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From ABC, this is the 10 percent happier podcast. I'm Dan Harris. Hello, gang, we are all creatives, whether we think of ourselves that way or not, some of us may be traditional creatives and that we paint or write or something like that. But for everybody else, think about it in so many aspects of your life, from planning your future to planning your next meal, to curating your social media, you need to be able to both envision and then execute.
And how you work with your mind in these moments is key. So today we're going to hear from a master creator, the mind behind brilliant Pixar movies such as InsideOut Up and the recently released Soul. He's going to talk about how to run a creative process at the highest possible level, all of which you can interpolate back to your life. I have a six year old and in my opinion, one of the worst parts of the job of being a dad is sitting through insipid children's entertainment.
But the films I mentioned just a few moments ago Up Inside Out and Soul have been both thrilling and moving to consume.
They're also really funny and they work on separate levels, one for me and one for my kid. My guest today is Pete Docter, who directed all three of those films. He's also the chief creative officer of Pixar.
He also and this won't surprise you, happens to be a meditator and a practicing Christian whose films are each motivated by a big pressing question he's posing to himself about his own life. In this conversation, he takes us inside the making of his films, most notably Soul, for which he and his team really had to invent an entire coherent metaphysical scheme to explain both the afterlife and the before.
We also talk about how his spiritual practices support his storytelling endeavors and how to power through the pain, frustration and embarrassment of trying to make something truly original to quick personal notes before we dove in here.
Personal note number one.
Yes, Pete and I both happen to work for Disney, but that is not why I invited him on the show. As you may have noticed, we don't do a ton of Disney themed episodes here. Not that I have anything against Disney. I love Disney, but I'm not trying to provoke your skepticism on the regular. I invited Pete on because I was blown away by soul and really wanted to hear how it was made to learn more about his creative process so I could take those lessons and apply it to my own often torturous creative work.
Personal note number two, I got to say it restores my faith in humanity to talk to a big time Oscar winning movie director and have him be so available and engaged and down to earth. This has not been my experience.
Every time I talk to big name Hollywood types, and I suspect you, too, will be impressed. Actually, I do want to say one last thing before we dove into the episode, this is an ask of you. We would really appreciate it if you could take a few minutes to help us out by answering a survey about your experience with this show. We take the show really seriously. We care a lot about our listeners and we are always looking for ways to improve.
So please go to 10 percent dotcom forge survey to do us a solid thank you. All right. Here we go now with Pete Docter. Pete Docter, this is a big gift for us. Thank you very much for doing it. Well, it's good to be here. I suspect there may be a few.
Human beings who haven't yet seen saw for them, could you just describe what the movie is?
Oh, boy. Yeah, it's one of those where, like, gee, if I could have described it, I wouldn't have had to make the movie. It's basically an attempt to investigate. What is it that life's all about? Why are we waking up in the morning? What are we doing with our lives? What are we? Is there a goal? Is there are like are we born with a purpose? I'm obviously the sort of high level in terms of the movie itself.
It's about a soul who doesn't want to die, who meets a soul, who doesn't want to go live. So that's like the simple elevator pitch, if you will.
And just to get this out of the way, I'll probably have said this in the introduction. It's phenomenally good. And I watched it the day it came out with my six year old son. And I watch it again the other day. We both loved it. Two times, so I you watch it many, many more times, and just to say a few more things about the basics of it.
The star is Jamie Fox, a jazz musician. Can you pick up from there in terms of describing what the story is?
Yeah, he's a guy who feels like I was born to play. I was born to be a musician and sort of as a stopgap, he took a job as a teacher. He's not happy. But finally, one day, he finally gets to audition and succeeds with one of his idols, this jazz legend. He gets the gig only to then later on in the afternoon, fall into a manhole and die. And so now he's desperate to not go into the great beyond.
He wants to get back to Earth, ends up in a place we call the great before where we are all given our personalities, our sense of who we are, which is, of course, something we we made up for the film. So far as I know, maybe it really exists, I don't know.
But it did kind of come up. I have a kid, a couple of kids too, and looking back at photos of them when they were first born, you realize and I could see who they were right off the bat the moment they were born, they had their own sense of personality.
And this film kind of was sparked by that idea of looking into where did we get that? How is it that I'm more curious than my sister who's more dignified or whatever, you know, those kind of things. What gives us that sense of individuality? Where does it come from?
I have so many questions for you. Where to start. You obviously know Hollywood better than I do. I've had a few interactions as a East Coast journalist type. I've had a few interactions with Hollywood.
They've all been interesting, but I can't imagine it would be easy for somebody to come up with an idea as big as the one you've described, sort of like what is life all about as the germ of a movie that would then be funded by a major studio. How do you pull that off? You say, hey, look, this is for Quadrant man, everybody.
No, I don't. It's when you say, you know, Hollywood, I don't know that. I really do. I work at Pixar, which is up in the Bay Area of Northern California, where, you know, miles, miles away from Hollywood. We have obviously these ties with Disney who distribute all our work and we're partners with them. But we do enjoy a little bit of an autonomy being up here in this weird bubble. And I guess just to say it, our success has allowed us to be able to kind of say, hey, we're going to do this and take some risks.
So obviously, everything we do, we run past them.
But yeah, I think they're willing to say, all right, well, we didn't think an old man with a floating house is going to work either. Now, you guys pulled that off, so go for it. You know, which is pretty nice.
You're referencing up. I am pretty open. I don't know if I've ever said it publicly. I'm certainly open with my child that I don't like children's films, but I loved up. Oh, I thought up was really extraordinary.
Well, we try to make them not necessarily for kids. You know, we think of them mainly as movies that I would want to watch, that we ourselves as filmmakers. And that's kind of who we're targeting at the beginning, is finding something that is intriguing to me as a person that I want to wake up and think about every day for the five years it's going to take to make this movie. And then along the way, most of us do have kids and we're conscious of our audience and all that.
But at the heart of it, I mean, I think that's how we got to a film like this is me being a middle age guy now going, oh, boy, I'm suddenly aware of my mortality more than I was when I was young.
And what is it that I'm using my limited amount of time left on this planet to do what's making me happy? What am I what are my goals? All those things are really at the heart of what this film is about.
How do you go from that big pressing question to an unbelievably entertaining. Movie, I can't imagine that's easy. No, it's actually it's quite easy. First, surround yourself with incredibly talented people and then allow yourself to make a lot of mistakes. And actually, that's not easy at all. But our process is we try desperately hard to make the best movie we can and then we fail and then we get back up and do it again and we fail.
So by the time you see the movie, we've generally made six or seven versions of the movie. Actually, we do that before we animated. So the movie itself is being written to some degree, but largely storyboarded, which is kind of like a comic book version of the movie. And then we put that together with our own dialog and sound effects and we can sit back and watch kind of a pretty close approximation of what the movie will feel like at very least.
Do you enjoy that process or do you find it torturous or both? Yeah, both.
Yeah, exactly. It's fun. You have to be delusional every time you go into this, because if I'm conscious of all the pain and mental anguish that is going to cause I'm not going to do this again. You know, it's you go home a lot of days saying, why did I think that I could ever pull this out? Well, who who gave me I'm this is going to be awful disaster. So it's really kind of at least for me personally, often very demoralizing to watch the reality of when it's an idea.
Oh, man, I had this great interaction. Joe Grant, he was head of story on Dumbo and worked with Walt Disney and stuff. And we were sitting around for dinner and a group talking about the state of filmmaking. And he was ninety six. At this point, somebody was saying, this film's done, this film is dumb. Doesn't anybody have any good ideas? And Joe kind of laughs and because they're all a good idea, until you have to tell someone else, which is so true, like in your own head, it's brilliant.
But then when you put it out there, it just nine out of ten times just doesn't work.
I believe it was Isaac Asimov who said creation is embarrassing. Oh, yeah. Yeah.
And so you want to be surrounded by people you're comfortable being embarrassed in front of and whose opinion you trust.
Yeah, it's a vulnerable process. And that's especially true towards the beginning when it really is lousy. Your first draft to your first story reels. You know, we put this thing up and most of the time you're like, you got to be you've got to have some experience to see through all the gunk to know that there's a core of something, because it's so easy to say that didn't work, that didn't work in your brain just starts to go, this is dumb and you just judge it and turn it off, you know?
So part of the trick and even in the job I'm in now, which is trying to assist other people to make these movies like try to see through the weeds of the things that are getting in my way and go, OK, here's the target. This is what we're aiming for. There is something really worthwhile here.
So you're not only the primary driving force on certain movies, you're also helping other people make their movies.
Yes. Now, that's true of everybody, because the way we work, as I say, once we do one of these story reels, we put it up in front of everyone. So all the other filmmakers are helping each other. But then in my particular case, as the CEO, I'm also kind of that's my job is to kind of corral all the creative work that goes forward and figure out how to how to set up these teams in the best possible way, how to set up the production schedule, anything that needs adjusting so that we can really maximize and make this a great thing.
I read Ed Campbell's book a few years ago, one of your colleagues from Pixar who describes this process now remembering that I read that book and it sounds actually as a creative, you know, I do a different kind of creation than you do, but that sounds incredible to be have so many great minds around the table helping you make something.
Yeah, it really is.
I mean, a lot of times you forget about it because you're so you're so nervous about what you're putting forward that you fail to take into account the brilliant people we have and the amazing opportunity to work with other people.
Because I think what happens a lot of times in the process, like showbusiness, is such a weird thing. I remember Joe, another Joe. I knew Joe Ranft, who is our head of story on Toy Story. He said, yeah, they call it show biz, part show, part biz. And there's a lot of times that the biz part grows so big that you end up working with people who have never actually been in the show. Part of it, you come with your script or whatever, and they're judging it based on what they think it will make at the box office or how they think what kind of age group it'll appeal to and things.
And, you know, we're so lucky to be able to interact with and gain wisdom from other people who are entirely in the show or part of the thing, and they know what we're up against. So as a director and when something doesn't work and someone suggests something Brad Bird says, you know, you could do. I know he as a filmmaker is seeing that suggestion in his head.
So it's a legitimate solution. It's not just a hot air or anything.
It's pretty amazing. And the best people can leave you alone because your track record is so incredibly strong.
You well, knock on wood. Yes, so far.
And again, I don't want to make it sound like they're the bad guys or anything. You know, I think they are an equal and essential part of the whole thing. You know, these movies would never reach people if it weren't for the biz people. But I think it's essential that we both have a healthy respect for each other. You began this conversation by saying that you had this kind of nine question in your mind as a middle aged man about sort of what's your life all about?
What are you spending your time? Well, in the years it took you to make this film, did you arrive at something approximating an answer?
Yeah, and I think it's there in the film. It is for me. I don't know if it speaks to you, but I'll say, like for a lot of us and I know we're maybe a minority, but we're very lucky people like me who have found something that they love, that they have a passion for pretty early in their lives. I mean, for me, it was like I was eight, I think, making flip books in the corners of my math book.
And that just led on a path through my whole life of being amazed by movement, storytelling, animation. That's what's got me here. And yet, I mean, really what happened was after InsideOut, which for me was such a I can't imagine writing or making a film that would be more successful in some ways. And by almost any definition of that, you know, we were financially successful.
We got awards, we had nice critical reviews. And many people tell me that the film has been used by them and by psychologists to help gain deeper understanding specifically with their kids. So, boy, I don't know how you could ask for more than that. And yet when it was all done, I found myself saying. Well, now what? For some reason, I guess in the back of my head, I was thinking everything would be at peace and wonderful and whole and I would now be able to, I don't know, transcend to heaven or I don't know what I thought.
But it didn't really put everything together in a neat package. I was still the same person. I still had the same issues and problems. And I think there is this narrative that we often create in our heads that if I just accomplish X, it will fix everything. And so this film at its core is looking into that. And I think the answer I came to is, though I still suck at this, trying to be as present and appreciative for moment to moment things, things that I might otherwise just walk past and often do.
And that's like a obviously a practice and a discipline. And it's not something most people are born able to do, but I'm trying to get better at it.
It does. To answer an earlier question from you, it does come through in the film. I don't want to say exactly how, because I don't want to spoil anything, but it really does come through in some very simple and beautiful ways. Cool. Having said that, I'm curious to know from you, what are you due to work on your capacity to sort of be awake in your life rather than sleepwalking?
Well, some of it is just habit. I back when things were normal, I would walk to work, which is extra time. And I know not everybody lives close enough to be able to do that. But that was a real luxury which allowed me to just like smell and feel and look. And and I would try to not you know, I'd get into a habit once in a while listening to podcasts. And those are wonderful. But somehow just unplugging and forcing yourself to be more cognizant and aware is huge.
I do think there's something that a lot of artists who keep a sketchbook, there's a real connection there because the act of drawing forces you to see more deeply. I can glance at something a hundred times, but if I have to draw it imprints in my brain in a way that I'm really focused on form and interaction. And so I think that's another good trick. And then, you know, I've gotten in and out of meditation and prayer and things like that that I think are probably even more essential than I have given them space for in my life.
But that, I think, is another way in and out.
How so? Just struggling with habit formation. Yeah, exactly. It's not like I don't want to, but usually, like, I was on a kick where every morning I'd give myself a half an hour part time just to meditate and have to pray. And then I would get to a place where I'm like, well, if I'm late, I'm going to have to skip that and go right to the work part. And that's it's so easy to do.
And I seem to be better at like I actually have even in covid a fairly regular routine of workout. Doing aerobic exercise seem to be better at that than the mental thing. And I think it probably comes back to I grew up in the Midwest and there is a little bit of like, well, I don't know how much of that stuff is really is that really real? The whole meditation thing, it might be kind of just made up or California or what.
So it could be that there's a part of me anyway. And I'm probably fairly common with people to not give that one hundred percent credit for being an actual thing. You're in a friendly place for that kind of skepticism.
I wonder, though, if one other thing that might help for you is kind of lowering the bar by saying 30 minutes is a big ask, especially early, maybe three minutes. Five minutes.
Yeah. And I've been pretty open to. Just whatever time I can get, at least having something is better than nothing, but even there I do kind of you know, it only takes a day or two and you're out of the habit, at least for me. But that's a good thought to maybe be a little less ambitious at the beginning. Yeah.
And also to you know, it's interesting what you just said about it takes a day or two and you're out of the habit. That's actually just a story you're telling yourself. We're talking about stories here that is a story. And actually, you could say, oh, no, it's common for me to miss a few days, but that doesn't mean I've lost the habit. I could just start back up again. Nothing's been lost.
Yeah. And then and you're right. There's only it only takes a day or two and you're back in the habit. So the habit is just always there maybe is what you're saying.
Exactly. It's just whatever you do. Yeah.
So you mentioned prayer. What tradition do you come out of when we're talking about prayer? I grew up Lutheran and then married into Presbyterian.
And I think that whole tradition has been a constant deepening and learning for me too, because my understanding of what I thought Christianity was 30 years ago is very different than it was even two years ago versus now.
It's constantly shifting and growing. And I think that's. Probably what and I'm speaking out of ignorance here, but most of the holy scripture is in whatever religion, I think they have this incredible depth, at least within the Bible, like you think, oh, I know this story. It's about Noah and he's the flood. And the punch line is this.
And, you know, but then you read it and it's way more complicated and there's confusing, self-contradictory stuff. Like what? As a young guy, I thought, well, that kind of proves that it's faulty, that somebody screwed up along the way. And as I get older, I'm realizing, oh, that's depth, that's richness. And it causes you to think and I think that's a really good story. Isn't told to you. It's created in your own head.
It's allowing you to be a part of the story and you're essential to it. You know, I want to be careful in saying I'm not suggesting that it's all made up and it's up to us to figure it out ourselves. But I do think we are essential to the formation of those ideas. I'm just coming up with this as we talk. So I thought it through.
This may be hard to answer, but you said your sort of conception of what Christianity is about has evolved. How would you describe your current understanding? Hmm.
Well, that's a long conversation. I don't know if we but and probably more than I'm able to even answer.
But I guess in short, I don't know that I ever really literally believed in an old guy with a big beard sitting on a throne. But the more I start to unpack and learn about what I feel God is, the more I'm not able to talk about it. Almost the concept of God gets bigger, it becomes more all encompassing and yet also more specific at the same time. I mean, it's a mystery for sure. And I think I would be a fool to try to explain it.
But I guess that's kind of why we tell stories like this, to talk about things that are beyond our human ability to rationally discuss with logic, language. You know, you got to use art language.
It would it be safe, a reasonably safe summary, to say that maybe your understanding is a bit more molecular than intellectual?
Sort of in your bones in some way. Oh, I see what you mean. Yeah. I mean, like I say, I feel like I've moved away from the idea of a person and now I'm almost like there's a lot of stuff in the film, even where it's more geometric or energy. The more I learn about science, the more I kind of feel like, oh, God is in that as well. String theory. I mean, it's all going to it could be easily disproven if you look at it from a scientific point of view, but it.
Yeah, just feels more. I think you're right, it's I still feel as though there is an intelligence to it, to God, but it seems less centered in like a single being and more of like all pervading somehow. But this is just the way I understand it. I mean, obviously, there's a lot of many, many different ideas. In fact, working on the film, you know, one of the great benefits was getting to talk to people from all these different traditions and understandings of that and the soul and, you know, life and so on.
And I think, again, as I get older, I feel the less need to say, that's right and that's wrong. When I was younger, I felt like, well, clearly there is going to be one of these religions. That's correct. And the other ones then by definition, are false. And this idea is either right or wrong. And now as I get older, I'm sort of more open to the ideas that are in there and inspired by them and energized by them.
You've brought me right where I was really most hoping to go in this interview, which is to talk about the metaphysics of the film, how you turned that into. An engine for a story, I want to hear how you got there, but could you start by just describing the rules of the game? There's the great beyond and the great before and the mentors and the and the mystical zone. Can you just describe that for folks?
Yeah, yeah. OK, so our thought in the film, people are born with a personality. Where did that come from? Well, there's this place called the Great before where as a raw, unformed soul, which are more or less everybody's kind of identical at this point. Now we go through these different pavilions and we're given different personality attributes to be that optimism, perfectionism, responsible, whatever those attributes are. And then when you're ready, when you're deemed ready, the councilors who are kind of like just guiding everything, they're not telling you where to go.
They're just making sure that there's not a big pile up over there in the corner. You know, they decide, all right, you're ready to go and off you go. And along the way, we thought there are some souls that just for whatever reason, the mix of who they are have a little more trouble getting ready to go to Earth. They just and so maybe what if we brought up souls who had lived already on Earth to help them understand what they're in store for?
So we have in the film the idea of mentors, souls that have led successful lives. The universe says, hey, we're going to ask you, could you do this? It's not required. You don't have to. But it would be great if you could help us out and get some of these souls that are having trouble. So we have Albert Einstein and Mother Teresa and all the great people that are up there, which is, of course, a lot of fun from an entertainment standpoint to be able to access that stuff.
And then hopefully in the case of muscles, that does the trick and they're ready to go. In our film, we thought, well, what if there's one soul who doesn't want to go? As long as the soul been there? I don't know. As we developed a story, we realized maybe he or she has been there so long that her number is number twenty two. She's like the twenty second soul that was ever formed and now we're on to one hundred eight billion know.
So it's been a long time. And that seemed intriguing because then you get into kind of nihilism, you know, this idea of looking down and this is easy to understand. A lot of times you look around at what's going on in the world and you're like, this is like ultimate meaninglessness. It just is absurdity. Why would anyone choose to come into this mess? So that's kind of where we started, actually. And then we thought, well, all right, maybe the soul who has to talk her into it, it's more of like, well, for one, an optimist, but even philosophically, an essentialist, a guy who believes I was born to play music.
You know, I was born with this innate sense of purpose. And then the trick of the story was how to mislead the audience along with our main character to believe that and then flip it at the end, because we're kind of where we end up, I think is more or less existentialism. This idea that, yes, there is essence and purpose, but you have to figure that out yourself. You have to bring it as opposed to being given it at the beginning.
So we did quite a bit of what we call world building. It's just kind of playing around with those kind of ideas at the beginning. As I look back at our schedule, I think like the first year we were just trying to figure out the mechanics of the rules and then always interacting with, OK, what does that do for our character? If we change this or that, how does it change the journey into the storytelling?
And you just try it out and then you test it on each other, talk it through, pitch it and see what how people respond. Really, the reason we do so many versions of the story is I feel like you're trying to. You're trying to discover the best way to put this feeling that you have into practice the most strong way to do it, because, you know, there's like I say in this film, we had pretty radically different at least three or four radically different stories.
But as I look back in time, I don't think the emotional take away was as strong as where we got to. And that's ultimately what you're why you're kind of testing all these products, so to speak, is to is to see how is it going to react, how are people going to react?
How is it going to communicate? Right. Because you've got to make the world. But that's in some ways kind of the structure that is like unseen by most consumers, especially the six year old consumers. They're just latching on to the character. Do I care about this person or these people and what's going to happen next? Absolutely.
InsideOut was more exaggerated this way. Any time we change the blocking of the characters, the whole world would change. You know, we'd come up with different ideas for well, I'm trying to think of a specific example, but even if you've seen that film, there's like the islands of personality. Yes. We took them away for a while. We just we knew we wanted to design the world the joy needed to get back to headquarters. So we had this big chasm.
And how do you get back the mechanics of all that changed? And so you can't just come at it from how does the mind really work? How am I going to design this metaphor for the mind? It was actually more built for the needs of the mechanics of the story, like how do I get from point A to point B and how do I block that character from getting what she wants? That was a huge process that was very interactive with the design of the world.
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And I can't remember the name of this place, but can you describe it and how it's accessed or is that like are you talking about the Hall of everyone?
It's where people on Earth go when they're in the zone. Oh, yeah.
Let's see what we call that. We call that the astral plane. Yeah. So, OK, so just full disclosure, as you get into stuff, you have no idea what you're doing and you just hunt around. You read a lot and you're like somebody you read about, oh, when you meditate, you go into this astral zone like, OK, let's try that. And maybe we can in our story say that it's connected or closer to the great before because it feels like that, right.
As you're dreaming or thinking. You kind of. I know, but you for me it feels like the rest of the world, even if I keep my eyes open, it kind of fogs out and goes away and I become somewhere else. And then you our thought was, well, let's just set some scenes here and start playing around.
And then as you get into it, you recognize how it can all fit together to further our main character.
Now, this is going to sound like you're insane, backwards engineering kind of thing, because I, I think most people's idea of story is like you nail your theme on the wall and you start here and you structure it so that everything is built properly to end where you need to go. My process has been more that these stories are not made. They're discovered. And so you learn from all these attempts. A lot of times they don't work out.
You do a sequence or a scene and you're like, well, that was interesting, but it doesn't further the story. So it gets dumped. But along the way, we found these other things that we can use over here. So, yeah, it's a big discovery process. And I think I totally veered off from what you were asking about, but in a delightful way.
The astral plane is super interesting just from the worldbuilding standpoint. But you also use it as a way to further the plot and some very key moments, because there are people on Earth who know how to get up there to the astral plane and then can impact the character. Yeah, yeah. You're the main characters who are stuck there or hiding out there. Yeah, yeah.
And so, yeah, when we started we thought, OK, there are these people that we've all known that just got back from Burning Man. They're always meditating and doing all this kind of trippy stuff, maybe LSD or whatever. And so we thought let's parody kind of a guy like that, but in an unexpected way. We gave him a British accent and we had a whole backstory. Almost every character in the film, we end up going into great detail on somewhere in a story meeting.
And then what shows up on the film is like a small sliver of all that. But, you know, we had a whole backstory for this character, Moon Wind, that he used to be a stockbroker. He's actually financially very wealthy. But he took this science spending job just because he loves going into the zone. And that's the trigger for him in the same way some people might with cooking or playing basketball. For him, it's the sign spinning that gets him there.
Our thought was to kind of first just have fun with it, see where it leads, and then use it as a story, exploration of the theme that we're talking about.
And I think one of the great discoveries for us where these characters, The Lost Souls, which the idea was, I don't know about you, you see like people wandering sometimes the street or whatever, and you can just have the sense that they're lost, that they're just walking through life and they're not connected to anything or anyone. And I feel really bad. So that was our thought of these characters at the beginning. But as we got into it, we realized, you know, there are other people who are so into something that they're equally lost, that they're so into could be science, could be animation, could be almost anything that ends up disconnecting you from life.
It's the same thing potentially. Right. Music could connect you intimately with other people and the world, but it could also separate you. So it's really how you use it. And so the muscles were a representation of kind of Joe, as our main character is so into this, he has this passion. If he goes too far, that's kind of where he could end up on Moon.
When you mentioned this character, this kind of mystical guy who was able to go, he's a living earthling, but he's able to ascend to the astral plane and then impact our main characters. He as you said, he was a sign spinner. If you haven't seen the film or if you haven't been to New York City, there are people who hold signs for stores nearby and they grab your attention to grab your attention. And just like a Sufi who's doing whirling dervish dancing.
And getting into the zone that way, this guy was spinning the sign is accessing the astral plane, and it just got me wondering, you've made a brief reference to this, but like did you aside from all the reading you did, did you actually consult mystics on this aspect of the world?
We did. We did. We had a couple of folks who came in who actually wanted to take us on journeys and SHOMAN.
So we had a guy who we met through the California UC Berkeley who kind of he described himself, I think, as an accidental shaman. He was studying culture in South America. And somebody he was staying with ended up being a shaman, taught him.
And so he talked about like, what do you see when you go on these journeys? You know, what does it look like? Any clues we could get that we could use to help design the world? It was super useful. And then we, of course, talked to rabbis and experts in Hinduism, Buddhism, pretty much the main religions that we could find and then a number of offshoots.
So but it's impossible. I mean, there's hundreds of thousands. So impossible to cover it all over multiple lifetime thing. But, you know, we got a lot of great things. Initially, we were there because we wanted to make sure not to offend anybody. We were looking for hot trigger buttons that, you know, for example, in this world of souls, are they all new souls? Are we saying there is reincarnation or no? Because that could you know, half your audience gets mad at you and turns the movie off.
So we wanted to know, like, what are the things that are potentially going to upset the audience and we'll try to either stay away from them or offend everyone equally.
In the end, we of course, it was useful that way. But I think the research was also really key in helping us develop the story.
Where did you land on reincarnation? It seems like there isn't reincarnation in this world.
What's funny is people who believe in reincarnation, who have seen the film feel as though it allows for it and people who so we were able to kind of fudge it.
So I realize our time is short, but I would be remiss if I didn't let you go deeper on Inside Out. You've made a few references to it. Can you just again, for those there may be a few people in the world who haven't seen this movie. Can you describe the basics of Inside Out?
Inside Out is about this little kid. She's 11, who moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, which to us is kind of a symbol for growing up. And so most of the movie takes place in her head with her emotions, anger, fear, sadness, disgust and our main character, joy. And it's really their journey to try to hold on to childhood joy, only to discover, you know, what sadness is a key part of our existence and sadness as an emotion plays a key role in helping us deal with the world.
So, you know, it's all used through these characters are we're dramatizing it, hopefully in more exciting ways than the way I'm describing right now.
But it was again, it was a great opportunity. I always feel like as audience members, we love us. We want to see ourselves on the screen. We want to see something that we can relate to that we go like, yeah, that's monsters or cars or whatever, but that's my life. I understand that emotionally, both soul and insideout were great opportunities that way because they were completely made up. They allowed us to play around and do all the great stuff that animation can do.
But it was always based on things that are familiar to us as human beings. So the idea of playing around with emotions, I think the thing that appealed to me was just the animation, fun of it. Getting to animate fear, for example, or anger just seems so entertaining.
And then as we got into it, understanding on a much more heartfelt, deeper level how those emotions serve us in our lives and what they're there for. You know, a lot of times I know I felt growing up like anger is kind of something that you want to conquer. You want to get over anger because it's it's a bad thing to road rage or whatever. And then getting to work on the film, understanding. Well, no, it's a defender of you.
And it's it's it could be a great inciting force for social justice and righting wrongs and things.
So every one of these emotions has this wonderful purpose for us and a reason for being there. And so we got to put all that into the film. So that was a real fun one.
The question that animated and I guess that's a loaded term, but the question that animated soul for you was, you know, what? What am I doing with my life? What was the question that animated inside out for you?
Well, that one my daughter I have a son and a daughter. My daughter was kind of going through that phase of as is represented in the film of being a happy, goofy Freewheelin kid to being much more sullen and quiet. And I recognize that in myself as well.
I remember being hitting. It was like midway through sixth grade, suddenly the world changed and becomes much more self-aware. And so that's really what started that whole thing was just, again, what happens to childhood, Joy?
You spent a lot of time, as I understand it, consulting with experts in emotion and psychologists in order to construct an inner life.
That would be I hesitate to use this word because it's can be anathema to entertainers. But it was educational for you created.
We tried to make it reflect as accurately as we could our understanding of the emotional world. And by that I don't mean obviously the the physical, you know, anger is not a little squared off guy read with fire coming at his head. But in terms of his job, in terms of his motivation and their interaction with each other, yeah, we tried to make it is when we had a choice, we wanted to come down on what we know of this to be more accurate or truthful.
Sometimes, again, the story dictates such that you you steer from that an example being memories. You know, the memories in the film are represented in these spheres that they're like looking at a book or something or a movie like they never change. And of course, what we know now about memory is that they're constantly evolving and shifting. And so, you know, what I remember of crystal clear from my 14th birthday is probably 90 percent false, but that wouldn't have worked for our story.
So we fudged it. That to me, and I mean, I don't I don't I don't represent any professional expertize here, but that doesn't seem like malpractise and pales in comparison to the good you did by giving people away, especially kids, a way to understand their emotional life so that they're not scared, in denial, completely owned by these emotions. Good. Thank you.
Yeah. I mean, yeah, I feel like. We do have a bit of a responsibility, I mean, I'll say as we're making the film, you have to kind of put on blinders to this because it can be paralyzing to think about how is this going to come out into the world and what are people going to do with it? How are they going to read it for a while? You have to put on blinders and then after it gets enough legs that it's standing on its own, then you can start to really pay attention to that stuff.
But if you come out of the gate worried about how people are going to misread something, it's just like I say, it becomes paralyzing. But I do think we have a responsibility in the end to tell the truth as we see it, even though we're making all this up.
What I mean by that is I want to ultimately the emotional statement of the film should represent the world in some semi accurate way emotionally. That's maybe a hard thing to unpack, because I'm not saying the surface level stuff, obviously we're making all that up, but maybe as an example, if everyone lives forever and is wonderfully happy the rest of their lives, that would be nice. But it's not reality. And so I don't think it represents the truth, even the way we ended Seoul, which again, I won't give away for people who haven't seen it.
But we tried a number of different things before we got to where we did, because if you just make it all happy, it doesn't feel truthful.
I wrote a book seven years ago about meditation called 10 Percent Happier, and I'm now writing a sequel and I'm in the stage of vomiting up the terrible first draft and really trying to tell myself what I've heard you just tell yourself, which is stop thinking about what people are going to dislike about what you're writing now. Just write it as raw as you can and you can worry about that junk later.
Yeah, well, the problem with what I deeply envy about your world is you're sitting around the table with a bunch of people and it's fun. Whereas if you're a memoirist, it's almost by design a lonely, lonely journey.
Yeah, well, I mean, I think there are days for sure that Pixar is a blast and then there's a lot of days when it's work. It's just, again, the discipline of showing up and banging on this and trying to make progress. And if you're not up for that, you're going to flame out.
You know, it just it's any creative endeavor. There's a certain amount of just sweaty work that's not necessarily fun.
I hear you on that, my friend. Let me ask one final question before I let you go. What's on your mind now? Is there a question not going around in your brain that might provoke a new film?
There's I'm kind of in the gathering phase where I just am walking. Most of my thoughts come from walk. If I sit at the computer, I get distracted, I answer email, and I don't have long enough stretches to really get my brain deep. So I tend to go on walks and that's then I'll keep a little scrap of paper and a pen in my pocket and write stuff down. I'm kind of in that phase right now where it's just like random ideas that I bet in a couple of months will start to add up to something.
But I'm not in a place yet where I'm clear on what that is. Do you enjoy this part?
Yeah, I mean, it can be anxiety producing. I know at the beginning of InsideOut, I was desperate to know what my next idea would be. You know, I just come off up and I was like, I got to figure out what's next, what's next, what's next.
This time I'm more relaxed in that. Well, I have this other job now, so I'm getting a paycheck to help other people do that. So anything I come up with is just going to be gravy and I'll file away. And whether I direct again or what, I don't think we've really figured that out.
Well, I hope you do. And as a dad, I thank you for providing incredible entertainment for children that I as a parent can actually be moved by great work.
That's very cool to hear. Thank you. Bravo. And I really appreciate your time. Thank you for doing this, Pete. Thanks again to Pete, that was a deeply enjoyable hour of my time, this show is made by Samuel Johns, Cashmere Maria Wartell and Jan Plant with audio engineering by Ultraviolet Audio. Before I close, as always, want to give a hearty shout out to my ABC News comrades, Ryan Kessler and Josh Cohen. We'll see you all on Wednesday with a brand new episode.
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