start, but sometimes as artists, we want to push things to be more stylized, more interpreted. So for example, instead of getting these noodley, little filigreed edges to the cloud, we’ll want just nice, simple rounded shapes, like cotton puffs. We’ll want that because that’s how the scene feels to the character. And sometimes this simplifying is actually more difficult, because it’s not reality. Sometimes even communicating what we’re after is a challenge.
Q: How do you think the themes of UP will play internationally?
A: I think everybody has hopes and dreams, whether it’s owning a restaurant, winning a marathon, or traveling to exotic places. Yet we tend to take for granted the things we have, the people, our families… and it’s often not until those people are gone that you realize how lucky you are to have had them with us in our lives. That’s certainly true for me. And that’s what UP is really trying to shine a spotlight on.
Q: You’ve come up through and helped build a studio that has set the industry standard for this type of film. Is that a source of inspiration or pressure for you?
A: Inspiration, definitely. Everyone at Pixar looks forward to pushing the envelope on the next film. We really try to make every movie that comes out as cool as possible, and then we think about ways we could make one even more interesting or cool or engaging or visually interesting.
Q: What do you think are your greatest triumphs on UP?
A: I think the thing I’m most proud of is the emotion in the film. We really tried to balance the comedy and adventure with emotion. As caricatured as this world and characters are, people watch the movie and tell me, “I cried five times!” To have elicited that reaction, with characters as stylized as they are, I’m really proud of that. Of course, everything you see on the screen is created. artificial, fake. Even down to the real actors—they aren’t even recording in the same room with each other, sometimes not even the same city! But you believe that they’re together having dinner, or having an argument. It’s all constructed. To use the word “artificial” maybe sounds negative, but to me the artifice is part of the magic. And when this made up world is believable to the point where you are drawn to tears, or to laugh… to me, there is something magic about that.
Q: If you could fly a house anywhere, other than your family, who would you take and where would you head?
A: Wow, I don’t know. There are so many people that I just enjoy hanging out with on this film — Jonas and Bob and Ronnie [del Carmen, Head of Story], they’re just so much fun to be around. I would want to bring all the folks who worked on this movie. It’d have to be an awfully big house, I guess! And as far as destination, there are some days when I come in to work in the morning and see this long list of meetings, sometimes I of fantasize about being marooned on a small island in the South Pacific. I like coconuts; I think I’d be fine.
About the Director/Screenwriter
PETE DOCTER (Director/Screenwriter) has carved out an illustrious career as one of Pixar Animation Studios’ most prodigious talents. Joining the studio in 1990, he began by animating and directing a variety of Pixar-produced commercials for Tropicana Fruit Juice, Tetra-Pak drink box recycling, and Lifesavers.
Along with John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, Docter developed the story and characters for Toy Story, Pixar’s first full-length animated feature film, for which he also served as supervising animator. He served as a storyboard artist on A Bug’s Life, and wrote the initial story treatment for Toy Story 2. Docter made his debut as a director on Monsters, Inc., which was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Animated Feature Film. As one of Pixar Animation Studios’ key creative contributors, Docter garnered an original story credit for early story development for Disney/Pixar’s Golden Globe® winner and six-time Oscar® nominee, WALL•E. For his contributions on WALL•E, Docter was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Original Screenplay.
Producer JONAS RIVERA joined Pixar Animation Studios as an eager production office assistant on the organization’s premiere project, the groundbreaking and multi-Oscar®-nominated Toy Story. Since then, he has grown up (so to speak) with the company, having worked on nearly every release in the company’s history in a series of increasingly responsible roles. Most recently, Rivera served as production manager on Disney•Pixar’s Golden Globe-winning feature Cars. Now, he is producing the tenth release to come from the company, Disney•Pixar’s UP.
Q: What’s it like to have been there since the beginning?
A: I’ve been lucky enough to be here since Toy Story. I was the first intern at Pixar, There was only about a hundred people when I came on. So I’ve always said that it’s like I’ve had a front row seat for the birth of this medium. Toy Story was the first computer animated film. So I’ve done a lot of jobs. I was the guy who got coffees and lunches, I literally swept the floors here. I was a projectionist through the end of Toy Story where I learned film and sound. I worked in marketing on Toy Story 2, and A Bug’s Life – I ran the art department. I built the archive here.
And so I’ve met and known a lot of people. But more importantly, I’ve seen this company grow and I know how it works. And this is a place that rewards passion, and I have a lot of passion, I bring a lot of passion. My love for animation. That and my work ethic is what’s allowed me to have the chance to produce this film, which I was so honored to do. And I just love – like all of us do – the old Disney films that we grew up on. We’ve always said that what we want to do is the same thing that they did.
And now our kids are watching those films – Sleeping Beauty and whatnot – and we sit around and we talk about that all the time and how we want the next generation to be watching these films. So I just am very proud of it. I worked very hard and I think because I was the production assistant and made copies and ran an art department and worked in marketing, I had a lot of tools to then helm my own show.
Q: At what point did you come on UP? What was your first reaction?
A: I knew about the project before I came on. Pete [Docter] and Bob [Peterson] were in development working on it for about a year before I joined. When I first heard about it, Pete kind of pitched me the rough idea of the story as it was. The story has evolved since then—as they all do—but the emotional core was already there—Carl and Ellie, and what he wants to do. Pete sat and told me the story and he gave me his rough treatment to read, and I went home that night and read it. All I wanted to do after I read it was be with my family. In fact, as soon as I got out of the pitch, I called my wife. It’s just one of those stories that makes you want to connect with your family and the people you love. I love all of the films that we’ve done—they’ve certainly been fun to work on—but there was something about UP that let me know that it was not only going to be fun, but that it actually had to be made. It felt like it was important.
Q: What do you think UP is about?
A: I think UP is about learning that the important things in life aren’t always external—they aren’t always things that we have to go out and achieve. They are more often than not, in fact, right in front of us, the small details in life. UP is hopefully a celebration of that. It’s a balance of nostalgia and hope for the future. There are a number of people who live in the past, who want to hold onto things that maybe aren’t so healthy. And hopefully UP is a life lesson that you don’t have to do that, you can find a balance.
A: The movie started literally with Pete doing a drawing of an old guy. At Disney•Pixar, we’re always looking for something we haven’t done before, and what would be a compelling character. And Pete literally drew an old, crotchety guy holding all of these colorful balloons, and the juxtaposition of those two things made us laugh. Pete and Bob pinned that up on a wall—and in some ways, that was the birth of the movie. Carl comes from so many places and people—we’ve called him a cross between Walter Matthau, Spencer Tracy and your grandpa. There’s a little bit of everybody’s grandfather in Carl. We just love the idea of this crotchety, old man, and the world has kind of passed him by. But he’s got a good heart, he’s a sweet guy, but he’s also fed up. He really seemed like a fun character to work on. We wanted him to be likeable, but still, crotchety.
We knew we needed a foil for Carl, a stowaway on this adventure, and Russell was the perfect guy to do that. He was really a combination of one of our story artists, Pete Sohn—who was the voice of Emile in Ratatouille and he’s the director of Partly Cloudy, the short that’s going on the front of UP—he’s a brilliant animator and story guy.. When you see him, he looks like Russell. The other day, we saw the character costumes that are used in the Disney theme parks, and there was a Russell—and we got Pete Sohn to stand by it, and we were all laughing so hard we were crying. He looks like him and he behaves like him—in fact, he did the scratch voice for the film until we found Jordan Nagai. The thing we love about Pete Sohn is that he cannot lie, he cannot tell you anything other than the truth. If you show him something and he likes it, he’s going to say something like, “That is AWESOME!” And if he doesn’t, he’ll say, “I don’t know…I like the other one better.” He has the honesty of a child. Not only in look, but in spirit, he became kind of the soul of Russell.
Dug the dog, to me, is the show stealer—I just love that dog so much. I think it’s because I love dogs so much, we all do: Pete, Bob, myself, we all have dogs. And one of the things Pete said was owners are always making their dog talk—maybe we’re crazy. But you’re sitting at the dinner table and your dog comes up and looks at you, and you say, in his voice, “Are you gonna eat that?” Or “I wanna go outside.” The idea was to make that literal. There are always talking animal movies, what if we justified ours with some kind of science technology from the ‘30s? All because of that idea of sitting around making your dog talk. And so we just wanted to make the most loveable,, sweet, pure, good-natured dog, and that’s who Dug is.
We wanted the film to open up with Carl and his desire to go on an adventure. Just like any kid with a hero. He lives in a small, 1930’s, kind of Frank Capra-esque town and wants to go places. Muntz was the perfect vehicle for that. We needed somebody almost like Charles Lindberg, a hero of the day. We made this guy to be the ultimate hero; he’s done everything. He’s an inventor, he’s an adventurer, he’s a scientist. He’s filthy rich, and he can do anything that he wants to do. He rides around in this awesome dirigible. Somebody who has it all. But who could also come back around, and maybe we find out that he doesn’t have it all. He’s just as empty as anybody, so to speak.
Q: Even though she’s not in the film that much, she’s felt all the way through. That’s Ellie.
A: Yeah, she has very little screen time, but packs the most emotional punch. She’s really the driver of the whole story. We cast Pete’s daughter to do her voice. It was quite by accident. She was scratch vocal, but we just fell in love with it. And that was what was so important: you’re only going to see this character for a short time, we need to absolutely fall in love with her, and make her the most charming and appealing character we can. She is, in some ways, almost the opposite of Carl. Where he’s kind of buttoned-up, with his shirts tucked in—we always imagined his parents were ministers—she is the opposite. She has got holes in her overalls and a copy of National Geographic in her back pocket. Hand-me-down clothes, patches everywhere, missing teeth—she doesn’t care. She is a free spirit. She literally floats through the whole film—even when she’s gone, she’s what’s driving it. We tried to keep her alive, with the metaphor of the house, we tried to keep that story moving forward.
Q: Did Kevin, the 13-foot bird, come from anywhere?
A: She came from a lot of places. First of all, we wanted her to be strong and scary and huge, but at the same time, vulnerable and sweet and most of all, funny. We were inspired by a lot of things…Jim Henson’s Muppets. We looked at them—you know how simple they are? And even how simple they move, yet how alive they feel? Those eyes, for example, they never blink, of course, they’re Muppets. But they feel so believable and real. We also looked at real birds. We even brought in ostriches to Pixar. We had an ostrich farmer set up a pen on the front lawn and just watch them run around—it’s amazing how huge and scary they feel, but at the same time dumb. You get close to one, and you see their feet, they’re almost prehistoric. Pretty creepy. We also looked at casuaries. Really bizarre, almost mammal-like. We went to the Sacramento zoo and found these birds that have this rare iridescence. There are certain things in nature, particularly in birds, that when you look at them, you’d almost think they were fake, like they were in a movie—they’re so fantastically beautiful. Like a peacock. If you look at their colors, it doesn’t look like anything that you would actually see in nature. We wanted Kevin to be the ‘greatest hits’ of all these things.
Q: UP is the first Disney•Pixar release authored and created in Disney Digital 3Dä in select theaters. How different was it to produce versus a 2D computer-animated film?
A: At first, we thought it was going to be very different. But what we realized was that it was absolutely no different. We started looking at some tests—we took Ratatouille, for example—and did some 3D tests. We discovered that we’ve actually created all of our films in 3D, we’ve just never PROJECTED them in 3D. In CG, you’re creating virtual environments. As far as the camera’s concerned, and the eye, for that matter. You think of Andy’s room in Toy Story—it’s a virtual room with space and depth and dimension, and we shoot it that way. And the characters are virtual but physical in the computer—they take up volume and space, and when they walk across the room, they do what we would do. And we’ve shot it accordingly. And when we rendered the other eye, we thought we didn’t want to break the plane and have things coming out of the screen at you. We didn’t want to treat it like a gimmick. We wanted to treat it like all the tools that we have used at Pixar—it’s just another crayon in the box. What we then decided for UP was that we were going to treat the screen like a window, looking into a world. We had a [legendary Disney artist and children’s book illustrator] Mary Blair ‘storybook’ feel to the film, and we thought it would be cool to have the screen be something you were looking into rather than looking at something coming out at you. So we didn’t really shoot it any differently. We have this great stereo team at Pixar, headed up by Josh Hollander and Bob Whitehill, who are very passionate about what they do. We do what’s called a color script, which follows the film sequence by sequence just in color, kind of based on emotion. They followed along and created a depth script. So they knew that when we were alone with Carl in his room, we wanted it to feel very shallow. When we’re up in the Tepuis and in the jungle, we wanted it to feel very deep. They followed along the emotional arc of the story and pushed the depth appropriately when needed and flattened it out when needed. So you’re not going to go and see the film and have things fly out at you, you’re going to go and see UP and look into this world and perhaps be more immersed than you’ve ever been.
Q: UP has both very real moments of emotion and very broad moments of action, adventure and comedy. What kind of world had to be constructed where all of these elements could co-exist?
A: Many times people ask us about the technical challenges of these films—like on Cars, John [Lasseter, chief creative officer of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and principal creative advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering] really wanted the cars to reflect to make it feel real and believable; Monsters, Inc. it was the fur—on this film, it was the production design of the film that was the real challenge. What Pete wanted right from the start was for this not to be photo-realistic. This is a movie where a house is raised into the air by thousands of balloons, so it requires a certain amount of whimsy, a certain amount of caricature. At the same time, this is a movie that deals with very real, emotional issues—tremendous loss, memory, nostalgia, growing old—so we had to find a balance visually that would support both of those ideas. And that was a challenge not only to the art departments, but to the technical departments as well. What Pete kept saying was, “I want to distill things down to their core.” So, for example, as a piece of reference we looked at old [American caricaturist] Al Hirschfeld drawings, of [American comedienne] Lucille Ball. So here are all of our technical artists that have proven through the years—this is our tenth film—they can do anything that we throw at them. If we want something to look photo-real, like WALL•E, they can do it, if we want them to do water, they can do it. So now Pete says, “Here’s a new challenge: I want you to learn the art of caricature in CG. So here’s a photo of Lucille Ball, and here’s a Hirschfeld drawing of her. How come the Hirschfeld drawing looks as much, if not more, like her than the photograph does? How is that?” And that was, in some ways, our biggest challenge on UP. So our main character, Carl, looks like an old man—but if you really look at him, he’s only three heads high. His head is basically a square—but how does he look like a real guy, because he doesn’t look real? That’s because we wanted to distill things down to their core. What makes an old guy look like an old guy? What makes a young kid a young kid? What are the bare minimum elements you need? So let’s focus in on that. So when we were creating the jungle, we didn’t want to create 50,000 leaf variants. We wanted 10, to do it minimally…but could we still make it look lush and real? People are looking at the film and saying, “Boy, it does look real.” The light and the textures look very real, but the shape language and the color space are a little more pushed, a little more cartoon-y than we’ve done in the past. But we hope that we’ve achieved a balance, that it doesn’t look whacky, cartoon-y cheap, and it doesn’t look photo-real, but it feels believable.
Q: Talk about UP’s cultural diversity among its international crew, and what you feel it added to the project overall.
A: We were lucky enough to have a wide range of different cultures and people working on the film. The film is such a love letter to travel and going to exotic places, I think it made everyone feel a little bit more attached to the film, in a personal way. We have so many great people. Daniel Lopez Munoz, who’s one of our great art directors on the film, hails from Spain. Albert Lazano, another one. Ricky Nierva, our production designer, is from the Philippines. The list goes on and on…
Q: Take me through one of your average days during production.
A: The short answer is, there is no average day. Every day, we would call it a squirrel derby. We would jump in, have a plan, a schedule, a basic rhythm and cadence and we knew what we’d have to hit during the week…and you’d get there, and by 9:15, the whole thing is blown up. All the priorities shift. That’s the thing about production, and that’s why I love it: every single day, you get the rug pulled out from under you, and you have to rebuild the house of cards and keep moving forward. The truth is we would have things that we would have to get done every day and we would stick to certain things. We’d have animation dailies every morning. The first thing we’d do is go in and look at every shot that’s in progress at that particular time, trying to make sure you can get those shots through to the next department. Then you might have an art review, where you’re going in with the director to look at all character and set designs for the sequence that’s on deck next. And you’ll have tech review, where you’d look at the sets in the computer, with all the virtual shading and the lighting and sometimes, the layout. But more often than not, the director and the producer are balancing their time from being in the story room and in the editorial suite, where the movie is actually being cut at various stages of production—cutting in dialog, cutting in shots, cutting out shots. And I’m spinning off as a producer, trying to manage all these priorities with the great production management team—Mark Nielson, the associate producer, Denise Ream so that we hopefully land this ship on time.
Q: Disney•Pixar has set the industry standard for this type of movie. Was that more a source of inspiration or pressure while you were working on UP?
A: I can’t lie to you, it’s a little of both. You feel the pressure. For example, when WALL•E comes out—and gets such a great reception and wins the Academy Award®. Since we’re right behind it, we kind of think, “Uh oh, well, we’ve got to keep going We’ve got to do WALL•E justice, and come up with another one.” And at the same time, you can’t help but be inspired by being at Disney•Pixar and being surrounded by all the other filmmakers—they never stop. John Lasseter used to say, “These films are never done, they’re just released.” And that’s how we feel, we would never stop if we didn’t have to. Everyone feels that every one of the films is theirs, and that’s one of the cool things. Even though I didn’t work on WALL•E, I feel, in some way, that I own it, that it’s mine. And I hope the filmmakers of WALL•E feel the same way about UP.
Q: Could you talk about the universal themes of UP, and how you feel international audiences will react to the film? Not every audience reacts to certain things in the same way.
A: It is my hope that UP is one of the films that is universally accepted. I think, at its core, it has what we all have—it’s about family. Hopefully, we all have or had grandparents, we all have memories, we all have photo albums, we all have dreams—and in some ways, UP is just a celebration of those things. It’s a reminder that they are the most important things that we all have. And I’m hoping—whether the film plays in Japan or Latin America or Germany—that it’s going to resonate with everyone who sees it. That is my hope. When I watch it, that’s how I feel. When we’ve screened it for certain international territories already, that’s what it feels like is happening. It’s open enough and universal enough. Joe Grant, one of Pete Docter’s mentors, (he was the head of story on Dumbo and one of the old-timers at Disney) used to tell us, “You have to do two things. Not only do you have to think about what’s in your film, what’s entertaining the audience, you have to think about what they’re going to take home.” Are they going to think about your film the next morning at breakfast? That was our goal. We just didn’t want to make it entertaining, with super-cool action and things viewers have never seen before, we want audiences to wake up the next morning and think about our film. And we want that for both the international and the domestic audiences as well.
Q: How do you and Pete Docter work together? What is your professional relationship like?
A: We have a great relationship. First of all, we’re great friends, and we have the same taste in films. We grew up with the same films, and loving the same films—Disney animated films. And in some ways, UP is a love letter to those films. We wanted it to have the feel of a 101 Dalmatians or a Dumbo, in some ways. Pete is the creative force, the genius, the writer. He thinks it up and I figure out how to get it made. We have a deal. We sat down early on and I said, “I’ll always be honest with you, Pete, and tell you what it’s going to take. And when we can’t do it, I won’t cry, ‘Wolf!’” And he respects that. I told him I wouldn’t hound him on the budget, but that I’d stick to the schedule. All we have is a release date, and we’ll reverse engineer every decision out of that release date and get everything we can get on that screen together.
Q: What would you say is the style of UP, and what are its unique stylistic features?
A: The production designer, Ricky Nierva, who I think is one of the great designers in the field of animation, came up with a term as he was trying to flesh out the design of the film: simplexity. That’s something we hung our hats on. It goes back to caricature. Pete wanted to reverse engineer the film out of a little bit more whimsical idea—a little more inspired by Mary Blair, or Disneyland’s “It’s A Small World” ride, or the backgrounds of Dumbo, more than a photograph of a jungle. We wanted a sense of whimsy and caricature to the design…which we found out is really hard in CG. We spent more time simplifying things, pulling back, than we have in the past. The production design, then, became our technical challenge. At the end of the day, we just wanted something that was distilled and pure.
Q: This is a whimsical question. If you could fly off in your house, other than your family, who would you take with you and where would you head?
A: Other than my family, I’d take my friend, Pete Docter, and I would aim the house towards Disneyworld!