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Pixar’s Pete Docter Reveals Terrors Directing ‘Inside Out’

Pixar's Pete Docter Reveals Terrors Directing 'Inside Out'

Last week, I saw the first two-thirds of “Inside Out” and got the chance to interview Pete Docter and several key animators, who you will read about in the lead up to the June 19th release. As you’ve witnessed from the trailers, Pixar is back at the top of its game with one of the most unique, ambitious, and emotionally resonant movies, taking us inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlin Dias), where we explore her five very animated emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader).

READ MORE: Previewing Pixar’s “Inside Out”

Speaking of fear, it’s a major thematic thread in all three of Docter’s movies. In fact, “Monsters, Inc.” was initially about an accountant whose fears come to life as monsters, and the idea for “Up” stemmed from his fear that work was becoming too oppressive, and he fantasized about running away. Of course, “Up” evolved eventually into a story about loss and the fear of never achieving your dream.

What I’ve always admired about the tall, lanky, and good-natured Docter is his willingness to embrace difficult stories, go to very dark places, and maintain his traditional roots. He’s never lost sight of the importance of drawing, and “Inside Out” represents the ultimate in the interplay between hand-drawn and CG. And you can’t get more abstract and caricatured than venturing off into Imagination Land, Long Term Memory, and Dream Productions.

Bill Desowitz: Last year at the sneak peek you told me that “Inside Out” is about the balance between Joy and Sadness. 

Pete Docter: You’ll have to see the rest to figure that out.

BD: When did you figure that out?

PD: Well, we knew early on from the first week of development or so that we wanted it to circle around that, but in terms of specifics, it was maybe in year three-and-a-half that I figured it out.

BD: During a memorable hike, I understand, when you faced a major story crisis.

PD: We decided there was so much importance on fear in junior high that maybe we should feature Fear for more entertainment value with Joy and send him along on this journey. So we did a whole pass with that and then I was realizing I don’t really know what it is Joy is going back to do. At the end of the film, without giving it away, she’s going to have to correct the error of her ways, which is the general story structure of most stories. But what is it she’s going to do and how is Fear involved in that? And I realized, well, it’s gotta be Sadness. And, specifically, it got to the point where we’re three-and-a-half years in and we needed story approvals and footage to go forward, and yet I was feeling like, this wasn’t working. What if I get fired? What if I quit? I could just quit….I could run away. You entertain these thoughts… and then what would happen? I’d miss my friends. I’d especially miss the friends that I’ve experienced the greatest joy and sadness and fear and anger with.

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And then I realized: Wait a minute — this is key to the story I’m telling right now at work. These emotions are vital to the most important things in our lives. Here I was thinking: if I had nothing in the world, I would want to hold onto my friendships, my relationships. And those relationships are central because of emotion. And so that really jazzed me and I called [my producer] Jonas [Rivera] on Sunday and we met for drinks with Ronnie and we re-conceived the film. We ended up having to stand in front of John [Lasseter] and Ed [Catmull] and say, “We don’t have a film to show you because it wasn’t working. But instead we’re gonna do this…” And we did a verbal pitch. They could’ve said you guys are in big trouble but instead they said it was absolutely the right call — go that way. It was a little scary at the time. We were supposed to be at a point where we were narrowing but we were going in a different direction. Sometimes that happens.

BD: It’s a good thing you found out in time.

PD: Yes!

Read the rest of the story via Immersed in Movies at Animation Scoop here.

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