Pixar’s Pete Docter reminisced about his days as a student at CalArts on Saturday night at the 2019 CalArts REDCAT Gala, where he received the Distinguished Alumni Award.
For the wide-eyed boy from Minnesota, where life was more routine, attending CalArts “was a free-for-all. It was eye-opening in a lot of ways,” he recalled. “But it was also a place to play around and see what you could do.”
Docter, who is now chief creative officer at Pixar and the director and/or writer of some of its biggest hits, has come a long way from those days and this award has touched him deeply because his time at CalArts meant so much.
“Growing up, the land of Disney and Warner Bros. and all the movies seemed so far away,” he said. “Coming to CalArts was like being adopted by the animation family. It was a place where we got exposed to all this information. We got to meet people doing the kind of work we all wanted to do. And it was a collection of like-minded people from around the country who got to mind-meld and share information. I still get to work with most of the people I went to school with, so it’s a pretty meaningful place.”
Docter also touched on his history with Pixar and of coming full circle with the upcoming release of “Toy Story 4.” When he graduated in 1990, he went right to work at Pixar and one of his first projects was working on the script and as an animator for the original “Toy Story.”
“It feels like it was yesterday, but also like it was 100 years ago. It’s pretty weird that almost 25 years later there’s going to be another chapter.”
Docter says that it feels like no time has gone by since then at all. “Sometimes it still feels like I just got out of school,” he said. “In fact, I’ll make that slip a lot of times and tell my wife, ‘Bye honey! I’m going to school, uh, I mean work.’ I kind of still feel like it’s just an extension of CalArts, in a way.”
Docter was honored Saturday night alongside Los Angeles artist Henry Taylor and REDCAT’s founding executive director, Mark Murphy, who is exiting the post after 17 years to focus on curatorial work throughout the world.
Taylor was given the REDCAT Award, which goes to individuals who exemplify the talent and vision that defines and leads the evolution of contemporary culture. Taylor is best known for his narrative works that capture African-American urban life. In addition to painting, he works in sculpture and film. He received his bachelor’s of fine art from CalArts in 1995.
Tim Disney, who co-chaired the gala alongside Karen Hillenburg, praised Docter and Taylor. “They’re both amazing and very different kinds of artists,” he said.
“Pete Docter is an exemplar of the type of animation talent that comes out of CalArts,” Disney said. “People who have the technical skills, but really, at their core, are master storytellers. They create things that communicate to immensely vast audiences. That’s an unbelievable thing.”
Disney hailed Taylor’s talent as well. “He’s exactly the type of artist we want to be associated with, that we want to bring in as faculty and as students. We’re blessed to have him here tonight.”
The gala was emceed by writer, performer and comedian Kristina Wong. The evening also featured a performance by John Kelly, a choreographer, theater artist, writer, vocalist, filmmaker, dancer, visual artist and more. The event was held at the REDCAT Theater in downtown L.A.
The gala raised $621,000 to support REDCAT’s interdisciplinary programming, and to create opportunities for local and international artists.