Pixar’s Ed Catmull: We Just Want to Tell Good Stories
With the release of “Toy Story” in 1995, Ed Catmull, president and co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Walt Disney Animation Studio, debuted the first-ever computer-generated feature film, ushering in a new era in cinema. Since then, Pixar has released 11 more such movies, most of them critical and financial successes, refining its craft and pushing the boundaries of computer animation.
Now, with a 12th film on the way — “Brave” — Catmull, who started at Pixar in 1979 when it was still a division of Lucasfilm, presides over a company that continues to set new standards for animated entertainment. Which makes him both an industry titan and a historian.
Onstage at D10 on Wednesday, Catmull reflected on his role as celebrity computer scientist and bona fide five-time Oscar-winning Hollywood player.
“When Pixar first came together, initially we were just trying to survive as a company,” Catmull said. “But in the end, our goal was to change animation. … We wanted to make the first feature animated film. And we wanted it to look good and be interesting.”
So how did Pixar do it?
“We used reality as a benchmark,” Catmull said. “Reality was so far out of reach that it helped guide us toward the problems that we needed to solve.”
1995 brought with it the first fruit of that effort, “Toy Story,” which distinguished itself by its great narrative. And that has become a hallmark of Pixar films.
“Our goal was to make a good movie, not demonstrate our technology,” Catmull said. “One of the things that differentiated us at the beginning is not the technology, but to make a good movie. It’s to use technology to tell a good story.”
A few other highlights from the session:
When Disney acquired Pixar, it was very important to me that we not merge the two companies. Disney Animation was not healthy when we got there. And our goal was to turn it around.
We picked toys because we could depict them well. It’s hard to do skin and hair and make it look realistic. But it’s okay to make plastic toys look like plastic toys.
Hopes for Animation
What I’d like to see are films that are unique and different and touch people in a human way, getting at emotions and human life.
On Role Models
When I was a kid in the ’50s, my two idols were Walt Disney and Albert Einstein.
When we first started, sequels were considered a bad idea. The film that changed everything was “Toy Story 2.” What we discovered with that is that a sequel is no easier to make than the original. So the way we think about it is this: We should only make it if we have a director that’s passionate to do it. If you don’t have someone with that passion, it’s not the right thing to do.
On First Reactions to “Toy Story”
When we first did “Toy Story,” some people couldn’t figure out what we were doing. I remember executives at certain companies watching it and saying we should just use our technology to make commercials.