An Animated Chat With 'Up' Director Pete Docter Up, the smash-hit animated adventure about a grouchy elderly man, a chubby scout, a 13-foot bird and a house borne aloft by balloons, is now out on DVD. Director and screenwriter Pete Docter talks about the joys of researching and creating animated films.

An Animated Chat With 'Up' Director Pete Docter

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, filling in for Terry Gross. The new Pixar/Disney animated movie "Up" is now out on DVD, just in time for the holidays. Our guest is the film's director and co-writer, Pete Docter. He also directed "Monsters, Inc."

"Up" is about an unexpected relationship between an old man and a boy. Carl is a 78-year-old whose beloved wife has died. Carl and his wife dreamed of being adventurers, but they were really homebodies. He made his living selling balloons.

Now his neighborhood is getting rebuilt around him, and the developers want him to move to assisted living so they can tear down his house and put up a high-rise. Carl refuses, and his way out of the problem is to tie thousands of balloons to his house so he can fly the house to South America, where he once dreamed of making an expedition with his wife.

But as he's getting ready, a chubby eight-year-old boy named Russell knocks on the door. Russell is wearing his Wilderness Explorer uniform that has a sash covered with badges.

(Soundbite of film "Up")

(Soundbite of knocking)

(Soundbite of door opening)

Mr. JORDAN NAGAI (Actor): (As Russell) Good afternoon. My name is Russell, and I am a Wilderness Explorer in Tribe 54, Wet Lodge 12. Are you in need of any assistance today, sir?

Mr. ED ASNER (Actor): (As Carl Fredricksen) No.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) I could help you cross the street.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) No.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) I could help you cross your yard.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) No.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) I could help you cross your porch.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) No.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Well, I've got to help you cross something.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) No, I'm doing fine.

(Soundbite of door closing)

DAVIES: After Carl slams the door, he cuts loose the hot-air balloons and starts piloting his house to South America, not realizing that Russell is still on the porch. So Russell and Carl become companions on this fantastic adventure. Terry Gross spoke with director and co-writer Pete Docter about "Up" last spring.


Pete Docter, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. PETE DOCTER (Director, "Up"): Thank you.

GROSS: I love the image that a lot of our listeners might have seen in one of the ads, of this old man walking through this exotic jungle landscape, you know, Paradise Falls, with his house attached to a string that he's carrying, as if the house were a balloon, but the house is being held aloft by all these balloons. And it's a beautiful image because it's him trying to take his past with him, and at some point it becomes too heavy.

It becomes a burden, and he has to figure out if he should let go or not. And I thought, like I don't know how that image came to you or if you originally meant it to be, like, a metaphor, but it is such a beautiful image about carrying the past and how it can sometimes become too heavy, too much.

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah, it kind of evolved, I mean, as all things do. You know, we started with something about balloons themselves are very poetic and evocative to me, and more than just helium and vinyl or whatever they're made out of, you know, they become this almost metaphor for life in a way.

I remember as a kid having a balloon and accidentally letting the string go and watching it just float off and into the sky until it disappeared. And there's something about that, even, that feels very much like what life is, you know, that it's fleeting, and it's temporal.

So something about balloons were really appealing and also the idea of escape and floating away. And so as we developed the whole story, it became a lot about trying to preserve the past. You know, this guy, the whole world has changed, everything around him is different now. The only thing he has, this feeling a connection with his wife, is his house. So he can't just leave that behind. He has to take it with him.

GROSS: It reminded me a little of "Fitzcarraldo." Did you ever see "Fitzcarraldo"?

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah.

GROSS: It's a Werner Herzog film...

Mr. DOCTER: Sure.

GROSS: which this explorer who wants to build an opera house in the South American jungle, in order to get to where he's going, he has to carry his steam ship over a mountain. and the burden of that reminded me at some point of the house being dragged through the air across...

Mr. DOCTER: Absolutely.

GROSS: Did you see the movie? Did you think about that?

Mr. DOCTER: We watched it along the way, yeah, and it was very similar in the sort of preposterous nature of this. You know�

GROSS: Yes, right, and surreal, yeah.

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah, absolutely. Sounds like a laugh riot, doesn't it?

GROSS: Well, it's really funny, and I'll tell you, you had me from the start because very early in the film, the young version of the older man - because it starts earlier in time, like in the '30s in the Prohibition era - so he's watching like one of those old newsreel kind of things about this adventurer who goes to Paradise Falls, a forgotten land. And you see like the scientists and the explorers with a protractor.

Mr. DOCTER: Oh yeah.

GROSS: And I thought oh, that's so funny, a protractor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: Well, it was high-tech back...

GROSS: High-tech. Yeah, so you had me right at the start. Did you watch a lot of those newsreels and shorts before making your movie?

Mr. DOCTER: Absolutely, yeah. It was a lot of fun to not only try to pick up on the film grain and - you know, we noticed that when they would, say, be in the jungle, they'd have to develop the film themselves, so it would have less contrast and may be a little washed out and then versus the film they shot in New York, that would have really striking blacks and whites. And so we tried to mimic all that in the film, as well as even the way we recorded the music, you know, working with Michael Giacchino.

We identified, I want heroic, I want drama, suspense.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: I want this. And so we just did all those like library music, and then we did really bad music edits between them. So it's going along - da da da da da da - you know, so it'll have these awkward transitions just like, you know, the real newsreels.

GROSS: Just in talking about the old man, one more thing about him: like the way he sits down in a chair, it's like he slowly lowers himself, and when he gets within plopping distance, he just like lets go and plops into it. And I've seen so many older people have to sit that way. It's like you really got it.

Mr. DOCTER: That's great you noticed that. The other thing we did is he pulls his pants up, like he grabs right above the knee and kind of hikes up his pants. I have no idea why older people do that, but you notice that a lot, you know, I guess so it doesn't get hooked on your heel or something.

Anyway, we did look at a lot of folks, our grandparents, and we went to an old-folks home. We kind of came in under the auspices of being a band because I play the bass, and a couple of the guys played the ukulele.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: And so we were playing for these guys and secretly kind of taking little notes for ourselves.

GROSS: Oh, that's really funny. What do you play, what kind of music?

Mr. DOCTER: It was sort of like Tin Pan Alley-type stuff.

GROSS: Oh, that would be perfect because it's the kind of music a lot of people, like, in assisted-living facilities would have grown up with.

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah, they said oh, you were the greatest band we've had in here for a long time. So it was great. It was a fun time.

GROSS: My guest is Pete Docter, and he directed and co-wrote the new Pixar/Disney animated film "Up."

You created a great creature for the movie, this exotic 13-foot bird named Kevin.

Mr. DOCTER: Right.

GROSS: That's because Russell names it Kevin.

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: But I want you to describe the bird that you created.

Mr. DOCTER: Well, Kevin is a 13-foot-tall flightless bird, very iridescent plumage, sort of based on a crane that I saw at a zoo. The attraction for me was that these birds, when you see them in the zoo, they almost have no expression. You can't see what they're thinking. They give you no kind of advanced warning of are they happy or sad, or at least to me. I'm sure bird experts can tell, but they're really unpredictable and quirky and funny. And I just - the animator in me was like I want to animate that. So that's kind of where Kevin came from was just the joy of seeing these quirky behaviors.

GROSS: So but you gave Kevin emotion, the kind of emotion you couldn't read in the real bird that you based him on.

Mr. DOCTER: Right.

GROSS: So what kind of methods did you find for giving your bird emotion?

Mr. DOCTER: Well, the cool thing was we did the same thing that I described, where there is no facial expressions. And the Muppets do this wonderfully, where you know, you'll have like Fozzie, who has no facial - other than he can open and close his mouth, the rest of it's just movement.

So the bird has a great deal of expression and range of attitudes, but it's all through movement. It's almost like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, which of course all animators study, and those are our roots. So you know just through the movement and the posing, the speed at which they move, we were able to get all this attitude.

GROSS: So did you go to South America?

Mr. DOCTER: We did. Yeah, there was a group of 10 of us, and this is the great thing about working at Pixar. You know, "Toy Story," we got to go to the toy store with the company credit card.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: And on this one, since we set it in South America, a group of 10 of us flew down to South America, to these amazing table-top mountains. And we hiked up there - it took us three days just to get there by plane, helicopter, Jeep - and then we hiked up.

We slept up there, we drew a lot, we took tons of pictures of course. And there are fantastic, weird plants found nowhere else in the world, these weird rock shapes that are just windswept, strange, bizarre shapes - some of them look like people or animals. And a lot of ideas from the film came from that trip.

GROSS: So what's in your sketchbook that you took back from there?

Mr. DOCTER: Well there's a lot of pictures of - myself, I'm usually drawn to drawing people. Like I love to go to the airports and just put on like dark glasses so nobody can tell I'm staring at them and just draw people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: It's a lot of fun and just endless hours of entertainment, just watching the way people do simple things, even like eat a meal or, you know, wipe their kid's face or whatever, just great behavior stuff.

But up there, of course - and even there I ended up drawing a lot of my co-workers, but the reason we were there was to draw the landscape, and I struggled as best I could to capture that.

GROSS: Now we talked a little bit about the bird that you created for "Up." There's a bunch of dogs. There's a pack of really, like, mean dogs, and then there's a really pleasant, companionable dog named Dug.

Mr. DOCTER: Right.

GROSS: First of all, I think it's kind of interesting that, you know, they go to this, like, exotic place, and usually in adventure films, especially in the old ones before people were very kind of politically aware of what they were doing, you know, adventurers would go to an exotic land in Africa, and then the natives would want to cook them in a big pot. And it was just like the most kind of insulting image of indigenous people that you could ask for, and you made it possible to not deal with that at all by having the villains, with the exception of one person, be dogs.

Mr. DOCTER: Right.

GROSS: So you didn't - and there's a good-guy dog, too. So you didn't have to worry about, you know, offending anybody or...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah, and of course, that is one of the staples of adventure films, so I won't pretend we didn't at least discuss that. You know, we had some ideas about that. But yeah, it just seemed, again keeping on the sort of isolation thing, and there is something - for those of us who have dogs as pets, I mean, I'm sure most people have the same experiences I do is we make up dialogue for the dog.

So the dog is sitting next to the dinner table, and we make up things that she's talking about, which most of the time is are you going to eat that because I could help you with that. If you need help, I am happy...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: So that's kind of where the talking dogs came from, and Bob Peterson, who did most of the dialogue in it, and actually did the voice of Dug, just has this great mind for thinking like a dog.

GROSS: And explain how it is that Dug can speak, the dog.

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah, the invention we came up with was this collar, which allows the dog's thoughts to be translated. So the dog in behavior is acting just like a normal dog, panting or doing whatever, but you're hearing the dialogue from the dog's brain.

So that allowed us to focus on things that a real dog would focus on, which is, you know, food and sniffing - squirrel - you know, things like that. So...

GROSS: And the collar has adjustments so you could change the language?

Mr. DOCTER: Absolutely, very important.

GROSS: Let's hear a clip of Dug, the dog, and listen to his voice, and the two main characters are in this, too. And Bob Peterson, one of the writers, is doing the voice of Dug.

(Soundbite of film "Up")

Mr. ED ASNER (Actor): (As Carl Fredricksen) (Shouting) We have your dog.

Mr. JORDAN NAGAI (Actor): (As Russell) Whoa.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) I wonder who he belongs to.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Sit, boy. Hey look, he's trained. Shake. Uh-huh. Speak.

Mr. BOB PETERSON (Actor): (As Dug) Hi there.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) Did that dog just say hi there?

Mr. PETERSON: (As Dug) Oh yes. My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you. My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master, and he made me this collar so that I may talk - squirrel. My master is good and smart.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) It's not possible.

Mr. PETERSON: (As Dug) Oh it is because my master is smart.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Cool. What do these do, boy?

Mr. PETERSON: (As Dug) (Speaking foreign language). I use that collar. (Speaking foreign language). I would be happy if you stop.

GROSS: That's a clip from the new Pixar/Disney animated movie, "Up," and my guest, Pete Docter, co-wrote and directed the film. Pete, what are some of your favorite talking animated animals?

Mr. DOCTER: Huh. Well I mean, of course the Bugs Bunny - and there's a dog named Charlie Dog that I always think of. It was a Chuck Jones character. Let's see, other favorite characters. Well, I mean, I tend to drift over to the Warner Brothers characters as my favorite, just, characters because they're so rich and funny. As movies, I tend to drift over to the Disney films, you know, as stories and things.

"Dumbo" is one of my favorites. It's just a simplicity, a wonderful simplicity to it. And as a kid, you know, I saw certain things about it, all the fun and, you know, pink elephants on parade and flying with the crows and things. And now looking back on it, it's got this added dimension to it as a parent that you know, when you have a baby and ma in the scene with the trunks, and they can't even see each other. They can just kind of hold trunks. I have yet to watch that without crying, you know.

And "Cinderella" is great, too. It's got a great sense of pacing. I hadn't seen it for a while and watched it again a couple of years ago, and it's just got this great rhythm where you allow for moments - and we tried to do this in this film, as well. In a way, this film was trying to harken back to some of those films where you set up a situation, and instead of having to go what happens next, what happens next, move it along, move it along, you can allow the characters to just behave and react. And to me some of the greatest animation - Miyazaki does this, Hayao Miyazaki in his films, these just little observations, and that's all they are. They don't further the plot, but they are beautiful, little glimpses into real life, of somehow captured and distilled and made even more real through animation. And that's what we're trying to do in this film, as well.

DAVIES: Pete Docter is the director and co-writer of the Disney/ Pixar animated film "Up," which is now out on DVD. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview, recorded in May, with Pete Docter, the director and co-writer of the animated film "Up."

GROSS: I read that for the voice of Russell, the boy in the movie, that you cast the brother of a kid who actually came to audition.

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah.

GROSS: The kid that you cast didn't come to audition. He was the brother of the kid who came to audition. How did that happen?

Mr. DOCTER: Well yeah, and hopefully that hasn't caused a rift between them.

GROSS: That's what I keep wondering. Like what's it like to be the actual acting brother and not get the part?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: I know, well�

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DOCTER: His brother, Jordan's brother, Hunter, still does quite a bit of acting on his own. So I think he's�

GROSS: He survived, yeah, okay.

Mr. DOCTER: But yeah, we were looking for somebody - and you know, this is always a treacherous area to walk into as you're approaching something like a kid because it's so easy to be cloying and sappy and/or just, like, bad acting, you know, and we wanted this to be authentic and real-sounding. And when we heard this kid, he came in, and like you say, he wasn't even planning to audition.

His brother stepped up, and they said thank you, great, well how about you? Jordan, why don't you come over here? And he just - I think he talked about judo or something, and his voice just made me laugh. He had this really wonderful, sweet, innocent voice. And it's little bit like you hear the stories of the voice of Thumper from "Bambi," you know, they were reading kids and the director said oh, get him out of here, he can't act, and the animator said no, no, keep him, you know, because there's something really charming and quirky and kind of indefinably odd, and that's exactly what we got with Jordan. He just has this really great appeal to his stuff.

And then of course we did have to work a little bit to get some of the acting. He covers a lot - a big range of emotions, and having never done it before, you know, we basically did a lot of tricks where, you know, we tried to get him to laugh, and it was just not really working. So I picked him by the ankle, held him upside down and tickled him as he said the line. So as he's being tickled by the bird that's what that is.

So yeah, it's a tricky gig, especially here. You know, you're in a room that has - and we record the dialogue first, of course. So there's no animation to react to. You're just in a grey room with a bunch of words on a page, and nine times out of 10, no other actors, even.

We try to read opposite. Bob Peterson and myself would usually read opposite, but it largely has to kind of come to life in their own heads, the actors.

GROSS: So you cast Ed Asner as the older man. So did you have an idea of what he would look like before you cast Ed Asner, or like which came first in your mind?

Mr. DOCTER: Well, we had the story, and we even designed the character. He was finished. We had him all - I don't think he was quite finished being built in the computer, but the design was there. And what we did, and we have done this on all the films, is we grab little snippets of dialogue from other movies, and so while we're looking at these designs, we just listen. And some people just fit perfectly, and Ed was one of those guys.

GROSS: Oh I see, you take their dialogue from other films and juxtapose it with the image that you have and see if it fits.

Mr. DOCTER: Exactly.

GROSS: So what did you do with him, like "Mary Tyler Moore Show" stuff?

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah, and then we got some of his more recent films, because you know, some time has passed since "Mary Tyler Moore."

GROSS: Yeah, a lot.

Mr. DOCTER: But yeah, he just had this real sort of still - the gruffness and the, you know, angularity to his voice with an underlying sense that oh, this guy really does care, you know, which is exactly what we needed for the film.

GROSS: Now your daughter does the voice of the young girl who becomes Ed Asner's wife in the movie, who becomes the man's wife in the movie. How did your daughter - what a shock that you would find your daughter, but why did you give her the part?

Mr. DOCTER: Well, the way we work at Pixar is we write the script, but then we quickly move on into story reel, which is basically like a comic-book version of the film. And then we do our own dialogue and music and sound effects, all in an effort to be able to basically sit in the theater and watch the movie before we shoot it, essentially. And that way - you know, once you get into animation, it's horribly time-consuming.

It's like animators do about four seconds a week, you know, and that's not even including all the shaders and the lighting and the modeling and all that. So we want to whittle out all the stuff that we have any questions about first.

And so what we did when we got to that part - you know, the beginning of the film takes place in the '30s, as they're kids, and we knew that if one of us tried to do the voice of a kid, people would be so distracted by that that you wouldn't pay attention to the scene. So we just got my daughter to come in, and we thought well, this will work until we find a professional actor, but enough people really loved it.

In fact, that was the first thing Ed Asner said when we showed him. He said who does the voice of that kid? She steals the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTER: So that was pretty cool.

GROSS: So did you have her redo it or just use the tracks that she did?

Mr. DOCTER: No, we just used the tracks. Yeah, she was about seven and a half at the time, and we worked with her much like we worked with Jordan, where you know, kind of tricking her into things, or doing the copy game, where we'd say the line, and she'd parrot it back. And we found with both kids that, you know, physicality is a big thing. So standing stiffly in front of a microphone is not really the best way to get a great performance.

With Jordan a lot of times, I would say okay, now you've memorized the line. Before you say this next take, run back around that chair, run around three times, jump up and down, run back to the microphone and then say the line, ready go.

And so you'd just get them all worked - how many times do I need? Okay. And then he'd be much more animated and lively, having run around the room. So that was fun.

GROSS: Yeah, that sounds�

Mr. DOCTER: It was pretty exhausting for me, too, by the end of the day.

GROSS: Pete Docter will be back in the second half of the show. He directed and co-wrote the new animated movie "Up." It opens Friday. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Pete Docter, the director and co-writer of the new Disney/Pixar animated movie "Up." It opens Friday. Docter also directed the Pixar movie "Monsters, Inc." and was one of the writers of "Wall-E" and "Toy Story."

Now, "Up" is in 3D, and I'll confess, I hadn't known that, but when I went to the advance screening of it...

Mr. DOCTER: Uh-huh?

GROSS: �before interviewing you, I had kind of forgotten that it was in 3D and I didn't see it 3D.

Mr. DOCTER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So what did I miss? I really loved the film. I know it doesn't have to be in 3D to enjoy it.

Mr. DOCTER: Right.

GROSS: But what did I miss?

Mr. DOCTER: Well, I mean we tried to use 3D as just another element to tell the story. So, for example, when Carl is alone in his house we really tried to squash space to make him feel claustrophobic and locked in. And then by contrast, as he floats his house off, we really tried to push the depth and you know, make him seem free. And so it's to us kind of another tool like lighting, like color, cinematography, it's just another way of furthering the emotion that we're trying to communicate to the audience.

GROSS: So did you work on the 3D part of it?

Mr. DOCTER: I worked with - there was a separate group that we set up. So initially, when we started the project, we had no thought of doing 3D. We were just doing, focused on story and characters. And John Lassiter came to us, I think it was about a year and a half, two years in, and said, hey, we'd really love to do this in 3D. So we set up a group much like, you know, we have the art department, we have the animation department, and now we have the 3D department, and they followed along sequence by sequence and would use 3D in the way I described, really trying to further the story. But I'll confess, it was not really in the forefront of my mind. The things I was most focused on were just story and character. And we tried to use it a little more like a window that you look into as opposed to - I don't know about you, whenever I see 3D movies and stuff is going booga, booga, booga�


Mr. DOCTER: �in your face, I'm suddenly aware, oh, I'm sitting in the theater wearing dopey glasses, you know? So we tried to use it much more subtly and a little more like, you know, my father had a bunch of stereophonic test records when I was growing up and you'd have you know, bongos on the left channel, trombones on the right channel, and now it's much more integrated and subtle, and that's kind of the way we were trying to approach the 3D on this film as well.

GROSS: The movie is dedicated in part to one of the Disney animators from the early days. Tell us about him.

Mr. DOCTER: Yes. Joe Grant was a guy, and this was really the great pleasure of having worked on "Toy Story" and having that be as successful as it was, suddenly I got to meet all these old heroes of mine that had made all the Disney films. You know Frank Thomas and Ali Johnson, and Joe Grant was basically second only to Walt in development, to the story development team back in the �40s, �30s and �40s. He was head of story on "Dumbo," and designed the Wicked Queen in "Snow White." He's a really, you know, amazing artist. And he was still working in his 90s, that's when I got to know him.

And he was just one of these guys who was always looking for new ways of expressing himself, new technique, new pencils or pens. And one thing he talked about a lot in, when I would pitch him things, was what are you giving the audience to take home? And at first I was like, well, what does that mean? Taking the audience - to take home? What he was talking about was what are you putting up on the screen that's emotionally relatable that they will identify with and think about not only when the movie's done, but the next day, or the next week, or the next year? And you know, that's what we always try to do in our films - and is definitely there in those great Disney films.

GROSS: When you started as an animator, were you given like the bottom of the pyramid kind of jobs to do? And what are those jobs like?

Mr. DOCTER: Well, yeah. When I started this is back in the �80s, I was painting the backs of cels. Of course, cels are these celluloid sheets of plastic. They're actually made out of acetate, but they don't use them at all anymore. It's all computers. So the animator would draw something on paper, it would then be inked or Xeroxed onto the cel, and then my job was to paint the backs the right color, you know, so that they would read against the background and not just you couldn't see through them. So that's kind of like the bottom tier. And then I worked my way up doing in-betweens, and this was all�

GROSS: What's an in-between?

Mr. DOCTER: In-between is sort of - an animator does the key poses. He'll do extremes, you know, like a character reaching out for a glass of water and then another one of him drinking. And the in-betweener has to do all the drawings that goes between those two. You know it could be 12, 23 whatever in-betweens. And then that was all hand-drawn, and that's kind of what I was picturing that I would end up doing. And then I got a call towards my last year of school from John Lassiter, and working at Pixar was great because they paired these amazing people who knew - brilliant scientists with artists, each one ignorant in the others work and yet both working towards the same common goal and produced some pretty groundbreaking stuff.

GROSS: Early in the film you have to establish, since the movie is in part about an older person's relationship to his past, you have to establish what his past was�

Mr. DOCTER: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: �before getting into the heart of the story.

Mr. DOCTER: Right.

GROSS: And you, in just like a few minutes, establish this like beautiful relationship with his wife. You know, they meet as children and they both share this love of adventure and it's a really kind of sweet but also sad relationship. And when she dies you're so, you're just so sad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And it's so much to squeeze into, what, three or four minutes. Can you describe a little what went into reducing a whole backstory and a marriage and a life into this little sequence?

Mr. DOCTER: Yeah. That was probably my, the scene and sequence I'm most proud of, that scene. It's just - and we started much like you would writing, say, a term paper where you go way long. You just put in all this. We had a bunch of scenes that were little - with dialogue and just little short little bursts of life. And then we assembled all that together and we realized, oh, this is way too long. And so Bob Peterson had written this great first draft of it and Ronnie del Carmen, who's our head of story, started drawing it.

And he has this beautiful way of just kind of kissing the paper with his pencil in wonderfully, expressive and very sort of poetic lyrical drawings. And we got to that point and we kept and cutting and cutting. And we took out dialogue. We took out sound effects even. And sort of inspired a little bit by - my parents growing up took a lot of Super-8 films of us as kids. And looking at them now, they're just these almost more emotional experiences to watch because the sound isn't there. You know, all you have is the flicker of the projector. And I think you as an audience member are sort of drawn into that and participate a little bit more.

GROSS: Tell me more about the impact of those Super-8 movies that your parents made of the family when you were young.

Mr. DOCTER: Yes. I mean they're just films of us standing in a hole my dad dug to plant a tree or my mom walking around pregnant with my sister. And you know, these are - like I have probably fleeting glimpses in my own life, memories of that, but watching them on screen, they're kind of, I don't know. And there may be something about the fact that they're projected as well, that they're just kind of shadows of a past that - and as you watch it, it's like I say, I think because there's no sound you're missing something. It becomes slightly more abstract and yet almost more real. In the same way we have tapes, audiotapes of my sisters and I talking as well, and that's almost more emotional than videotape. When you get them both together somehow, it's almost - you can sit back and watch it like TV. It's kind of everything's fed to you. Whereas by taking one of the elements away you have to be more actively participating in the experience.

GROSS: Pete Docter, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. DOCTER: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

DAVIES: Pete Docter, director and co-writer of the new Pixar/Disney animated film, "Up." It's now out on DVD. Terry's interview with Doctor was recorded last May. I'm Dave Davies, and this is FRESH AIR.

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