Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Last night the fine folks at ASIFA HOLLYWOOD hosted a free screening of Pixar's UP which included a sooper triple special bonus Q and A session with the film's director Pete Docter! It was a bit late notice... but I dropped everything and ran over to the famous Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood and grabbed myself a seat.

And while I LOVED the film the first time I saw it...
I loved it even MORE the second time!
Now, I could spend an obnoxious amount of time gushing over what I liked about it, but I'd rather spend my time recounting what Mr. Docter had to say. That's way more fun and informative. So here are some choice tidbits from his conversation with Cartoon Brew's own Jerry Beck:

Sorry... this was the best picture I could get with the lousy camera on my phone.

• The story was originally even farther 'out there' and was more of a "Muppety Ernie and Bert in some kind of cloud kingdom" story until they started paring it down to find the "emotional core" of the story-- which ended up being 'about how Carl feels like he screwed up by never taking his wife on an adventure to Paradise Falls, but eventually realizes that their relationship was the adventure all along".

• When asked why they set the adventure in South America, Mr. Doctor said that Carl and Ellie's original destination was a deserted island, but they thought that location had been 'done' to death. Eventually Ralph Eggleston showed them a documentary about the rocky South American jungle that made Mr. Docter feel like that particular landscape WAS Carl himself-- craggy, stuck in time, desolate, etc. "The setting became the character and vice versa".

• On the topic of the film's pitch perfect voice acting, he said they spent a LOT of time auditioning... and that most professional voice actors were a bit forced ("too much jazz hands"). So they opted towards non-professionals, like the kid who played Russell. But because he WASN'T a professional, they "paid the price" and had a really hard time getting him to where they needed him. In a lot of cases they resorted to a kind of "method acting-- where I would hold him upside down or crush his arms at his sides to get the sound of him struggling-- whatever the scene called for".

• Also, it was Mr. Docter's daughter who played the young Ellie at the beginning of the movie. They originally recorded her as scratch track but everyone loved her reads so much it stayed in. Ed Asner (the voice of Carl) claimed she was "the best thing in the damn movie".

This is a picture of Pete Docter from Comicon... not last night

* One audience member claimed that Ellie's heart wrenching death made UP "the BAMBI of out generation".

• Another asked how Mr. Docter knows when he's 'got' a story right. His answer was: "When the deadline is up and people stop giving notes".

• In regard to the use (or misuse) of 3-D in films, his rule was that it had to be "...a movie about Carl Fredrickson in 3-D and not a 3-D movie about Carl Fredrickson." Which means that if the 3-D effects were too in your face (or in his words "Too Booooga Booooga!") then you're taking people out of the story.

• One of the few sequences to remain virtually untouched from storyboard was when the house took off and flew through the city. It was pretty much shot for shot the way the board artist envisioned it. The opposite was true for the sequence when they first met Charles Muntz, which they couldn't quite get right for a long time.

• A great question that came up was about particular production problems which led to breakthroughs. MONSTERS, INC had serious issues with animating fur in CG. Violet's hair in THE INCREDIBLES gave the programmers fits. The water in NEMO. So were there any big issues, as well as breakthroughs, in UP? The answer? Caricature. The character proportions made things tricky (ex. Carl can't touch the top of his head from a standing position) and they wanted simplified wrinkles for the clothing to achieve a certain look (they studied a lot of Hank Ketcham for reference). Instead of trying to be a realistic as possible (like MOST CG productions try to do... to yucky effect) they wanted to make a stylized world which ended up requiring a lot of 'cheating' to make things work.

• There was a lot of talk about the use of color in storytelling as well, which is always fascinating (I went to a lecture in NYC with Ralph Eggleston and others about this and it never gets old). He brought up an example of the world being bright and vibrant when Ellie was around, but dim and monochromatic after she passed away, only to brighten again once Russell showed up.


Gotta love those Pixar guys.

I wish ya'll could have been there because there was lots more, and all of it was said way more eloquently than I've transcribed it.

Anyway, thanks for the night out, ASIFA HOLLYWOOD. Can't wait to see whatcha got next!


BOB BOYLE said...

Wow! I felt like I was there.

If I keep following your blog, I won't ever have to leave my house!


Chris Battle said...

Was Ricky Nierva there, too? He was there w/Pete & co. at a screening on Sunday; Had some cool design insights to share. That movie is all kinds of awesome.

Anonymous said...

I love that movie!!
you gotta love pixar films :D

kaNO! said...

Very cool Tom, wish i could of been there, Up was such a good film.

Vince Gorman said...

Thanks for taking good notes. I was there and had a great time. Half-way through, I was thinking,"I hope someone records this or takes notes"

Great movie, Great evening, and it was free!