Going Inside Out with Pete Docter

Pixar is back at the top of its game with Inside Out, 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).  I saw the first two-thirds at Pixar early this month, and got the chance to interview Pete Docter and several key collaborators, who I will cover separately in the lead up to the June 19th release.

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.

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.

Read the rest at Animation Scoop/Indiewire.

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Crafts, Movies, previs, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production

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