It’s interesting how people cannot see beyond what they’re used to. ... If you use technology correctly, you can change opinions overnight. ... We focused on the story and hiding the technology. ... It’s not the technology that entertains people, it’s what you do with the technology. ... your work will not be about the technology. It will be about connecting and entertaining people. ... If you create characters people connect with and tell stories that deeply entertain and move them, the audience will come.
They delved deeply into Catmull’s rules for embracing the messiness that often accompanies great creative output, sending subtle signals, taking smart risks, experimenting to stay ahead of uncertainty, counteracting fear, and taking charge in a new environment—as Catmull did when he became the president of Disney Animation Studios. ... The fundamental tension is that people want clear leadership, but what we’re doing is inherently messy. We know, intellectually, that if we want to do something new, there will be some unpredictable problems. But if it gets too messy, it actually does fall apart. And adhering to the pure, original plan falls apart, too, because it doesn’t represent reality. So you are always in this balance between clear leadership and chaos; in fact that’s where you’re supposed to be. Rather than thinking, “OK, my job is to prevent or avoid all the messes,” I just try to say, “well, let’s make sure it doesn’t get too messy.” ... Most of our people have learned that it isn’t helpful to ask for absolute clarity. They know absolute clarity is damaging because it means that we aren’t responding to problems and that we will stop short of excellence. They also don’t want chaos; if it gets too messy, they can’t do their jobs. If we pull the plug on a film that isn’t working, it causes a great deal of angst and pain. But it also sends a major signal to the organization—that we’re not going to let something bad out. And they really value that. The rule is, we can’t produce a crappy film.
A well-regarded hollywood insider recently suggested that sequels can represent “a sort of creative bankruptcy.” He was discussing Pixar, the legendary animation studio, and its avowed distaste for cheap spin-offs. More pointedly, he argued that if Pixar were only to make sequels, it would “wither and die.” Now, all kinds of industry experts say all kinds of things. But it is surely relevant that these observations were made by Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, in his best-selling 2014 business-leadership book. ... The painful verdict is all but indisputable: The golden era of Pixar is over. It was a 15-year run of unmatched commercial and creative excellence ... The theme that the studio mined with greatest success during its first decade and a half was parenthood, whether real (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles) or implicit (Monsters, Inc., Up). ... The Disney merger seems to have brought with it new imperatives. Pixar has always been very good at making money, but historically it did so largely on its own terms.