Closer Look at Pete Docter
by Joe Tracy, Publisher of Digital Media
November 2, 2001, Monsters, Inc. stormed into theaters
and amassed nearly $63 million in its opening weekend,
creating a flurry of media buzz and questions about the
new director - Pete Docter.
Monsters, Inc. Docter's name hadn't been prominently
associated with Pixar. When someone talked about Pixar
the names that were usually tossed around were Steve Jobs,
John Lasseter, and sometimes Ed Catmull. Yet Docter has
been with Pixar from the beginning of its feature film
division as he was the second feature film animator hired
to work for the company. He immediately fit in, playing
three big roles for Pixar's first animated masterpiece
- Toy Story. Docter was a writer, storyboard artist,
and the animation supervisor for Toy Story.
Story was so much fun and touched a lot of people
because they could relate to it," says Docter. "I
began thinking about other things that were true for me
as a kid. One thing I knew was that monsters existed and
they were in the closet, especially at night. My clothes
would turn into different things - tentacles, claws, and
eyes. We began thinking that there must be some reason
why monsters scare kids and started playing with that
with that, the concept behind Monsters, Inc. was
born and Docter began work on the movie even as other
Pixar productions, which he also participated in (click
here for Docter's bio), were born.
interest in animation began at the age of 8 when he made
his first flipbook animation. From there, Docter continued
to develop his skills and ended up at the prestigious
CalArts (California Institute of the Arts), which has
put out some of the best animators around.
joining Pixar in 1990, Docter was involved in creating
hand-drawn animation for Disney, Bob Rogers and Company,
Bajus-Jones Film Corp. and Reelworks in Minneapolis. Upon
joining forces with Pixar he spent four and a half years
working on Toy Story. However, he also worked on
other Pixar projects, including TV commercials (like "Lifesavers
Holes at the Beach").
directorial work with Monsters, Inc. has earned
him high praise from Pixar executives, including John
and his team have done an amazing job with the characters
and relationships on this film," says Lasseter, who
was the visionary behind Pixar's first three animated
blockbusters. "Not only is it a funny film, but it
has a richness of emotion that resonates and gives the
characters a life way beyond the boundaries of the screen."
has also received Kudos from Disney executives.
Docter has successfully added feature film directing to
his long list of accomplishments and this film reflects
his gentle nature and sly sense of humor," says Thomas
Schumacher, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation.
"Audiences are going to love the fun and unbridled
imagination of this film and will remember it for a long,
began extensive work on the film idea for Monsters,
Inc. after he had concluded his production assignments
for Toy Story. Docter's own experience and the
inspiration of his own two kids provided assistance to
the creative process.
intriguing thing to me about this subject matter is the
idea that as kids we have these unnamed, unconscious fears,
and we create monsters as a way to make them tangible,"
says Docter. "We began thinking, if monsters represent
fears, what then are the monsters themselves afraid of?
The obvious answer: children. Our own fears are
afraid of us!"
with all Pixar films, Docter had to help guide the story
through many changes from its initial concept (one of
the initial central characters was a 32 year old man),
which is discussed in a separate Digital Media FX feature
surrounded himself with a strong team, including Lee Unkrich
who, like Docter, had also been a supervising animator
on Toy Story. For Monsters, Inc. Unkrich
was a codirector.
with Pete has been great," says Unkrich. "He
is a brilliant animator and one of the nicest guys you
can imagine working with. He really inspires the crew
and has brought a tremendous sense of fun to this entire
who many think of as the "Walt Disney for the 21st
century" agrees with Unkrich, saying, "Pete
has done a great job. I knew from the beginning that he
was going to be a great director. His instincts are remarkable
and his sense of entertainment through movement is second
to none. On Toy Story I always relied on him and
there are many signature Pete moments in the film. We
share a natural curiosity for things. When he first came
to Pixar, he was always trying to figure out how computers
could be used for practical jokes. One of the key fundamentals
of directing is to have fun. And even though Pete has
been working harder than anyone I've ever known on this
film, he always had a smile on his face. You can't help
but love Pete and that shows in the film. If you have
a great attitude and everybody around you is having fun,
it will show on the screen."
can give out the compliments as quickly as he receives
really relied on John's experience and amazing eye throughout
the process. John basically invented this medium, and
he was such a help at every stage of the production, from
initial concept to the final frame of the film."
the mega-success of Monsters, Inc. at the box office,
people should be prepared to hear a lot more from Pete
Docter. As Pixar gears up to increase the rate in which
it releases animated movies, it will heavily rely on the
expertise of its visionaries. And Pixar has shown that
businesses are always improved when there's a Docter in
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