Thursday, September 16, 2010

Innovation lessons from Pixar: An interview with Oscar-winning director Brad Bird

What does stimulating the creativity of animators have in common with developing new product ideas or technology breakthroughs? A lot.

Innovation lessons from Pixar: An interview with Oscar-winning director Brad Bird


Steve Jobs, Ed Catmull, and John Lasseter said, in effect, "The only thing we're afraid of is complacency—feeling like we have it all figured out. We want you to come shake things up. We will give you a good argument if we think what you're doing doesn't make sense, but if you can convince us, we'll do things a different way." For a company that has had nothing but success to invite a guy who had just come off a failure and say, "Go ahead, mess with our heads, shake it up"—when do you run into that?

We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here.

Not all shots are created equal. Certain shots need to be perfect, others need to be very good, and there are some that only need to be good enough to not break the spell.

We also made superelaborate storyboards. We even emulated camera movement in them, so everyone knew that "We only need to make things work between here and there." Once I was able to commit to the camera angles, we could be very specific about how we built things. Something would look beautiful from one position, but if you moved five feet to the right, the image would disintegrate. I gave up the flexibility to move within a set, but in exchange I bought size and scope.

In my experience, the thing that has the most significant impact on a movie's budget—but never shows up in a budget—is morale. If you have low morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about 25 cents of value. If you have high morale, for every $1 you spend, you get about $3 of value. Companies should pay much more attention to morale.

The first step in achieving the impossible is believing that the impossible can be achieved. There was a point during the making of The Incredibles where we had a company meeting. We have them about twice a year, and anybody can bring up concerns. Somebody raised their hand and said, "Is The Incredibles too ambitious?" Ed Catmull said, "I don't know" and looked over at me. I just said, "No! If there's one studio that needs to be doing stuff that is 'too ambitious,' it's this one. You guys have had nothing but success. What do you do with it? You don't play it safe—you do something that scares you, that's at the edge of your capabilities, where you might fail. That's what gets you up in the morning."

So my goal is to make a movie I want to see. If I do it sincerely enough and well enough—if I'm hard on myself and not completely off base, not completely different from the rest of humanity—other people will also get engaged and find the film entertaining.

One thing Pixar does—which is a knockoff of old-school, Walt-era 1940s Disney—is to have all kinds of optional classes. They call it "PU," or Pixar University. If you work in lighting but you want to learn how to animate, there's a class to show you animation. There are classes in story structure, in Photoshop, even in Krav Maga, the Israeli self-defense system. Pixar basically encourages people to learn outside of their areas, which makes them more complete. Sometimes, people even move from one area to another.

I think the best leaders are somewhat subversive, because they see something a different way.

The Quarterly:
We've been talking a lot about how you promote innovation. What undermines it?

Brad Bird: Passive-aggressive people—people who don't show their colors in the group but then get behind the scenes and peck away—are poisonous. I can usually spot those people fairly soon and I weed them out.

They were masters of the form, but they had the attitude of a student. This guy taking over the studio had only done a few pieces of pretty good animation, and he was totally satisfied. Could not have been less inspiring.

Walt Disney's mantra was, "I don't make movies to make money—I make money to make movies." That's a good way to sum up the difference between Disney at its height and Disney when it was lost. It's also true of Pixar and a lot of other companies. It seems counterintuitive, but for imagination-based companies to succeed in the long run, making money can't be the focus.

Speaking personally, I want my films to make money, but money is just fuel for the rocket. What I really want to do is to go somewhere. I don't want to just collect more fuel.

Innovation lessons from Pixar: An interview with Oscar-winning director Brad Bird

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Article: Why we need more "adult" movies - By Matt Zoller Seitz

"The American" and "The Romantics" are part of a tragically rare genre in America: Films that kids won't understand

What do we mean when we call a film or TV show "adult"?

The word is often used to refer to language, violence, sexual imagery or other material that adults don't want small children to see. But other films are "adult" in a different, arguably truer sense. They tell stories about people and situations that children (and the childishly minded) either cannot understand or aren't interested in. And they tell them in ways that demand engagement from the viewer, rather than slack-jawed spectatorship. These aren't "shows." They're situations involving somewhat believable adults involved in emotional and sometimes moral conundrums. And you don't always know whom to root for, or if you should root for anyone.

As critic Jim Emerson is fond of saying, a film isn't about what it's about -- it's about how it's about it.

Why we need more "adult" movies