This is not a blog book review. But it is a blog opinion of a book titled “Creativity, Inc.: overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration”. This is not a blog about corporate management. It is not a blog about how to be a better manager. It is not any of those things usually associated with a business book which is what I thought this book would be about when I borrowed it from my local library. Two things caught my attention about it and both things were on the cover: an image of Buzz Lightyear holding a conductor’s baton and the name Ed Catmull. Who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? It is the cover that got my attention to just to pick it up, borrow it, and read it.
I’m a Disney Fan. No, I’m a Disney Fanatic – a Neurotic Disney Person. Yes I love the parks but more to the point I love all things Disney. The movies, the resorts, the music, the theatrical productions. I’m all in. Since the merger of Disney with Pixar, I’ve come to love all the movies from Pixar. But what fascinates me about Pixar is how it got to be the giant of entertainment that it is. In order to understand that I need to read about it its history. Enter “ Creativity, Inc.” The cover lists Ed Catumull as President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. Really? Why did I think it would be the late Steve Jobs or the great John Lasseter? Because those two men loom large in the Pixar culture. Ed Catmull very quietly built Pixar and sustained it. It was Ed’s desire to be a full time animator. Instead Ed Catmull became instrumental to Pixar’s success as a world class animation studio.
The book does not read like a dry business text. It also is not a nonfiction novel. It holds my attention because of the interesting stories Ed tells that describes Pixar’s long journey from a high end computer products manufacturer to a full fledged animation studio. I’m reading about interactions with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter. It is not a typical autobiography where the author usually tells you about himself. Good. That’s not what I want to know. I want to know how Toy Story was made; Pixar going public just a week after Toy Story hit theaters; the ambition to have Toy Story 2 shown in theaters and not direct to video; the exhaustion of Pixar employees racing to meet the deadline; how stories are created; the relationship with Disney and Michael Eisner.
Here are some fascinating facts I learned: Steve Jobs paid $5 million to spin Pixar off of Lucasfilm (George Lucas has to sell Pixar because of a divorce dispute.) Steve went on to spend another $5 million to fund the company. Disney needed a partner to increase its feature film output. Steve Jobs negotiated with Jeffrey Katzenberg. Disney had the marketing and distribution strength. Pixar has the technical innovations. Jobs fought hard to keep Katzenberg from buying Pixar’s tech secrets. Jobs knew how to deal with Eisner.
This book is current to the point where there is a passage that describes next year’s Pixar release titled Inside Out about a girl working through her emotions because her family has moved to a new city. I enjoy reading about the process of how a movie is put together. It is not the mechanics of computer animation that is being described here. It is more about story creating because at Pixar as well as Disney Animation, ‘story is king.’ Every Pixar movie has ‘rules’ meaning the world has to make sense and the viewer accepts the rules without realizing it. The toys’ voices in Toy Story are never audible to humans (ok maybe that one time when Woody scares Sid.) The rats in Ratatouille walk on four paws except for Remy.
A movie or rather a story is revised many many times before we as the audience get to enjoy it. The ‘braintrust’ at Pixar will create, modify, tweak a story line many times before they feel they got it just right. WALL-E was first titled Trash Planet. In one version WALL-E saves EVE from destruction in a dumpster. The director and animators didn’t like that ending. It was Brad Bird the director who said to give the audience what they have been waiting for, EVE saves WALL-E.
There are many examples in the book about the various iterations of films we as Disney/Pixar fans have come to love. Catmull explains that the movie we see is not at all how it is first conceived. The process takes years to complete a film. This book gives you a glimpse into that world of imagination and creativity.