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Thoughts on Creativity Inc

Before reading Creativity Inc by Pixar President Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace I wasn’t entirely sure what I could learn from a book written for creative leadership. I love Pixar and all they create but learning how their company runs didn’t really seem appealing to me at first. Well it turns out I was wrong. I learned quite a lot about my own creative endeavors as well as some thought provoking tips for life. Mr. Catmull has devoted his life to learning how to build not just a successful company but a sustainable creative culture and he shares his knowledge with the readers. Catmull’s purpose for writing this book is to not only to tell, but also to teach through his learned experiences. He talks about how he has seen many creative companies go off the rails and he wonders why? How does one build a successful company with a sustainable creative culture? He asks these questions and gives his answers to why.

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Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration is so much more than just a book for managers, it’s a wonderful tale of how Pixar was created while intertwining Catmull stories of how he became a manager himself and helped build Pixar in to the household brand that it is today. The book begins with a very young Catmull and his inspiration from Walt Disney. From there he explains how he gave up on his dream of becoming a feature film animator. Making the most of his talent in math he studied physics and computer science at the University of Utah. After finishing at UU he moved on to work at Lucasfilm and finally came full circle to his boyhood dream of working at Disney. Catmull tells an engaging story of how he fosters creativity at all the companies he’s worked at. “If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.”

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If you’re reading this post, I’m assuming that you’re a creative person and you’re interested in how the creative process works. Well this books process is broken up into four parts: “Getting Started,” “Protecting the New,” “Building and Sustaining,” and “Testing What We Know.” Throughout all of these sections he focuses not as much on the process, but more about finding the right people. It seem’s to me that this is more of the process at Pixar than anything. Be flexible and give creative people the ability to do what they do. Personally, I wish more companies had this motto but at least for the companies I’ve worked for these values are a little hard to come by. The book is not all about the Pixar process, it also gives fun insights into their movies like, did you know that the first plot for the movie Up revolved around a King that lived in a floating castle and his two sons were vying for who would be the next to sit on the throne. That’s nothing like the movie I saw. So how did they get there? Well, Pixar has A group of people called the “brain trust.” The brain trust is a group of Pixar’s most trusted creative people who get together every 3 to 6 months to try to work out problems with their movies. The movies are presented and this brain trust gives their suggestions on what is working and what’s not. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in these meetings!

The most poignant thing that I took away from the book is “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.” That’s a quote straight from the book. I wrote it down because it really speaks to me. It’s something that I don’t do in my own creative process and need to begin to incorporate. Another quote that I loved is along the same lines, “if you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them—if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line—well, you’re deluding yourself. For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work—things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal.” I hate to just copy this quote and be unoriginal, but there’s so much truth behind these comments I can’t help but want to share them.

My main take away from Creativity Inc. is that Ed Catmull is a very smart guy. He and Amy Wallace have written a brilliant book with tons of insight into the creative process. It’s amazing what Pixar has accomplished and it’s fabulous to get a look at there creative process and how they foster creativity. I personally listen to my books and I can’t wait to start this one again.

Disney Animation and story building – A look into the process

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Over the weekend I ran across this inspiring video. In it, a number of Disney artists walk you through a bit of their process in developing characters and story for their feature animated movies. Whenever I see things like this I marvel at the process and how similar it can be to what we go through as children’s illustrators when we develop a book. Wonderfully inspiring!

And do I dare mention that I now have a huge crush on Eyvind Earle’s painting skills. GORGEOUS! I wonder what you call that? Enjoy!

Guest Post-Tom Bancroft-Disney layoffs, 2D animation, and you

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Recently many were worried for the future of hand drawn animation with the announcement that Disney had no plans for any hand drawn projects in the future. This made many feel that they were witnessing the final days of traditional animation. Things seemed to be cemented with the recent announcement that a number of traditional animators had been laid off by Disney. There was panic in the streets!

Many felt that with Disney backing away from this art form that their dreams of seeing non computer generated imagery onscreen had gone the way of vinyl and 8 track cassettes. Luckily we have industry veteran Tom Bancroft to come in and quell the fires and rage of our passion for a craft many artists love dearly.

Tom Bancroft has almost 25 years of experience in the animation industry, most of which was for Walt Disney Feature animation where he was an animator for 11 years. He is the author of several character design books and his most recent project is a graphic novel titled Opposing Forces.  So join us as Tom reacts to the news and helps to incite hope by giving his perspective of the issue. Enjoy.

A very nervous animation student (he didn’t say, but I assume he is studying 2D animation) asked me about my opinions on the state of animation these days.  What are the companies thinking with laying off all the employees, not doing 2D animation, canceling great TV series, etc.?  Are the business people just evil?  AND the even bigger question: Is John Lassiter a jerk (or worse) for letting all the 2D animators at Disney go yesterday?

MY ANSWER:  I have a slightly controversial (for an artist) perspective on businesses and business people.  Over all, I like them.  At times, I have even been grateful for them.  (Steady paychecks should never be taken for granted.  Wait till you don’t have one one day, then you’ll know!) Remember, we live in a world where businesses are expected to make money to stay alive.  It’s called capitalism. Others call it “business”. That means, the animation world isn’t any different from any other job/company. I see the other side of the equation since I owned my own company for about 8 years. It was a small studio, but until you work “out in the real world” away from mom and dad’s money and/or a companies’ steady paycheck, you have no idea how hard it is to stay afloat as an artist. I don’t suggest it to people right after art school by any means. That doesn’t mean I think that studios are run poorly at times.  They OFTEN are.  Its is near impossible to find a person that understands creative people AND knows business well enough to run a studio.  That person was NOT Walt Disney, as many of you think.  Walt had his brother Roy, to handle the money side of things and make sure Walt didn’t destroy the company.  And he would have.  Imagine a world where Disney animation only made “Snow White”.  That’s the Disney company with Walt as the sole head.  You need both sides and I admit, the Disney company of today (and for years now) is short sighted.  They want quick money and are not looking long term at investments and legacy, as they should.
They say they are, but its obvious they are not.

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Schoolism interview with Disney and DreamWorks Visual Development Artist couple, Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying

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Two of my favorite artists, married couple, Mike Yamada & Victoria Ying recently did an interview with Bobby Chiu from schoolism. They discuss how it is as a married couple working in the same industry at competing companies. Victoria at Disney and Mike at DreamWorks where they are visual development artists. They’ve contributed to movies such as How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph & Paperman. They also work together illustrating their own projects through their company, Extracurricular Activities. They discuss their recent kick starter program and how they ended up getting funded. Towards the end they talk about their process and what kind of artists each of them is and how they continue to work at there craft to keep growing.

Book Report – The Art of Tangled

If you’re a fan of Disney’s animated films and their art style I’ve got a book for you. The art of Disney’s Tangled is a beautiful book full of character designs, set designs and storyboards. If you were to walk into my office this book would be on my table for inspiration.

You can’t beat character designs by Glen Keane and a host of amazing other artists like Victoria ying, Claire Keane and Jin Kim. There are pages and pages of sketches of expressive characters like Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, Maximus, and Mother Gothel. Continue reading