Robert Peterson was born in Wooster, Ohio on January 18, 1961. He is one of four children. Growing up, Peterson and his family lived in various places such as Brooklyn, New York and Dover, Ohio. He began drawing from a very young age and even had his own cartoon strip called “Loco Motive”, but disregarded the possibility of a career in art.
Peterson’s college education began in mechanical engineering at Ohio Northern University. During his time at the university, Peterson joined a computer graphics course which introduced him to the world of computer animation. After graduating from Ohio Northern University in 1983, Peterson continued his education at Purdue University; in 1985, he attended a conference where John Lasseter spoke of combining Disney character animation with computer graphics. Peterson was determined to one day work with Lasseter, but it wasn't until nine years later, in 1994, after earning a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1986, that Peterson came to work for Pixar.