Peter Hans Docter (born October 9, 1968) is an American animator, film director, screenwriter, producer, voice actor, and chief creative officer of Pixar. He is best known for directing the Pixar animated feature films Monsters, Inc. (2001), Up (2009), Inside Out (2015), and Soul (2020), and as a key figure and collaborator at Pixar. He has been nominated for nine Oscars and has won three for Best Animated Feature—for Up, Inside Out and Soul—making him the first person in history to win the category three times. He has also been nominated for nine Annie Awards (winning six), a BAFTA Children’s Film Award and a Hochi Film Award. He has described himself as a “geeky kid from Minnesota who likes to draw cartoons”.
Docter was born in Bloomington, Minnesota, the son of Rita Margaret (Kanne) and David Reinhardt Docter. His mother’s family is Danish American. He grew up introverted and socially isolated, preferring to work alone and having to remind himself to connect with others. He often played in the creek beside his house, pretending to be Indiana Jones and acting out scenes. A junior-high classmate later described him as “this kid who was really tall, but who was kind of awkward, maybe getting picked on by the school bullies because his voice change at puberty was very rough.”
Both his parents worked in education: his mother, Rita, taught music and his father, Dave, was a choral director at Normandale Community College. He attended Nine Mile Elementary School, Oak Grove Junior High, and John F. Kennedy High School in Bloomington. Unlike his two sisters, Kirsten Docter, who was the violist and a founding member of the Cavani String Quartet, and Kari Docter, a cellist with the Metropolitan Opera, Docter was not particularly interested in music, although he learned to play the double bass and played with the orchestras for the soundtracks of Monsters, Inc. and Up.
Docter taught himselfcartooning, making flip books and homemade animated shorts with a family movie camera. He later described his interest in animation as a way to “play God”, making up nearly living characters. Cartoon director Chuck Jones, producer Walt Disney, and cartoonist Jack Davis were major inspirations.
He spent about a year at the University of Minnesota studying both philosophy and making art before transferring to the California Institute of the Arts, where he won a Student Academy Award for his production “Next Door” and graduated in 1990. Although Docter had planned to work for Walt Disney Animation Studios, his best offers came from Pixar and from the producers ofThe Simpsons. He did not think much of Pixar at that time, and later considered his choice to work there a strange and unusual one.