A few weeks ago, this column discussed the concept of risk-taking at Pixar Animation Studios. Recently, one of the studio’s head honchos, Ed Catmull, admitted that the growing reliance on creating sequels as well as original films is in part because sequels were financially less risky. Perhaps, when considering the cost of marketing as well as how much certain movies or characters make in merchandising, that may be true. But simply looking at the box-office takes of Pixar films proves that Catmull’s statement is faulty: as daring as their stories may be, no Pixar film can be categorized as a flop. As much as we may presume that original storytelling is riskier than relying on sequels in financial terms, at Pixar, it’s almost as if they can tell whatever stories they want and people will pay no matter what.
What separates Pixar Animation Studios from the rest of mainstream animation companies, as this column has mentioned plenty of times before, is its willingness to take a risk. In many ways, they’ve been operating under a system of risk from the very beginning, before they were even an established name in the TV-commercial business. The first major risk they overcame was the very acceptance by the public of computer animation being utilized for a feature film; in the intervening time, the biggest risks they overcame were story-based, as they pinned their hopes on movies about robots who don’t speak a discernible human language, a rat who wants to cook, and more. But in recent years, the risks they’ve run up against are, in some respects, of their own doing. To wit: how risky is it for Pixar to invest more heavily in the future on sequels than on new original films? Does the studio stand to lose its respect among the public by reviving old characters instead of creating new ones?
Pixar is one of the most secretive studios in Hollywood, and it is one of the few that is actually very good at maintaining that level of secrecy, an incredible feat for the age of the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter. Although we know the story about how the studio was formed and its process for developing films, there is quite a bit about the inner workings of Pixar that we still do not know. Today, a new book by Pixar’s president, Ed Catmull, was released, and it is packed with fascinating stories about the studio!
Newt is the only announced Pixar feature film that failed to make it to theaters. Set to tell the story of a male and female newt forced together in order to extend their dying species, the film was being directed by Gary Rydstrom, who previously directed the short, Lifted. However, Newt was cancelled, which left eager fans, who had become caught up in the idea and gorgeous concept art, perplexed. The reason for why the film was cancelled has finally been revealed.
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.
The Pixar Braintrust is a respected group of directors, writers, and executives at the company who provide notes and advice to a film’s creative team during the development process. Consisting of John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, Brad Bird, Pete Docter, and others, the group has been credited as one of the reasons for the studio’s success. In Catmull’s upcoming book, the president of the studio discusses the importance of the Braintrust by highlighting a meeting held to discuss Docter’s upcoming film, Inside Out!
As was discussed in this column throughout 2013, the year 2014 is going to be an interesting one for Pixar Animation Studios. We have to look well into 2015 for the company’s next feature, and between now and that time, there will only be more rampant speculation about the studio’s upcoming slate. (Here’s hoping, of course, that the neverending glut of Star Wars casting rumors as well as this or that Marvel movie’s unveiling overshadows everything out of Pixar, in case people spin it to the negative.) Last week, it was confirmed via Entertainment Weekly that this won’t be an entirely Pixar-free year: the short Party Central, from the Monsters University universe, will be attached to Muppets Most Wanted this March. The short has been ready for a long enough time that it was nearly included on the Monsters University Blu-ray, but its director, Kelsey Mann, mentioned in the article that the party’s bigness lends itself to a silver-screen presentation. Party Central continues a now-long line of Pixar films being extended into the world of shorts, and hopefully it fits well alongside Partysaurus Rex and Small Fry, among others.