Categories
Animation Books Pixar

Ed Catmull’s new book Creativity, Inc about Pixar

I have pre-ordered it! Cartoon Brew has a review.

Ed Catmull, Pixar

As a young man, Catmull had a dream: to make the world’s first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream first as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged an early partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later and against all odds, Toy Storywas released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed, all of which debuted at #1 at the box office—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on philosophies that protect the creative process and ideas that defy convention, such as:

 

• Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.

 

• If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.

 

• It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.

 

• The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.

 

• A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.

 

• Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.

 

Here is an excerpt from Fast Company,

A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms. Our decision making is better when we draw on the collective knowledge and unvarnished opinions of the group. Candor is the key to collaborating effectively. Lack of candor leads to dysfunctional environments. So how can a manager ensure that his or her working group, department, or company embraces candor? By putting mechanisms in place that explicitly say it is valuable. One of Pixar’s key mechanisms is the Braintrust, which we rely on to push us toward excellence and to root out mediocrity. It is our primary delivery system for straight talk. The Braintrust meets every few months or so to assess each movie we’re making. Its premise is simple: Put smart, passionate people in a room together, charge them with identifying and solving problems, and encourage them to be candid. The Braintrust is not foolproof, but when we get it right, the results are phenomenal.

 

While I attend and participate in almost all Braintrust meetings, I see my primary role as making sure that the compact upon which the meetings are based is protected and upheld. This part of our job is never done because you can’t totally eliminate the blocks to candor. The fear of saying something stupid and looking bad, of offending someone or being intimidated, of retaliating or being retaliated against—they all have a way of reasserting themselves. And when they do, you must address them squarely.

 

The Braintrust developed organically out of the rare working relationship among the five men who led and edited the production of Toy Story—John Lasseter,Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, and Joe Ranft. From Pixar’s earliest days, this quintet gave us a solid model of a highly functional working group. They were funny, focused, smart, and relentlessly candid when arguing with each other. Most crucially, they never allowed themselves to be thwarted by the kinds of structural or personal issues that can render meaningful communication in a group impossible. After the release ofToy Story 2 [when the Braintrust helped turn around a film in danger of foundering], the Braintrust evolved from a tight, well-defined group working on a single film into a larger, more fluid group. Over the years, its ranks have grown to include a variety of people—directors, writers, and heads of story—whose only requirement is that they display a knack for storytelling. The one thing that has never changed is the demand for candor.

Update: from the TAG blog, “Not quite the kindly and avuncular studio head depicted in all those sunny books about the animation business.”

Categories
Animation Disney Pixar

A113—it had no windows and no door.

THE KIDS FROM CALARTS From left: Steve HillenburgTim BurtonBrad BirdMark Andrews (in ape suit), Jerry ReesChris Buck (with Viking helmet), John MuskerGenndy TartakovskyLeslie GorinMike GiaimoBrenda ChapmanGlen KeaneKirk Wise (in beige sweater), Andrew StantonPete Docter (with Lei), Rob MinkoffRich MooreJohn Lasseter, and Henry Selick, in the famed CalArts classroom A113.

Vanity Fair photos by ANNIE LEIBOVITZ.

Very interesting article from Vanity Fair about the very talented Cal Arts students that went on to do so much. I worked with Jerry Rees when I was at Walt Disney Imagineering. His is a very talented guy and is best known for the delightful Brave Little Toaster.

Quotes from the article I liked;

Room A113 was where many of the Character Animation classes took place. “CalArts didn’t give us the best rooms of the house, shall we say,” recalls Beiman. “We used to joke that it was like the Haunted Mansion—it had no windows and no door. […] Yet the windowless room became a kind of inside joke, later cropping up in several animated films: In The Brave Little Toaster, it’s the apartment number where the Master lives; in Toy Story, it’s the license-plate number on Andy’s mom’s car; in Toy Story 2, there’s an announcement for LassetAir Flight A113; in Ratatouille, the lab rat, Git, wears a tag on his ear that reads “A113”; in Cars, it’s the headcode on Trev Diesel, the freight train; in Finding Nemo, it’s the model number on the camera used by the scuba-diver; it even appears in Roman numerals in Brave. 

[…]

One roseate memory for all of the inaugural class was being able to look through the great stacks of animated drawings from the great Disney animators. They would study the drawings, then flip them to check the motion. Lasseter, for example, would spend hours studying the drawings. “I remember individual sequences so vividly they jump to mind almost as often as the images from the films: Frank Thomas’s Lady and the Tramp eating spaghetti; Ollie Johnston’s drawings of Bambi learning to walk; Milt Kahl’s Madame Medusa peeling off her fake eyelashes; Marc Davis’s flamboyant Cruella de Vil.”

[…]

“There was this avant-garde wing, and then there were these kids who were more interested in Star Trek than Rothko,” recalls Selick. According to Giaimo, “There was also a schism philosophically, in terms of how one led one’s life…. In the character department there was a conservative bent, generally. We loved animation. We were devoted to it. It took a lot of study, and it took total immersion.” “It was like warring tribes,” Burton explains. “I think the only person who moved between the two was Henry Selick.”

Brad Bird was aware that the experimental side looked upon the Character Animation Program as “more corporate. I mean, some members of the film school and the art school considered us barely above greeting cards, you know? I don’t think they understood that what we were getting was a classical education applicable in more different ways than they realized. You learned how to read sound, you learned how to cut film, you learned how to calculate camera moves on a camera stand, you learned about life drawing, and you learned about light and shadow and how you can orchestrate color.”

[…]

“Marc Davis was one of the Nine Old Men of animation,” recalls Giaimo. “He was a Renaissance man at Disney. He helped design concepts for the theme parks. He animated, oh, my God, Cinderella, Tinker Bell, Cruella de Vil, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. He was an amazing animator, an amazing draftsman, brilliant designer.”

[…]

“T. Hee directed the ‘Dance of the Hours’ sequence in Fantasia. He taught us caricature and character design and other stuff, but his class was more than that. He just wanted you to think creatively.” Nearly four decades later, Trousdale still remembers one of T. Hee’s provocative assignments: taping sketch paper under a table and drawing “blind and upside down.” T. Hee also herded his students into a theater for a day to watch animated commercials. “That was eye-opening,” says Trousdale. “Those commercials were telling a story, with a beginning, middle, and end, in 30 seconds. It was a discipline—you had to be clear and concise.”

[…]

One of the bohemian girls from the art school volunteered to be a life model, and to torture the kind of nerdy, Star Trek-loving boy artists, she posed nude wearing a Mouseketeer hat.

[…]

They called it “the rat’s nest,” the room where the new animators were put to work. “It was like too much nuclear energy packed into the tiny little capsule of the Disney Animation Studio,” describes Glen Keane (supervising animator on Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin), a greatly admired Disney animator who had studied at CalArts. “It just could not contain that kind of passion. It was this hotbed of discontent because they wanted so much more—eventually it exploded.”

[…]

In fact, Burton was doing remarkable work there, sealed off in a tiny room in the animation building. Remembers Brad Bird, who moved to Disney after two years at CalArts, “He did these amazing designs for Black Cauldron that were better than anything they had in the movie—he did these griffins that actually had claws for mouths, and they were really great and really scary, in the best way.


Also, Watch John Lasseter’s and Andrew Stanton’s CalArts Student Films