When filmmaker Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.”) was trying to figure out an idea for his next movie, a peculiar image started to float around in his brain.

“I just drew this picture of a house floating with balloons, and something about that seemed very evocative,” Docter explained in a recent phone interview. “We started just thinking, ‘Well, who’s in the floating house, and how did they get there and where are they going?’”

Figuring out the answers to these questions led to the concept for “Up,” the latest entry in the Disney/Pixar hit parade. The film focuses on the life of Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner, TV’s “Lou Grant”), a diminutive 78-year-old man who ties thousands of balloons to his house so he can fly to South America, and Russell (newcomer Jordan Nagai), the Boy Scout who smuggles a ride aboard.

Early drafts of the screenplay had Carl and Russell going to a tropical island. Eventually, though, Docter decided to send the characters somewhere more original and turned to South America’s Tapui mountains for inspiration.

Docter acknowledged the unorthodox choice to anchor a family-friendly film with an old man as its protagonist, but he noted that he and the other Pixar filmmakers never think about marketability during the production process.

“We make these films for ourselves,” he explained. “We just think about, ‘Is this interesting to me, as a person, as an audience member? Am I engaged? Do I care?’”

And so far, it seems like the Pixar people know what they’re doing. The animation studio’s films have had an unprecedented success rate, raking in several Oscars as well as billions of dollars.

Still, Docter notes that making an animated film isn’t all fun and games.

“You’re working on cartoons, happy, fun, Pixar la-la land, but it is, you know, there comes a point where you start to think of yourself as a failure if you don’t get this done,” he said.

“Up” wasn’t immune to this pressure, and many challenges were present in the film’s creation.

“Every film we’ve gone through, it seems like there’s some new technological hurdle,” Docter said.

He found designing the characters and setting to be the most taxing challenge.

“This was a story where the main character floats his house to South America. It’s a completely implausible idea. And if we could somehow create a caricature world, I think we felt like we could make that a lot more believable and real to the audience than if you made it super-realistic.”

“Up” will also mark another milestone for being the first Pixar movie to be released in 3-D.

Docter explained that a separate “3-D Team” was formed after the film’s initial conception to follow the main crew around and implement the extra dimension. They had to be conscious of things that wouldn’t work in 3-D, like objects breaking the edge of the frame as they rush towards the audience.

Docter said he was also very careful not to rely on throw-things-at-the-audience types of gags.

“The screen is almost like a window looking into this world,” he said, summarizing the angle they were approaching the new dimension from. “We’re not selling 3-D. We’re selling the story itself, and the 3-D’s going to be in support of that.”

The fruits of Docter’s labors can be seen when “Up” takes flight nationwide on May 29th.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.