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Getting inside Pete Docter's head

"Inside Out" director Pete Docter tries to rescue Pixar's rep

It's fair to say that Pixar's Pete Docter takes the notion of Take Your Daughter to Work Day a little too seriously. For his last film as a director, "Up," he let his daughter, Elie Docter, provide the voice of the younger version of the character Ellie. And his latest film, "Inside Out," was inspired by her adolescent mood swings. The good news is she's probably not reading this right now, according to her dad.

Has your daughter gotten fed up with you using her for story material yet?
You know, it's funny. We're not a real media-heavy family, so I'm not sure she's aware of how much I reference her — either at work or talking about her in the press. That's probably a good thing. She's just kind of going through her life unaware.

But she has seen "Up" and this film, hasn't she?
Yeah, of course. And that's weird. That's really kind of a public thing, to do a voice. I'm not sure she was really aware of what that meant. I think, thankfully, she has not really relied on that in any way. It's not like, "I did the voice in 'Up'!" or anything, so she's just kind of like, "OK, back to work. Back to school." And she first saw this movie when it wasn't quite finished, but she seemed to enjoy it.

These Pixar films a while to make. What is it like on the campus when one of the projects that's further along is having its moment?
When you're still on the bench and you see the guy up at bat, you're kind of a little jealous. Because that's the fun part, when you're through all the struggle and the trials and the tribulations of the story — out of the five years, I've lost more hair over that because the story is always the hard part.

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There have been some criticisms that for the last few films, Pixar hasn't really been living up to the high bar it set for itself. Have you felt much pressure to make this a kind of return to form?
I've heard people say that. Obviously we set out to make every film as good as it possibly can be. I think there was a little more pressure, we felt, in the last year — and it didn't hit me right away — when they moved "The Good Dinosaur," which was going to be last year, and then there was nothing from the studio and everything turned to us. Like the Eye of Sauron went to us and suddenly I could feel pressure, and I think the studio did, for it to be something really original and work well. I don't know what that does to the way we reacted. Either way, with or without that we have self-applied pressure to make it as strong as we possibly can and make it work as well.

How often have people brought up the old sitcom "Herman's Head" while discussing this film?
You know what, it took like three years into the project before somebody said, "Have you heard of 'Herman's Head'?" And I was like, "No, what is that?" I'm aware of it, but I certainly wasn't when I started on this. There was a part of one on YouTube, and that's the only bits I've seen. It seemed similar in concept, I guess, in some ways, but quite different, too.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter:@nedrick

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