Pixar’s Secret to Succeeding in a Hits-Driven Business Is Brutal Honesty, Catmull Says

Speaking in front a technology-heavy crowd today at D10, Ed Catmull explained his secret to success when it comes to producing one blockbuster movie after the next.

As the president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, the five-time Oscar-winner has overseen such hits as “Toy Story,” “Cars” and “Up.” Disney/Pixar’s next film, “Brave,” which is coming out soon, is also highly anticipated.

So how does he do it?

“I read a lot of business books,” Catmull said. “Most of them were true, but content-free.”

What he means by that is that executives are some of the last people to know exactly what is going on inside of an organization and, by default, organizations have a hard time being honest with themselves.

“The things going on are not visible to the people doing them,” Catmull said. “They are happening here and now at Pixar, and I can’t see them.”

Because of the difficulty in seeing one’s own flaws, he says they have to push to create an open and honest working environment. “We wrestle with hard problems, and shut things down when they don’t work.”

As an example, he said they’ve canned at least one major project, which he declined to disclose, and said that certain movies, such as “Toy Story 2,” required a serious rewrite in order for audiences to love it.

His other piece of advice to the D10 audience had to do with recognizing when you have an overreliance on technology.

“Our goal is to make a good movie; for a lot of people the goal is on the technology. The technology is not the goal. It is to create a good movie, and there’s something about the infusion of technology into the artistic process that enhances both.”

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