Animation Domination: The Creativity of Pixar

I remember watching classic Disney movies growing up like Aladdin and The Lion King. Disney in the 90’s was like Micheal Jordan in the 90’s-insanely awesome. What I really loved about the Disney movies growing up were the songs; I was a little weird fat kid who would sing these songs in my bedroom and pretend that I was in the school variety show. Anyways, as I got older, Disney started to move away from musicals and they really didn’t have any good animated films until just recently with The Princess and the Frog and Frozen. Thankfully, a movie company came about which filled this animation gap and provided us with a whole new set of characters to love. This company was Pixar Animation and to learn more about their unique history, I read Creativity, INC.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull.

Pixar began in 1979 as a special effects division of Lucasfilms after George Lucas’ huge success with Star Wars. Lucas wanted to push the field of special effects so he hired Ed Catmull, a PhD scientist, who was renowned for his advances in computer animation. Catmull was the president of Pixar from the beginning but Pixar was far different than the company we identify today. Back in the 80’s Pixar was best known for its computer hardware equipment and special effects. What would change Pixar’s history forever was George Lucas getting a divorce. Because of Lucas’ split, he had to sell off some of his subsidiary companies. Almost every industry kicked the tires of Pixar including General Motors who was very close to buying them. Enter Steve Jobs. Jobs would buy Pixar for 5 million dollars and he had the early vision of Pixar selling computer hardware across the country. After a dismal decade of sales and an infusion of over 50 million dollars by Jobs (to keep the company alive), Pixar gave up their hardware business. During the 80’s however, Pixar did side work providing special effects and animation for commercials and featured films. Pixar worked with Disney during this time and as a result Disney offered them a three featured-film contract. The business was so near to failure that Jobs was close to selling PIXAR to Microsoft in 1994-a year before the release of Toy Story. Well, Toy Story was a complete success and Pixar would go on to make 15 critically-acclaimed-feature films: Toy Story, A Bugs Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Brave, Monsters University, and Inside Out. In 2006, Disney purchased Pixar for 7.4 billion dollars but it was maintained as a separate animation studio with Ed Catmull becoming president of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios.

The story of Pixar is really amazing and Ed Catmull is extraordinary when it comes to fostering creativity. Catmull believes that the key to creativity is candor between all individuals involved in the film making process. Candor essentially means that people are not afraid to tell the truth and that they need to be open to constructive criticism. Pixar has regular meetings (called Braintrusts) where everyone is allowed to put in their opinion while knowing that no criticism is a personal attack but rather a means of making the project better. There is little emphasis on hierarchy at Pixar which allows for more open communication between animators, managers, directors, and producers. Catmull emphasizes throughout the book that failure is a necessity and a vital part of the creative process. When Pixar movies first start they simply suck and are nothing like the final product-however through multiple failures and criticisms the movie slowly gets better and better. This acceptance of failure and openness to input is something I believe all people struggle with. I want to continually better myself and to do this I must be willing to fail. It is the times that we fall and get back up that really define our own life story.

P.S.

My favorite Pixar movie is Inside Out and my favorite Pixar short is Lava (listen to the song below)

Don’t Follow Your Passion

As a young man I was asked, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I came to the conclusion that I should follow my passion of science and become a doctor. Half way through college I realized that my passion was no longer being a doctor and was actually teaching people nutrition. A crap ton of student debt later, I realize that my passion is not nutrition but rather the pursuit of knowledge. This “passion” journey illustrates a key point in the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work you Love by Cal Newport. Newport makes the point that the conventional wisdom of picking a career based on a preexisting passion is wrong. The passion hypothesis creates the false pretense that there is a perfect job out there-eventually leading to confusion and workplace unhappiness when expectations fall short of reality. 

If passion is a poor benchmark for career choice…what is? To find great work, you must first gain “career capital,” which is the acquisition of skills that increase your value to the world; the passion hypothesis reverses this view with the question “what value does the world give to me?” Developing this career capital is done through the technique of deliberate practice. We plateau in our skills and deliberate practice is the quantitative-uncomfortable means of breaking those plateaus and reaching a higher level of skill (think about the contrasting brain effort between strumming a song that you already know compared to learning a brand new song). Deliberate practice builds rare and valuable skills which then leads to rare and valuable traits that define a great career. The valuable traits of a great job include control, autonomy, and creativity; with enough career capital you can receive this magical trio of job nirvana. In addition to this trio, you must develop a sound mission that gives purpose to your career. This mission can only be understood through mastery and attempts of several small projects that give you feedback. For example, I started with a broad mission of helping people through medicine and through several different trials my mission is slightly changed to helping people through knowledge. 

How can you apply this to your own career journey? Simply put, “Working right trumps finding the right work (pg 228).” Seek out a job that has the potential for all the valuable traits aforementioned. Put your head down, work hard, and realize that mastery will get you closer to job nirvana. Don’t give up on your pursuit and don’t think that jumping to a new job will bring you happiness-more than likely it will erase most of your hard-earned career capital. Eventually, because you broke skill-level plateaus you can cash in your value for a better position. We enjoy doing things we are good at but sadly people change jobs so much they never reach a level in which they feel control, autonomy, and creativity. This advice does not work if you are in a dead end job that will never provide the valuable traits of a great career-quit and find a career that does! In the end, don’t follow your passion; passions’ change and through mastery one can gain new passions that were never once realized.