Tag Archives: Pixar

Pixar Storytelling: Rules for Effective Storytelling Based on Pixar’s Greatest Films by Dean Movshovitz

  1. Examines Pixar’s storytelling techniques to uncover the techniques and mechanisms which make them so successful
Key Takeaways
  1. Emotionally committed when characters get out of their comfort zone which forces them to grow and change. Best do this by exploiting existing flaw or problem
  2. Great characters deeply care about something, anything. We care because they care. Strong opinions about things and past experiences amplify the drama
  3. 3 liking levels – external / superficial, deeper, empathy (where their wins equal your wins and the character serves as your proxy for success and emotions)
    1. Put the character in harm’s way and let them fight their way out of it and never give up (unless they have tried absolutely everything!)
  4. Conflict evolves out of something the character stands to lose
  5. ‘Construction’ necessary – character changes some deep part of themselves which helps them achieve their goal
    1. Change is the measuring unit of conflict
  6. No such thing as small characters
  7. Never choose anything over honesty
  8. All villains have a value system that makes them believe their actions are right
  9. Avoid consequences when storytelling
What I got out of it
  1. Quick read with good examples from actual Pixar movies to bring it to life

The Pixar Touch by David Price

  1. A comprehensive overview of Pixar’s history, it’s storytelling process, its relationship with Disney and more
Key Takeaways
  1. Lasseter was at Disney sweeping streets as a teenager and later as a guide on Jungle Cruise
  2. Pixar began as a hardware company but struggled and eventually started selling animation software
  3. Bob Iger’s purchase of Pixar is legendary – Disney brand failing as indicated by mothers trusting Pixar brand more than Disney. Pixar movies also made up 45% of Disney’s operating revenues before being bought
  4. Selling Pixar gave Lasseter freedom to make movies he wanted to make
  5. Ed Catmull helped launch and revolutionize the computer animation industry – first through his work at New York Institute of Technology, then while at Lucasfilm and of course through his time and research at Pixar
    1. Alex Schure was a visionary millionaire who sponsored and brought together one of the finest computer animation teams in the world at NYIT
  6. Jobs bought Pixar from Lucasfilm in 1986 for $5m and put over $50m into it over the next 10+ years but bought into the mission wholly (although he did lose some confidence at points as indicated by his desire to try to sell Pixar to Microsoft and other companies).
  7. Alvy Ray Smith, along with Catmull and Lasseter, is the third founder of Pixar and worked with Catmull while at NYIT
  8. Regardless of how advanced the technology is, story is always the most important.
  9. Fostering a cool place to work always attracts top talent more than money alone
  10. Catmull – animation has to meet people’s experience from everyday life. Sometimes more important to not be 100% realistic if it makes the shot more believable for whatever reason
  11. Lasseter started at Disney during its dormancy phase when the most favored expression of Disney executives was, “As Walt used to say…”
    1. While Lasseter was at Disney, Tron convinced him that computer animation was the next revolution in animation and tried to convince Disney to invest more. Disney was not so sure, promptly fired him and was then hired to Pixar at Lucasfilm
    2. Lasseter’s greatest gift is his ability to give inanimate objects life and personality
    3. George Lucas was skeptical of computer animation at first, as was Frank Thomas at Disney. Lucas eventually spun off Pixar which was a hardware group at that time (although Catmull and Smith always had the vision of creating movies)
      1. Jobs’ vision with Apple was always to bring high-end computing to the masses –  “Our computers were born not out of greed or ego but in the revolutionary spirit of helping common people rise above the most powerful institutions.”
  12. People will always use tools in ways the toolmaker never thought possible
  13. Luxo, Jr. a hit for the actual and emotional realism it was able to portray through an inanimate object. Tin Toy was the first animation to win an Oscar
  14. Jobs and Smith clashed to the point that Smith eventually left to found Altamira. Jobs went overboard and at one point rescinded all employee’s stock options which obviously angered many people
  15. Lasseter has an uncanny ability to shift between the macro level of the entire film and the micro level of whatever detail he was dealing with at the moment. He would always be aware of a frame’s role in the larger context of storytelling
  16. Pixar’s massively successful first release, Toy Story, convinced Jobs and others that there was true potential in computer animation. Jobs decided to give himself and the company some liquidity and soon after Toy Story’s release, Pixar went public
  17. “When Disney gets behind something, look out.” – Steve Jobs
  18. Employee loyalty and bucking normal trends – “Catmull had rejected Hollywood-style run-of-style employment, believing that steady employment relationships would help the company hold on to its invaluable talent.”
What I got out of it
  1. It requires doing something different in order to get results different than the average. Pixar’s leaders, their process, their focus, ability and willingness to be different all help them achieve creative and financial results which have never before been seen in entertainment.

Innovate The Pixar Way by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson


  1. Quick book describing some of the attitudes, beliefs, practices and more that set Pixar apart and give it the best shot to keep innovating and producing the highest quality movies

Key Takeaways

  1. Ed Catmull’s own hero is Disney himself – collective creativity within a corporate culture is never an accident. It begins with creative leadership that is trustworthy and in turn trusts others to accomplish big dreams. They refuse to take shortcuts and truly embody and live by the ideal that “quality is the best business plan of all”
  2. One of Pixar’s greatest attributes is their ability to view the world through the eyes of a child
    1. Helps create culture which rewards and cherishes imagination. Try new things and don’t fear results that are different from what you expected them to be
    2. Dream. Believe. Dare. Do
    3. Innovate. Don’t imitate!
  3. Childlike dreamers, producers of “good show”, champions of artists and protectors of an innovative culture are characteristics that Walt embedded in Disney and that Pixar also exhibits more than any other studio
  4. Instead of “meeting customer expectations,” start fulfilling their dreams
  5. “Give us the black sheep” – Brad Bird on who he wanted to work with on The Incredibles because they would most likely be the most frustrated and most passionate to make something great
  6. Short-term mindset and need for instant gratification stifles innovation
  7. Ultimate test of success is prosperity in long-term after original leader or founder is gone
  8. Dreams really can come true if you keep a long-term focus
  9. On Leadership – “The ability to establish and manage a creative climate in which individuals and teams are self-motivated to the successful achievement of long-term goals in an environment of mutual respect and trust.” – Walt Disney
  10. Creatives flourish when they unite to forge new frontiers and when they refuse to compromise their values – even if it means pushing back on unyielding, high-ranking bullies
  11. Encourage culture of failure to team
    1. Celebrate failure with the same intensity that you celebrate success
    2. Become a prototype junky
    3. Develop your own “skunk works”
    4. Dream BIG
    5. Don’t cry poor – find ways to be innovative even without a big budget
    6. Planning is OK but don’t be a slave to the plan
    7. Visually track and display progress
    8. Forget about long planning meetings and reports
    9. Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission
    10. You need a soul mate – find customer or supplier who is willing to refine prototypes and ideas
  12. Important of play – can’t get the most out of people long-term without burning out if don’t give enough breaks and have fun DURING the process
  13. Muhammad Ali and the “lonely hours” – the hours put in before sunrise, when no one is around, when you don’t have to train, are the hours that separate you and make you great
  14. Must have dignity and mutual respect from all sides in order to prosper as a firm
  15. Technology inspires art and art challenges technology
  16. Keys to innovation – story is king, displayed thinking techniques (storyboarding), improvise, “plus-ing” (as long as you keep pleasantly surprising the customer, the more they’ll keep coming back. If they ever stop coming, it’ll cost 10x as much to get them back), internal collaboration, external collaboration, prototype. try. learn. try again., work on cool projects (all about selling the dream), extensive training, fun and play, transparency from every level, celebrate (reward excellent failure and punish mediocre successes), establish a brain trust, the most successful are dreamers with deadlines, enact postmortems, quality is the best business plan
  17. Other innovative companies – Google, Griffin Hospital, Nike, Target, Zappos

What I got out of it

  1. Good, short, fun book on what it takes to be innovative

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull


  1. One of the founders of Pixar, Ed Catmull, describes Pixar’s history and their creative process. Amazing to hear how difficult of a battle it is to have a great company that lasts.
Key Takeaways
  1. The culture at Pixar is unlike any other but what really sets it apart is its willing to acknowledge that it will face many problems and be blind to them
  2. Released toy story to huge acclaim and had to battle Disney to do it their way. Catmull lost his way a bit after this as one of his life goals had been achieved
  3. Wanted to understand why fantastic leaders of great companies often make very obvious, stupid mistakes. What was blinding them? – found that often so preoccupied with competition that they ignored other destructive forces
  4. Founders of Pixar (jobs, Lasseter and Catmull) goal was to create a company and culture that far outlived them. This book is about how that culture was built
  5. Best managers make room for things that cannot see, must loosen the control (not tighten it), and encourage candor
  6. In this period when computers and graphic design were improving by leaps and bounds, Catmull (now at Lucas Film) experienced tremendous push back from people who were afraid of change that would slow them down short term but improve their productivity 1,000 fold long term. Must have buy in from the community you are trying to serve!
  7. Visual polish matters much less if you get the story right
  8. John Lasseter got fired from Disney and then joined Lucas Film. Steve came in s year later when he bought the department from Lucas film and the three of them founded Pixar
  9. When good situations coexist with bad, people are unlikely to complain as they’ll be labeled complainers. Watch out for these situations and be proactive in getting a constructive feedback from people
  10. Pixar mantras – story is king, trust the process
  11. Pixar managed to do the impossible – revamp Toy story two in record time and make it better than the original
  12. Meeting the team right is more important than getting the idea right. They can either fix a mediocre idea or throw it out
  13. Merely saying something or repeating a mantra means nothing without action and dedication to that mantra
  14. Hallmark of a great organization is people feeling the freedom to be honest and candid. Lack of candor, over time, will degrade team dynamics and quality of work
  15. Candor only works if the person on the receiving end of the feedback is open to change
  16. People want honesty and direction from their leaders but also to let them know when they messed up and to be included in the correcting of course decisions
  17. Best leaders are able to understand and communicate to people’s different points of view (condominium metaphor where every person lives on a different floor and has a different view – point of view)
  18. Catmull goes on a meditation retreat every year in order to become more mindful
  19. Very difficult but important to determine what is impossible and what is simply a humongous reach
  20. Can’t let past success make you afraid of taking risks and perhaps failing
  21. It is vital not to become attached to your idea. Jobs and the leaders at Pixar were able to let go of ideas if proved wrong and not take criticism personally
  22. Principles for creativity:
    1. Give a good idea to a mediocre team and they’ll screw it up, give a mediocre idea to a good team and they’ll work wonders (get the team right)
    2. When looking to hire, give potential to grow more weight than current skill level
    3. Always hire people smarter than you; do not discount ideas from unexpected sources
    4. Must coax ideas out of your staff; managers job is to address reasons people aren’t candid
    5. Never be convinced you are right – always be open
    6. Do not measure outcome independent of process
    7. Must be willing to fix things as they pop up and understand their nature if they were unseen
    8. Not manager’s job to prevent risks but to make it safe to take them
    9. Trust means your trust them even when they screw up
    10. Finding and fixing problems is everybody’s job
    11. Show early and show often (iterate)
    12. People should be able to talk to anybody
    13. Do not create too many rules as it belittles people
    14. Impose strategic limits to force people to think differently
    15. It takes substantial energy to move a group
    16. Don’t confuse the process with the goal
What I got out of it
  1. Really interesting overview from Catmull on Pixar’s process. Inspiring to hear how much he and the whole team at Pixar cares