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Entries in Pete Docter (2)

Monday
Apr192010

Pixar's Listerine commercials

In the early to mid 1990’s, one of the ways Pixar tried to support itself was making television commercials for products like LifeSavers candy, Trident gum, and Pillsbury rolls. Not surprisingly, Pixar specialized in commercials that used character animation to give products a personality.

Some of its most admired commercial work was for Listerine; the agency involved, J. Walter Thompson, gave Pixar considerable creative freedom. 

How do you give a personality to a faceless bottle? Below, several of Pixar’s classic Listerine ads—

Boxer (1990) 

Director: John Lasseter

The concept was inspired by the 1980 film Raging Bull. A newly-hired Pete Docter assisted with the animation.

 

Swinging Bottle (1993)

Director: Andrew Stanton

This ad and Arrows, below, caused a minor craze for the accompanying New Wave song, Tarzan Boy.

  

 

Arrows (1993)

Director: Jan Pinkava

This ad won Pixar its first Gold Clio award—loosely speaking, the Oscar of advertising. 

 

(Thanks to Ralph Guggenheim for helpful tips.)

Thursday
Apr092009

The Docter Is In (and how he got there)

Everyone knows that Pete Docter’s film Up, coming next month, stars a square-headed man and a kid he finds annoying.

Not so many people know that a square-headed man and an annoying neighborhood kid helped Docter get his job at Pixar.

Docter spent three years at the California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, before receiving his degree in character animation in 1990. He won a Student Academy Award for his third-year animation project, a short film called Next Door about … a square-headed man and a kid he finds annoying. (A couple of images from the film are online here.)

Every spring, John Lasseter and a few others from Pixar attended the student film festival at CalArts to check out the new talent. Next Door set Docter apart right away. For the Pixar group, Docter “had the whole package as an animator,” one of them remembered: strong drawing skills, timing, and story-telling.

Docter joined Pixar later that year, the third animator the company hired after Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. There, he went to work animating commercials for Tropicana and Lifesavers. Pixar had turned to commercial production to keep itself afloat while waiting for the chance to make a feature film.

He also made two other films at CalArts, titled Winter and Palm Springs. (The Minnesota born-and-bred student evidently had weather on his mind.) 

Docter’s story is one that has repeated many times at Pixar, on both the artistic and technical sides of the house. Outside Pixar, too. It’s important to have the skills, but the way you make yourself stand out from the crowd is to use those skills to create something good and original — a calling card, even if it’s something small, like Next Door.

(Revised 4/16/2009)