I love all of the Pixar movies, even Cars 2. Their content is varied and the stories themselves are complex and interesting to a variety of ages. Pixar has consistently made remarkable films for decades but how do they do it?
When I saw the book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull the President of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, I knew I needed to read it. My questions would be answered and I was hoping for an entertaining read.
The theme of Creativity Inc. is creativity, and Catmull discusses how business leaders and common people can foster and grow creativity. This book is also a great insider look at the growth of Pixar. What makes Creativity Inc. appealing to many audiences is the tone that Catmull sets from the first page. Ideas and creativity can come from anywhere; we should always be on the lookout.
The Pixar Braintrust meetings are one key factor in the development of their movies. Directors working on films attend these meetings populated by fellow directors, animators, writers, and executives like Catmull. These meetings happen so that directors can share their films with their colleagues and look for feedback. This assembled group of Pixar employees act as the audience and provides constructive meaningful feedback to the director about the film. This as Catmull describes is candor which is encouraged and practised at Pixar.
Catmull believes that a lack of candor can lead to a dysfunctional working environment. Employees can be hesitant to speak honestly. They hold back their opinions because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or upset the people in authority, possibly compromising their job.
At Pixar, candor is needed and it helps everyone to make great movies. This type of positive and collaborative environment was something that Catmull and other executives at Pixar like John Lasseter started with the inception of the company.
The feedback from a Braintrust meeting can help directors in many ways. Brad Bird made important adjustments to The Incredibles because of one comment about how mean and abusive Mr. Incredible looked to his wife Elastigirl in a scene. Bird agreed that the scene needed work, but it wasn’t the dialogue that Bird changed. Bird’s solution was to have Elastigirl stretch herself out to the height of Mr. Incredible thereby changing the feel of the scene to the audience and not make Mr. Incredible look so threatening.
Catmull spends the last part of the book discussing the merger with Disney, his new role at Walt Disney Animation, and how even today Pixar continues to make changes and challenges itself to make great movies. One innovation was Notes Day, where employees from the company are brought together for a whole day of seminars that focus on how Pixar can grow.
Catmull’s chapter on his friendship with Steve Jobs is touching for the genuine affection he shows in his writing. For Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs was a great friend who protected Pixar, nurtured a failing business which lost him a lot of money, and finally helped protect it when it was a success. Jobs may have been opinionated, but according to Catmull he was someone who could change his mind once you proved to him your way was better and would support you.
I highly recommend Creativity Inc. Any Disney fan will love the behind the scenes stories, the business leaders will appreciate the ideas on how to keep your company fresh and creative, and Catmull has crafted a compelling narrative of success that the common reader will enjoy.