Peter H. Docter was born October 9, 1968 in Bloomington, Minnesota. His mother, Rita was a music educator and has father, Dave, a retired choral director at Normandale Community College. Pete first gravitated toward animation at the age of eight by creating his own animated flip-books. That experience gave the blossoming artist a deep-seated love of illustration. On family vacations, the family would visit Disneyland and Pete instantly gravitated toward the Enchanted Tiki Room. He re-created the shrine to Hawaiian kitsch in his bedroom with figures made from carved foam rubber, feathers, coconuts, bamboo, palm fronds, doorbell electromagnets and whatever scrap materials he could scrounge from the garage.
After graduating from John F. Kennedy High School, Docter spent a year at the University of Minnesota. where he took philosophy classes and a couple of art classes. Docter moved on to California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), where he created several student films including Winter (about a boy who wants to play out in the snow, but once dressed, finds out he can’t move), Palm Springs (about a purple dinosaur named Sigmund, who likes to bounce on top of trees) and Next Door. He won a Student Academy Award for Next Door, a hand-drawn story about an old grump (with a square head) and an annoyingly perky neighborhood girl that sounds like an early draft of Up. The film almost died when half the cels he sent off to be filmed were lost in the mail. Docter laboriously re-drew the missing panels and turned the calamity into a joke. The final credits thank the U.S. Postal Service for misplacing his first draft.
In 1990, at the same time Pete was nearing graduation, Pixar was looking for its third animator (John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton). Lasseter contacted his old friend, Joe Ranft, who was teaching storyboarding at CalArts and Ranft thought Pete would be a good fit. Docter thought he would go to work for Disney, but was pleasantly surprised when Lasseter offered him a job. At a small company, Docter thought he would get his chance to try out many aspects of the filmmaking process and believed in John Lasseter, and his focus on story/characters. Docter was ready to go and even skipped his own graduation to begin work at Pixar.
He served as animator and co-wrote the original story on Toy Story, storyboard artist on A Bug’s Life and co-crafted the original story for the Toy Story 2. In 2001, he turned his attention to Monsters, Inc., for which he conceived the original story and took the director’s chair. Early versions of the storyline featured a 32-year-old man who had monsters show up that only he could see. As the story continued to develop, the adult figure was changed to an innocent young girl. Ultimately the movie is about a friendship between Sulley, a furry eight-foot monster, and a toddler named Boo. It’s also a friendship or “buddy” picture with Sulley and his monster pal Mike Wazowski.
The title Monsters, Inc. was suggested by Joe Grant (early titles included Hidden City and Monsters), the legendary Disney artist/storyman who co-wrote Dumbo and served as story director on the original Fantasia. Docter, a longtime admirer of Grant’s work, would frequently speak to Joe and discuss the project. The movie was a huge box office hit and also received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.
In 2004, he was asked by John Lasseter to direct the English translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle which was released by Disney in the U.S in June of 2005.
Also in early 2004, Pete and co-writer Bob Peterson, began playing around with the idea of a grouchy old man who sells balloons which eventually became Up. Pixar’s 10th feature film, tells the story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen, who sets out on the adventure of a lifetime by tying thousands of helium balloons to his house. The only problem is that Carl gains an unexpected traveling partner in 8-year-old Russell, a Wilderness Explorer Scout, whom he finds on his porch after lift off. Together they embark on a journey to remote South America in a quest to find the legendary Paradise Falls. Screenwriter Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent. The Visitor and Win Win) was also brought in to help shape the story.
Up was selected to open the Cannes International Film Festival, marking the first time an animated movie ever received that honor (and the first Disney film ever to be given the Cannes opening night spot). It’s also the first Pixar film to receive the 3D treatment.
As one of Pixar Animation Studios’ key creative contributors, Docter also garnered another Academy Award nomination for his original story credit on Wall-E.
Pete’s next Pixar film, Inside Out, is due out in June, 2015.
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