Just this last Christmas my Mom bought me a very interesting book-Paulo Coelho: A Warrior’s Life. My lovely mother had the best intentions with this book but I don’t think she knew exactly what the book was about. I say this because my Mom and I had never heard of Paulo Coelho and she didn’t realize the book was a biography of his life. So, the book has been collecting dust on my shelf for the past 5 months and I have honestly had no desire to crack it open. Knowing that I would eventually have to read the book, to ensure future Christmas presents from my Mom, I decided to read some of Paulo Coelho’s fiction. I went to the library and checked out The Alchemist, Veronica Decides to Die, and 11 Minutes. As most of you know, I am not the biggest fan of fiction and it is rare that I get into books that do not teach me about philosophy, psychology, or history. Well…I devoured these three books like a fat boy devours cake on his birthday. Paulo Coelho is a amazing writer and his books dig deep into the human psyche. His writing is very philosophical and intricate while simultaneously entertaining. It is no wonder that he has sold over 200,000,000 copies and has published over 15 award winning books. I currently have 9 more of his books checked out from the library and have finished reading the 500 page biography my Mom bought me for Christmas. Thanks Mom for introducing me to this awesome author!
Paulo Coelho de Souza was born August 24th, 1947 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He was a very eccentric, odd-looking young man who grew up during the tumultuous times of dictator rule. Coelho came from a wealthy family but he was a problem child who disobeyed his parents and lived life on his own terms. His parents would eventually have him forcefully committed to a psychiatric ward on three separate occasions where he was given electroshock treatment and a myriad of psychotropic medications. Coelho did have many quirks about him but he was not mentally insane-just a rebellious kid raised in the hippy-era of the 60’s. Eventually, he moved out of his parents house and began a bohemian lifestyle that included copious amounts of drugs, sex, and counter-culture activities. He would become a amateur Satan worshiper in his 20’s and publish many articles for magazines with hidden messages about alternative societies, UFOs, and psychedelic beliefs. Brazil at the time was very strict about media censorship and on two separate occasions Coelho was apprehended by the police for his publications. On one occasion he was thrown into a car with a black bag over his head and subsequently threatened with torture during a week long interrogation. Following this scare, and a supernatural encounter with the Devil, Coelho denounced Satan worshiping and went back to his Catholic roots.
Coelho started his artistic career as an actor and producer in small production plays. He would eventually move on from the theater and make a large amount of money writing lyrics for popular Brazilian songs. From the time he was a young boy, he wanted to become a famous writer and throughout his young career he never lost the desire to write. It wasn’t until he was 35 that he published his first book and it wasn’t until he was over 40 that he became famous with The Alchemist which sold over 80 million copies and has been translated into 67 different languages-the world record for most translations of a book by a living author. At current, Coelho has published 30 books which are published in 170 countries throughout the world. I admire his tenacity and ability to maintain his passion for writing; it is no easy feat to continue a dream as you get older. The sad fact is that I never had heard of him nor any of my friends. I highly recommend his books because you will gain a deeper appreciation of life, relationships, imagination, and your own passion. Start with The Alchemist-you won’t be disappointed.
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.
My favorite Pixar movie is Inside Out and my favorite Pixar short is Lava (listen to the song below)