Technology + Art = Magic
September 1, 2008 1:10 AM   Subscribe

Behind Pixar’s string of hit movies, says the studio’s president, is a peer-driven process for solving problems. How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity (alternate print link for those having trouble with the first link), by the co-founder of Pixar and the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull.

"For 20 years, I pursued a dream of making the first computer-animated film. To be honest, after that goal was realized — when we finished Toy Story — I was a bit lost. But then I realized the most exciting thing I had ever done was to help create the unique environment that allowed that film to be made. My new goal became, with John, to build a studio that had the depth, robustness, and will to keep searching for the hard truths that preserve the confluence of forces necessary to create magic. In the two years since Pixar’s merger with Disney, we’ve had the good fortune to expand that goal to include the revival of Disney Animation Studios. It has been extremely gratifying to see the principles and approaches we developed at Pixar transform this studio. But the ultimate test of whether John and I have achieved our goals is if Pixar and Disney are still producing animated films that touch world culture in a positive way long after we two, and our friends who founded and built Pixar with us, are gone."
posted by netbros (24 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
The people at the "top" at Pixar were lucky enough to spend their formative years in an environment that resulted in developing a culture that creates hit after hit. Not a business model, but a family that believes in the simple idea that telling a good story is the most important thing.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 2:52 AM on September 1, 2008

Irritatingly, pages beyond the first are paid subscriber only.
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 3:11 AM on September 1, 2008

I am able to read all the pages Dad, and I'm not a subscriber.
posted by netbros at 3:18 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I get the "To continue reading, subscribe or log in" box, too. Guess that's one of the fancy tricks business school teaches you.
posted by cmonkey at 3:37 AM on September 1, 2008

Print version.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:04 AM on September 1, 2008

Worked for me with no problem. I had to agree to their terms of services, though.

This is a great article that should be read by everyone in Hollywood. One of the real challenges of the motion picture business is that the people at the top, the studio executives who ultimately have authority, tend to be business people, MBA-types, and whose approach tends to be about minimizing risk. So, studios make knockoffs of knockoffs because the executives don't have the imagination or balls to take risks on truly original material. Plus, a micromanaging approach, where notes are given from ranks of business people, and not creative people, is not always the best way to get the best film. It's a way to make sure all the product placement is done properly.

This article practically makes me want to go work for Pixar.
posted by MythMaker at 4:09 AM on September 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Weird, I also can't get to any pages except the first one. The links are there but they are greyed out and there's a box saying that I have to purchase the article or log in if I already subscribe to HBR if I want to read the full version. Screenshot.
posted by sveskemus at 4:20 AM on September 1, 2008

Those having problems viewing the article may want to check they have cookies and javascript enabled, and if all fails use this service I've heard about that rhymes with 'rug flea blot'.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:07 AM on September 1, 2008

Lessons in Innovation from Pixar by Chris Conley (friend, former colleague, kinda prof)
posted by infini at 5:23 AM on September 1, 2008

eek, wrong link this is the right one with the pixar case study
posted by infini at 5:26 AM on September 1, 2008

Huh, now I can read all the pages. Same browser, OS, everything. I just clicked the link again.
posted by sveskemus at 5:42 AM on September 1, 2008

Since some of our members are having trouble accessing this content, perhaps the mods could change the link in the post to the print version.
posted by netbros at 6:12 AM on September 1, 2008

Excellent article, thanks.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:09 AM on September 1, 2008

WALL-E was as good as it gets - get ready for Toy Story 3 to 50.
posted by Artw at 10:14 AM on September 1, 2008

Judy Estrin's just-published book Closing the Innovation Gap, which I edited, opens with the Pixar story as a paradigm for encouraging innovative thinking within the structure of a huge company, and features many quotes from Ed Catmull and others about how Pixar came to be and does its thing so effectively.
posted by digaman at 10:30 AM on September 1, 2008

I saw a Pixar talk that's under NDA, but suffice to say that their approach to creating the software they use is equally switched-on, and inspiring.
posted by bonaldi at 10:37 AM on September 1, 2008

WALL-E was as good as it gets - get ready for Toy Story 3 to 50.

Hey, can we all have some those bitter cookies?
posted by P.o.B. at 11:14 AM on September 1, 2008

>> WALL-E was as good as it gets - get ready for Toy Story 3 to 50.

> Hey, can we all have some those bitter cookies?

Having seen a few Pixar films and listened to a bunch of guest lectures by their creative talent, I'd say that they're good at making movies that film professors hate. (It's up to you as to whether this is praise or condemnation.)
posted by ambulatorybird at 1:12 PM on September 1, 2008

I am a film professor and I proudly declare my love of every single Pixar film.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:44 PM on September 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

netbrosPoster: "Since some of our members are having trouble accessing this content, perhaps the mods could change the link in the post to the print version."

I also couldn't read the entire print version back when all I could see was the first page.
posted by sveskemus at 2:11 PM on September 1, 2008

In all the Pixar DVD's there are little glimpses of their story development process in action which is basically lots of story boards, story pitching, and peer review. It's fascinating what they throw away for the sake of getting the story right. Not only are their stories loaded with original, interesting, imaginative ideas, they're the tightest narratives with strong character development. I'm pretty sure other studios have been improving their storycraft because of Pixar's success.

(I gotta say though, Wall-E is a little sub-par, in my opinion.)
posted by wobh at 3:09 PM on September 1, 2008

Has anyone watched the recent DVD collection of Pixar's shorts? There's an interesting documentary on that collection on how Pixar went from a company that developed computer animation software to a company that creates animated films. They've always been on the side of the creative and the story -- there's a great moment in that documentary where John Lasseter describes how they presented Luxo Jr. at a conference, and he thought he was going to get bombarded with technical questions from the other computer folk at the conference, and instead, the biggest geek of them all asked, "Is it a Mom lamp or a Dad lamp?"
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 6:34 AM on September 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

ambulatorybird - I also teach film (as well as make films/TV), and I love Pixar's work. I suppose it's a question on whether or not the film professor in question is bitter and frustrated, who doesn't understand why the unwashed masses don't appreciate "true art" -- or someone who recognizes that merely because a film is popular, successful and mainstream doesn't mean it's bad. I think Pixar films are revolutionary (although they certainly are not all created equal.)
posted by MythMaker at 4:19 PM on September 2, 2008

MythMaker and Dr. Wu: fair enough; I suppose I was thinking more of the caricature of the film professor (or film snob in general) who loves avant garde and despises old fashioned things like character and plot.
posted by ambulatorybird at 5:41 PM on September 2, 2008

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