Since joining Pixar 22 years ago, award-winning animator Pete Docter has been influential in bringing some of the studio’s most successful movies to the big screen, including Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Up — the last two of which he also directed. In 2009, Martin Kelsey — a teacher at South Valley Middle School in Liberty — wrote to Docter and asked for some advice to pass on to his students.
His generous, encouraging response can be read below.
Transcript follows. Also of note: Pete Docter’s handwritten letter to a fan in 2008.
May 5, 2009
Dear Mr. Kelsey,
What would I tell a class of Middle School students?
When I was in Middle School, I liked to make cartoons. I was not the best artist in my class — Chad Prins was way better — but I liked making comic strips and animated films, so after High school it was no surprise that I got into The California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), a school that taught animation.
CalArts only accepts 25 students a year, and it attracts some of the best artists in the country. Suddenly I went from being one of the top artists in my class to being one of the absolute worst. Looking at the talented folks around me, I knew there was no way I would make it as a professional. Everyone else drew way better than I did. And I assumed the people who were the best artists would become the top animators.
But I loved animation, so I kept doing it. I made tons of films. I did animation for my friends’ films. I animated scenes just for the fun of it. Most of my stuff was bad, but I had fun, and I tried everything I knew to get better.
Meanwhile, many of the people who could draw really well kind of rested around and didn’t do a whole lot. It made me angry, because if I had their talent, man, the things I would do with it!
Years later, a lot of those guys who probably still draw really well don’t actually work in animation at all. I don’t know what happened to them. As for me, I got hired at Pixar Animation Studios, where I got to work on Toy Story 1 and 2, direct Monsters, Inc., and Up (due out May 29th this year).
So, Middle School Student, whatever you like doing, do it! And keep doing it. Work hard! In the end, passion and hard work beats out natural talent. (And anyway, if you love what you do, it’s not really “work” anyway.)