Pete Docter, Bob Peterson on Up’s Characters

(Taken from Suite101.com, written by the journalist Dominic von Riedemann. All the following material is copyrighted and belongs exclusively to Riedemann and its original publisher site, Suite101.com. No intends to infringe the copyrights, but with the only purpose to inform).

In this interview, Up writer/directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson discuss their favourite parts of the film, and some of the characters.

What more can one say about Disney/Pixar’s Up that hasn’t already been said?

After receiving a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming the 2nd most successful film in Pixar’s catalogue, and possibly the most beloved animated movie of 2009, the Pete Docter & Bob Peterson film is coming to Blu-Ray/DVD on November 2nd (click the link for a review).

Suite 101 joined Docter and Peterson in this roundtable interview, where they discussed developing the characters of Carl, Russell, Muntz and Dug, and the difficulties in animating old men.

One of the most amazing things in Up is the love story between Carl and Ellie: a true love beyond death. Could you explain the development of this crucial storyline?

Bob Peterson: “This love story was the movie’s spine. When we develop these films, we look for themes that guide us in how we tell the story. As the writing process progressed, we realized that our main theme was ‘How does a person define adventure?’

“Is adventure out there in great deeds, or can it also be between people in the small moments that make up a life? Carl and Ellie’s love story helped us tell that theme – that small moments lead to a life’s adventure.”

What was your favourite sequence in the film, and why?

Pete Docter: “I personally like the part we call ‘Married Life’ — the wordless section showing Carl and Ellie’s life together. I think it plays to the strengths of film and animation in general, letting the visuals tell the story. And it seems to hit home for people. The bookend to this sequence is also one of my favorites — where Carl looks through Ellie’s adventure book (towards the end of the film).”

Dug is definitely an interesting character. His characterizations are very engaging and likable. Did you have fun voicing him?

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 behaviours. 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!”

Where did the character come from? What inspired it?

Bob 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 gave him a family dog, a grandson . . . and a 12-foot flightless bird. You know, a family!

“It’s up to Carl to accept this new family in the body of the film, thus doing what his wife would have wanted him to do – move on and forge new relationships. Originally Dug and Kevin were with Carl alone (before Russell was created). Carl had no one to talk with, so we invented the talking dog collars!”

Did you consider using other animals than dogs for Muntz’s companions?

Bob 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. Ultimately, 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!!!”

Did you model Dug’s character after any real dogs you know?

Bob 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, they each had a defined personality! Rosy, my present dog, is very interested in squirrels!!”

Which character from Up do you most relate to?

Pete Docter: “I relate most to Carl. I find myself griping about how they changed this or that, or how music these days is a bunch of noise. I’m going to make an excellent old man.”

This isn’t the first time Pixar has used an old man as a main character; I remember the wonderful short ‘Geri’s Game.’ Could you tell us the challenges in conceiving a character like Carl, a 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 our biggest problems was to break habits we have as animators; we try to loosen things up with overlapping action and nice fluid movements. Watching real old men, we noticed there’s 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. We also wanted to have him grow more flexible at the end, so he transforms into an action hero and rejoins life.”

I’ve read that Carl was inspired by the actor Spencer Tracy, but not so much about the source of Charles Muntz. Is Muntz inspired by actors like Errol Flynn or Clark Gable?

Pete Docter: “Yeah, for Carl we looked at Spencer Tracy, Walter Matthau, James Whitmore, as well as our own grandparents. For Muntz we modeled him on strong, 1930’s era adventurous types: Errol Flynn and Walt Disney were two inspirations, as well as real life adventurers like Roald Amundsen and Percy Fawcett.”

(In Part #2 of this interview, Pete Docter and Bob Peterson discuss the character of Russell and the hazards of doing research in South America.)

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