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Pixar's Pete Docter on Making Movies (and a Little Piedmont Film Gossip)

Docter peppered a fundraiser talk about the fine art of creating animated movies with some local anecdotes

Pixar tidbits:

The character Russell in the film Up was inspired in part by a Piedmont High School student.

The voice of Ellie in the same movie is that of Elie (with one "L"), daughter of Pete Docter, a long-time creative force at Pixar Animation Studios and a Piedmont resident.

A monster's dilemma in Monsters, Inc. reflects some of Docter's own feelings when his son was born.

And, as many Piedmonters know, nearby had a bit role in Up.

Docter entertained a crowd at a fundraiser for the recently with the occasional local anecdote and lots more stories of how an animated film is made at Pixar.

The answer to "how" is with lots of attention to detail and by writing stories that appeal to the kid in all of us.

Docter, the director of Pixar's Up and Monsters, Inc., brought the process of movie-making to life with photos and clips from movies and interviews. 

The first clip showed a lamp discarded by its owner, and throughout the clip you feel for the lamp, empathizing with being tossed aside. And that is the magic of Pixar. The studio makes movies that make us care about a toy or a fish or a car.  

Docter also traced how the story for Monsters, Inc. developed. It started with the germ of an idea, monsters working in a union, and became the concept that monsters are real and that they scare kids for a living.

The turning point for Docter in the Monsters, Inc. story development came with the birth of his son Nicholas (now a 10th grader at PHS) and the feeling of being torn between work and family. In the film, the monster Sulley, having accidentally brought a little girl back to Monstropolis, is torn between taking care of the girl or focusing on being "top scarer" on the job.

Just as real-life experiences shape the creation of stories, so do people, places and things close to home affect the development of a film. In Up, Docter said, the character Russell was inspired by two real people - a workmate at Pixar and one of his son's best friends (also a sophomore at PHS and also named Russell).

The famous burger cake at Oakland's Merritt Bakery made it into Up, as did the voice of Docter's daughter. Elie agreed to be the test voice for the character Ellie and, in the end, the talent scouts liked her voice best, Docter said. 

Docter also dispensed a bit of advice to budding animators.

"Dispose of the idea that you'll get it right the first time," he said, because animation is a "messy and organic process."

Once you have something to show, find people you respect and have them watch it, he recommended.

"And then shut up," suggested Docter. If you have to defend it, then something isn't working, he said.

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