In 1995, a relatively unknown company called Pixar released the first animated movie made entirely on a computer. The movie was called “Toy Story” and one of the guys at the head of that company was Ed Catmull.
But Catmull downplays the importance of the computer in “Toy Story’s” success.
“It’s not about the technology,” he says. “We use the technology, we develop it, we love it, [but] it’s about the story.”
Catmull’s new book, “Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration” takes a look at the company’s history and their creative process.
The key, says Catmull, is being prepared to deviate from the plan: “Every one of our films, when we start off, they suck… our job is to take it from something that sucks to something that doesn’t suck. That’s the hard part.”
Sometimes, those “deviations” are more like “overhauls”: “Almost half our movies have gone through complete restarts.”
He cites “Ratatouille” as an example where of a dramtic reboot. The original version follows a rat who wants to be a chef — and it also followed the rat’s mentor, a French chef whose star has faded in the culinary world. The Pixar team found themselves stuck. Who was the story really about? The rat or the chef? They brought in Brad Bird of “The Incredibles” who killed the chef. Literally. Catmull credits Bird with saving the film.
“The trick is, in everything we do, there are things we love. And sometimes the things we love get us stuck. And it’s only if we let go of some of those things that we free the movie up to become greater.”
External forces also helped make Pixar successful – including Steve Jobs and the sale of Pixar to Disney, their longtime partner.
“As we developed, we needed to have other resources,” says Catmull, about how Disney got involved. Jobs at this point knew he had cancer, and was trying to set Pixar up for long term success.
Jobs already had a good relationship with Disney’s Bob Iger. Catmull says he felt Iger “was the right guy to go with” after Disney and Apple made a groundbreaking deal to release episodes of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” on iTunes, back when most people felt uneasy about putting their content on the web. Catmull says he realized Iger was someone who could take risks – something he values at Pixar.
When asked to summarize Pixar’s theory on innovation, Catmull says: “Everything’s interconnected. That’s the way life is.”