Creativity, Inc., the upcoming book from Pixar President (and studio co-founder) Ed Catmull, is set to be released next month, which has Catmull discussing his writing and contemplating his time at the famed animation studio. Yesterday, we shared a fantastic excerpt from the book discussing the Braintrust at the studio, which is so integral to the film development process. Today, read about his philosophy of mistakes, and his acknowledgment that Pixar has made some.
Pixar is an intensely secretive studio, as it repeatedly keeps its films’ stories mysterious prior to release. We also do not hear about mistakes that the animation house has made, at least not from those within the company. However, Ed Catmull (in a new article at Fast Company) wants you to know that Pixar certainly has made errors, and is not perfect – the studio is on a constant search for “getting it right,” a goal that is arguably never fully reached.
Speaking about the removal of Bob Peterson from the directorial position of The Good Dinosaur, and the film’s delay from spring 2014 to fall 2015, Catmull writes about the perception that the studio is in a slump, especially when compared to the massively successful Frozen from sister studio Walt Disney Animation Studios (which Catmull is also President of):
Right now, since Disney Animation has Frozen, which has a shot at becoming a billion-dollar movie, they’re elated. Meanwhile, at Pixar, after a lot of work we’ve had to say, “You know, Good Dinosaur doesn’t meet our standards, so we’re going to restart. It’s a promising idea, but we need to rethink the team.” That’s painful, but it’s a pain we own. Every time we make a mistake there is pain, and I’m acutely aware that some people bear more pain than others [some 50 people were recently laid off]. But our core belief is that we’ve got to do the right thing for the movies. The ongoing value here is that everything we do is in service of that final story we deliver to the world.
So you can look at this moment in time and say Disney is on the way up and Pixar is on its way down. No! First of all, there was that remarkable run of four films [from 2007 to 2011, Pixar released Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3, all critical darlings and box office leaders], which set the bar so high that we ended up in a situation where our other films were compared to Pixar films, not to the competition. Second, that success brought a kind of scrutiny we didn’t have before. We restarted Toy Story and Ratatouille, but no one even noticed. All this really means is that Disney will run up against this problem later, and at Pixar we are facing it now.
I do believe that our ability to catch things earlier needs to be improved. And our job is to continually rethink what we are doing. But we will never get it right. One of the messages of my book is that things are always going wrong and that we can’t see them. These things are really hard to see, and they’re hard to explain. I think there are a lot of philosophical reasons why we won’t ever get it right.
Catmull defends against those who have been claiming that the studio is not the studio we saw just a few years ago by stating that Pixar was raised to an almost astronomical level that it could never maintain. It is a point that has been argued by many – that the studio was being judged unfairly. Rather than comparing Pixar to its competition, the studio’s films were solely being compared to, well, the studio’s other films.
Additionally, he acknowledges that Pixar has made mistakes in the past, specifically with The Good Dinosaur. Sadly, about 50 employees lost their jobs, which Catmull reflects upon. Still, he maintains that it was a necessity to fix the mistake, and attempt to try to “get it right.” Discussing the inevitability of mistakes, due to the intricacies of making a film, he also believes that they will never actually “get it right” – I assume that means attaining perfection, and the argument that any film is absolutely perfect is likely flawed.
Each excerpt and article posted by Catmull only drives home the point that Creativity, Inc. is a book that is not to be missed. It is due to hit retailers nationwide on April 8th. You can pre-order it now on Amazon!