Wooster, Ohio, USA
Animator, Voice actor, Director, Screenwriter
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Bob Peterson cut his teeth as an animator on Pixar's groundbreaking computer-animated blockbuster "Toy Story" (1995), going on to become a major contributor to the cutting-edge move house's award-laden fare; most notably as co-director on the much-lauded 2009 feature, "Up." An early aficionado of and creator of cartoons, both strip and animation, Peterson came to Hollywood (at least figuratively), via the most technical route, working in the late 1980s and early 1990s for companies developing software and computer-generated image (CGI) technology, such as the pioneering Wavefront Technologies. Landing with Pixar in 1994, he would become increasingly pivotal in the creation of the shop's feature film releases, serving as story supervisor on colleague Pete Docter's directorial debut, "Monsters, Inc." (2001) and as one of the screenwriters on 2003's "Finding Nemo," the screenplay of which netted him an Oscar nomination, even as the movie took the statue for Best Animated Film. His and Docter's collaborative project "Up," an adventure comedy featuring an improbable 78-year-old hero, would bring him back into contention for a raft of awards, becoming one of the best-reviewed pictures of the year. Along the way, he added side-work as a voiceover actor in a number of Pixar productions; most prominently in "Up" as Dug, a lovably dotty canine. For a Midwestern boy who once dreamed of working for Disney, Peterson fulfilled that and more, rising to integral player in the most eye-popping and critically lauded animated entertainment of its time.
He was born in Wooster, OH, in January 1961, one of four children of Marlene Peterson, a Methodist minister and educator, who raised them as a single mother. When Bob was still very young, the family moved for a time to Brooklyn, NY, only later to return to Dover, OH. From the time he could hold a writing implement, he took to drawing and cartoons. He became a fan in particular of Charles Schulz and his "Peanuts" comic strip, as well as Warner Bros. animation creators Friz Freleng and Chuck Jones, and was influenced heavily by Disney's "Cinderella" (1950), as well as the comedy records of Bill Cosby. By the time he graduated Dover High School, however, he harbored little confidence he could land work following his artistic passion, so he decided to pursue an engineering degree. He did his undergrad stint at Ohio Northern University in Ada, OH, and in 1981, took a class in computer animation; seeing the then-young medium as portents for merging his two affinities of science and art. He attended Purdue in West Lafayette, IN, earning a masters in mechanical engineering with a concentration in computer graphics. It was there that he rekindled his art by creating the daily cartoon strip "Loco Motion" for the Purdue newspaper, The Exponent. Graduating in 1986, he went to work initially teaching computer animation, then took a job with Wavefront Technologies in Santa Barbara, CA, which produced computer graphics for film, television, advertising and marketed desktop imaging software. He also did a stint at the computer imaging company Rezn8 Productions in Los Angeles, but in 1994, he landed a job he had been pining for at Pixar. The former high-tech f/x shop of George Lucas' production company, Lucasfilm, and purchased by Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs in 1986, Pixar was at the time working on its inaugural feature film.
"Toy Story" landed with a splash, a colorful tale of a cadre of children's toys who come to life when the child is absent and featuring the voices of Tim Allen as the brash new toy in the chest, Buzz Lightyear, and Tom Hanks as the once-beloved cowboy action-figure Lightyear threatens to usurp. Peterson worked mostly on animating Sid, the cretinous neighbor kid. After his initial hit film, he directed a number of Pixar commercials, did some animation on the 1998 "Toy Story" sequel, and even jumped to the talent side of the business by picking up his first voiceover work in the title role of colleague Jan Pinkava's animated short, "Geri's Game" (1997). Peterson played the central character, a willfully schizophrenic and crotchety old man contentiously playing chess against himself; a role that called for grunts, growls and chuckles with no actual dialogue. The film won the Oscar for Best Short Film the next year. He would add more voice work to his ongoing animator duties, playing the funny, officious slug-monster Roz who manages the office and employs hardworking, child-scaring monsters in colleague Docter's "Monsters, Inc." (2001). He followed with the role of the singing science teacher/stingray Mr. Ray in "Finding Nemo" (2003), which he wrote along with director Andrew Stanton and David Reynolds, scoring his first Oscar nomination for the screenplay. He would reprise Mr. Ray in a follow-up short, "Finding Nemo Submarine Adventure" (2007), contribute to the story for Pixar's "Ratatouille" (2007) and, in 2008, take his first turn before the cameras with a supporting role in the indie comedy "Tracy" (2009).
Meanwhile, Peterson and Docter had been working on another project based on a simple sketch the latter had done of a box-shaped scowling old codger, as early as 2004. They conceived the story of Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner), a grumbling curmudgeon who, after losing his wife of many years, hatches a plan to attach enough balloons to their house to make it airborne, hoping to pilot the makeshift vehicle to a hidden tropical idyll in South America that the couple had always wanted to visit. Peterson and Docter, taking the titles of director and co-director on the project, respectively, added a stowaway to the trip, a pestering, effervescent neighborhood kid attempting to earn a scout merit-badge by helping the elderly. Peterson lent his voice to a dog they encounter upon reaching their destination, the bright-eyed, easily distracted Dug, whose thoughts are translated hilariously into speech by his cybernetic collar. At once a far-flung adventure, mismatched buddy comedy and an introspective story of loss and mortality, "Up" became the rave of the Cannes Film Festival in the Spring of 2009. An advance notice of the film in Time magazine's May 28, 2009 issue projected it to be "one the most satisfying movie experiences of its year The story of a septuagenarian grouch who uses his cane, hearing aid and dentures to thwart all evild rs; a buddy movie whose pals are separated by 70 years; a love story that transcends the grave - has there been a movie like this in the history of feature animation?" By early 2010, "Up" had won two Golden Globes, with Peterson and Docter taking them home for Best Animated Film, earned eight Annie nominations - one of those to Peterson for direction - and four BAFTA nominations - two to Peterson for direction and original screenplay. The cherry on top were Oscar nominations for both men for Best Original Screenplay and a nod to Docter for Best Animated Feature Film, which he would go on to win, thanking his co-director, Peterson.