UltimateDisney.com > Interviews > Pete Docter & Bob Peterson, writers/directors of Disney/Pixar's Up

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Reviews | DVDizzy.com: DVD/Blu-ray Schedule | Pixar & Other Theatrical Animation | Upcoming Disney DVDs | Search

Pixar Films on DVD: Toy Story • A Bug's Life • Toy Story 2 • Monsters, Inc. • Finding Nemo • The Incredibles • Cars • Ratatouille • WALL•E • Up
Pixar Films on Blu-ray: A Bug's Life • Monsters, Inc. • Cars • Ratatouille • WALL•E • Up


Taking a break from recording dialogue for Carl Fredricksen, Ed Asner shares a laugh with "Up" directors Bob Peterson and Pete Docter.

On Carl Fredricksen...

Q: It isn't the first time Pixar chooses an old man as first character in a plot, I remember the wonderful short Geri's Game. But could you talk us about the challenge of the conception of a character like Carl, an lonely old man, in this film?

Pete Docter: Yeah, Geri's Game was great -- I got to animate a shot on it and was surprised by the challenge of animating an older guy. One of the biggest problems was to break habits we have as animators; we generally try to loosen up movement with things like overlapping action and nice fluid movements.
Watching real old men, we noticed there is a stiffness that comes with age -- your bones fuse and you tend to be less flexible. So we came up with some rules for ourselves: Carl can't turn his head beyond 15-20 degrees without turning his upper torso, for example. He can't raise his arms too high. Then we also wanted to have him grow more flexible at the end, so he transforms into an action hero and rejoins life.

Q: Who came up with the idea to cast Ed Asner as Carl?

Bob Peterson: Once Pete and I had arrived at the idea of doing an old man movie, the thought of Ed Asner came fairly early on. Good casting at Pixar is an exercise of balance. Woody in Toy Story could have been perceived as unappealing when he was jealous of Buzz if we had the wrong voice for him, but Tom Hanks brings such a natural appeal that he balanced any of Woody's negatives. The same with Ed Asner. Ed's soulfulness balanced his curmudgeon side. When Ed saw the small statue of his character when he came in to read for us he said, "It looks nothing like me!" We knew from that, that Ed was the perfect voice for Carl.

Days into his adventure, stubble starts to show up at the bottom of Carl's square head.

Q: Was it intentional to have Carl look like he's made of cubes? If so, why make him so blockish looking? Are all of the characters based on geometric shapes?

Peterson: Absolutely. Rick Nierva who is the production designer is a big fan of creating characters whose shapes give clues to their personalities. A cube is not something that rolls or moves fast - it is very stable - perfect for Carl. A circle can roll and move fast - great for Russell. The more realistic we go with our characters, the less appealing they become because humans have the great ability to discern what is real in a human face and what is not. Basing characters on shapes caricatures them, moves them away from reality, and in a way let's the audience's left brain relax so that they can be more involved with the emotional journey of the characters.

Going to the dogs...

Q: Did you consider using other animals than dogs as companions for Muntz?

Peterson: Not really. We felt that dogs could play a wide variety of roles in the film just as dogs do in our lives - from loveable companion to enforcers. Ulitimately a dog's unquestioning love fit well with what Carl needed in the film - to accept new relationships in his life. And simply...DOGS ARE THE BEST!!!

Dug the dog tries to make the best of his time in the Cone of Shame.

Q: Where did the character of Dug come from? What inspired that character?

Peterson: The reason for Dug being in the film is that we wanted to give Carl a new family after his wife passes on. We essentially gave him a family dog, a grandson...and a 12-foot flightless bird. You know, a family! It is up to Carl to accept this new family in the body of the film, thus doing what his wife would have wanted - to move on and forge new relationships.
Originally Dug and Kevin were with Carl alone (before Russell was created) and it turned out to a pretty quiet journey. Carl had no one to talk with so we invented the talking dog collars!

Q: How much of the dog collars was for comedy and how much of it was inspired by fact?

Peterson: We love comedy and we knew that the collars would provide plenty of laughs, peering into our beloved canine friends' brains. But more importantly, Dug is a mentor for Carl in that new relationships are always offered to us, and it is up to us to act on them.

Q: To Bob Peterson - did you model Dug's character after any real dogs you know?

Peterson: Of course! I've owned a lot of dogs in my life - Marcela, Rusty, Petey Pup, Precious, Rosy and Ava. Each were in love with life's simple pleasures, but being people in dog suits, as they seem to be, they each had a defined personality! Rosy, my present dog is very interested in squirrels! Also, I love to fool my dogs into thinking that I see something interesting for them. They'll be sitting around panting, and I'll join in, and then pretend I see something, suddenly, stopping the panting. They stop. Then I go back to panting. They go back. I love dogs!

Q: Bob - You said Dug is a mentor for Carl. Could you explain how?

Peterson: Russell is a bit easier to pinpoint as a mentor. His line "it's the boring things that I remember most" is meant to work at Carl and move him toward an appreciation of the small adventures in life. Dug's undying and immediate canine love "I have just met you and I love you," and "I was under your porch because I love you" is an indirect lesson for Carl that love is always around him, if he will only accept it.

Q: Bob, Dug is definitely an interesting character. Do you have fun voicing him? His characterizations are very engaging and likable. Do you ever see a feature film around Dug?

Bob Peterson: Thanks!! It was a thrill for me to voice him, mainly because I have been a dog owner/lover for my entire life. This dog collar idea let us animate Dug with true dog behaviors. I crafted Dug's voice around how I talk to me dogs. "Hiii you dawgs," I'll say with that Dug like voice. I also love how my dogs are interested in the simple things in life - balls, treats, SQUIRRELS!! Dogs to me have a soul - they're very emotional and I'm happy to pay homage to dogs with this character!

No, that's not Kirk Douglas, but Charles Muntz, well into his seventh decade as an adventurer.

Charles Muntz, adventurer...

Q: I've read a lot about the character of Carl as inspired by actor Spencer Tracy, but not so much about the source of Charles Muntz. Could you confirm if, in some way, it is inspired by actors as Errol Flynn or Clark Gable, funny adventurers?

Docter: Yeah, we looked at Spencer Tracy, Walter Matthau, James Whitmore... as well as our own grandparents. For Muntz we modeled him on strong, '30s era adventurous types -- Errol Flynn and Walt Disney were two inspirations, as well as real life adventurers like Roald Amundsen and Percy Fawcett.

Peterson: Charles Muntz in story terms is "Carl Fredriksen at the end of the line." In other words, if Carl had made it to Paradise Falls without accepting others into his life, then he would have gone crazy, wallowing in his unfinished quest. Carl is represented by a square shape. So as far as shape language, Muntz is a "collapsed square." He ended up having more diamond shapes as if a square has collapsed upon itself.
From real reference, we looked at the grand adventurers of the last century including Lindbergh. We looked at Howard Hughes, being a sort of inventor/adventurer. We also looked at photos of Errol Flynn and even the dapper photos of Walt Disney in the 1930s with his pencil thin mustache.

On South America...

Q: Of all the exotic locales in the world, why did you choose South America as the place of Carl and Russell's big adventure?

Peterson: We wanted our locale to reflect and resonate with Carl's emotional state in the film. The Tepuis, or table top mountains, of South America are old, isolated, rugged, dangerous but with a soulful beauty - a pretty good description of Carl! Going there gave us a good sense of what it would be like for Carl and his friends to be up there. In the film, we used a great many plants and rock shapes that we saw from the Tepui.

Q: Was there a draft of the script before you took this research trip to Venezuela, or was it more of a treatment/outline, which was shaped by the locations?

Peterson: We had a few drafts under our belt before we headed South. We workshop all of our stories until right before the film comes out, so we had some key elements of the story that were still in flux - mainly Charles Muntz. We hadn't figured out why he would go to South America and stay there for so long - the idea of Kevin the bird therefore was still being developed. We wondered about making Kevin more magical - the bird who lays golden eggs, or contained the secret to eternal life. In the end, we went with a more "conventional" primitive bird who's bones cause Muntz' Geographic society to doubt his credibility.

Q: Watching one of the special features titled "Adventure Is Out There", I was surprised to find out that six of the crew were left behind until a helicopter could return after weather conditions cleared up. Curious, were you guys scared out of your wits having to stay huddled inside the "Lou" during the storm, or did you all embrace the weather conditions and think "how are we going to incorporate this into our film"?

Docter: Bob and I were lucky enough to be in the first two helicopter trips, so we were already down when the storm closed in. I was in the last copter shuttle, and when we flew out we saw huge storm clouds closing in. The pilot said, "That's going to be the last trip up here for today." Uh oh... Once down, someone got us food, but we felt too guilty to eat, knowing our pals were still up there. I had stood in the Lou during an earlier downpour and it was pretty cramped quarters. I can't imagine anyone would have slept at all had they been stuck there -- neither the group on the mountain nor the group back on the ground! All part of the adventure, I guess.

Composer Michael Giacchino turns in his third Pixar score on "Up", for which he here collaborates with director Pete Docter.

The Music of Up

Q: How did Michael Giacchino come to the project? How was working with him?

Docter: Michael had worked with Brad Bird on The Incredibles and Ratatouille and of course did a great job on those. He's a true collaborator.
We started out talking through the film conceptually, discussing the things we were looking for -- like paying homage to the films of the '40s and '50s, the Disney films and Frank Capra and films like that. We wanted to evoke that kind of a feel. And then we went through sequences shot by shot sometimes and talked about the construction of the scenes and what I was hoping to achieve musically. Not necessarily like arrangements or anything like that, but more like, "Okay, it should start really low here, sneak in, and then build to this point.... and then jump out at us!" We'd talk more emotionally like that and then I'd leave it to Michael to write the music. He would play us these demos and we'd listen via teleconference, and anytime we'd have thoughts or suggestions, he would make changes, sometimes right on the spot. He was very open to whatever the film needed. He's a filmmaker. He really thinks about the storytelling and how music communicates to people. He's got range that a lot of film composers either don't have or don't utilize. His Ratatouille score doesn't sound like the Up score, which doesn't sound like The Incredibles or "Star Trek." Amazing.

On the Cannes Film Festival...

Q: What was your experience like taking the film to Cannes?

Peterson: It was like Alice going through the looking glass! Or another metaphor, it was like Pixar is a space administration and they sent us as astronauts to another planet. We kept pinching ourselves that it was real. Cannes after all welcomes amazing live action films with unique content. To be the first animated film to open the festival was an honor! The standing ovation after the film ended will be a memory I will always cherish.

Docter: Cannes was amazing. It was overwhelming, like something out of a fever dream. Here we are, a bunch of geeks who draw cartoons, being mobbed by reporters and fans, at one of the most prestigious international film festivals in the world... I kept thinking, "You've got the wrong guys!" But we think of what we do as filmmaking -- not anything more or less. We don't think we should get any special "free pass," or be seated at the little kids' table, just because we use animation to tell our stories. And being selected to open the Cannes Film Festival showed us that the film community feels the same way. It was very gratifying.

Q: Up became the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival. Do you believe animated features are becoming accepted as a more serious artistic platform?

Docter: We were very honored to be the first animated film to open the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Walking around there, I kept picturing Hitchcock, Coppola, Truffaut; these big time directors... and US?!?! It seemed like some sort of mistake! But we do look at our work as filmmaking, just like any other film. And it's nice to see the world looking at it that way as well.

Carl Fredricksen carries his treasured house on his back, with help from a garden hose and a few thousand helium balloons.

Wrapping up...

Q: When you release the final film is it like watching your kids go off into the world? You've shaped it, guided it along, and then you have to let them go and see how they do.

Peterson: Yes. It is interesting watching the movie for the first time at our wrap parties with our crew. We don't ever get to see our movies like a regular audience member because we lived through the creation of the film and see the memories brought forward by each shot and movement we see. When I look at my 14-year-old (who I don't want to grow up and go to college!), I see her as a 3-year-old at the pumpkin patch, the 5th grader at the spelling bee. Those memories are there. When our movies leave us, we hope we've given them enough love and sense to do great things in the world!!

Q: Is there anything about the movie that you're still not satisfied with? If you could go back and change one thing about the movie after the fact, what would it be?

Docter: We've trained ourselves to look for ways to improve our films at every turn.
120x600 Disney Parks Store
As John Lasseter says, we never actually finish our films, we just release them. So yes, every time I watch Up I see things I would change... cut out two frames here for better timing, add another gag there... but overall I am happy with it. (I'd better be after 5 years of work).

Q: In an earlier interview, Pete Docter said he modeled Russell after Pixar's Pete Sohn and a boy in his son's Boy Scout troop. Has the "real" Russell seen the movie, and if so, what does he think of it?

Docter: Russell's namesake, my son's friend, was happy with the film but told me we should add dinosaurs and a spy subplot to the story. (This is why I didn't show it to him until we were finished.) Jordan Nagai seemed to like it as well, though he said he didn't really recognize his own voice.

Q: What's the most rewarding thing you've learned or taken from making this movie?

Docter: Hmm, tough question. Overall I'd have to say that the best thing was the experience of making it -- the research, the work, and most of all the amazing people we got to work with. Bob is a swell chap and an amazingly talented fellow.

Q: With Up being a film that is so adventurous and exciting, if there was a ride or attraction for Up at Disneyland or Disney World, what would you both like to see?

Peterson: Pete Docter is so tall, that I think we could build a ride around him! Just string a gondola or ski lift up over his head, and you've got a great ride!! So far no plans for an Up ride, but of all of our films, with its adventurous flying and travel, Up seems like it would be a natural. As the voice of Dug, I'd love to have Dug appear in the theme parks somehow!

Q: What do you think it is the most important adventure in life?

Peterson: The great thing about this film and any film we work on is that it contains truths taken from our lives. Pixar lets the directors create an "autobiography." In other words, things that are important to us make it into the film. I do believe that the greatest adventures happen between me and my kids, my wife, and in small moments. A morning around the kitchen table eating breakfast is an adventure in my house!!!!

Peterson: Thanks, everyone! Great questions! Talk to you soon.

Docter: Well folks, it looks like it's time for me to get back to work. I'm back over in the development department, working on another original film. It's due out in 2014 and I'm already behind schedule. (Just kidding.) Nice talking to you all -- see you soon!

Buy Up: Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Amazon.com

Read our review of the Blu-ray & Deluxe DVD Combo / Up fun facts

Buy Up from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD + Digital Copy / 1-Disc DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

<< Back to Page 1

Related Interviews:
John Ratzenberger, Pixar's Good Luck Charm and 10-Time Voice Actor | Phyllis Diller, voice of the Queen in A Bug's Life
Nathan Greno and Mark Walton, Bolt and Super Rhino | Henry Selick, director of Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas

Related Reviews:
Up: Blu-ray & DVD Combo
New: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs • Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure • Walt Disney Treasures: Zorro - The Complete First Season
Pixar DVDs: Monsters, Inc. • Finding Nemo • WALL•E • Ratatouille • Cars • The Incredibles • Toy Story • Toy Story 2 • A Bug's Life
Also New: Peanuts 1970's Collection, Vol. 1 • Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse • Whatever Works
Pixar Blu-rays: Cars (Ultimate Gift Pack) • Monsters, Inc. • A Bug's Life • WALL•E
Starring Ed Asner: The Christmas Star | Featuring Christopher Plummer: National Treasure (2-Disc Collector's Edition
Ed Asner Voiceover Roles: Gargoyles: The Complete First Season • Freakazoid!: Season 1 • Spider-Man: The Venom Saga
The Emperor's New Groove • Saludos Amigos & The Three Caballeros (Classic Caballeros Collection) • Bolt • Coraline
Old Man Protagonists: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button • The Straight Story • Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume 1

UltimateDisney.com | DVD Reviews | DVDizzy.com: DVD/Blu-ray Schedule | Pixar & Other Theatrical Animation | Upcoming Disney DVDs | Search

Search This Site:

Published November 6, 2009.