The Frontal Cortex

Pixar

I’ve got a short feature on the Pixar creative process in the latest issue of Wired. This is one of those magazine spreads that really benefits from a glossy paper layout, so I’d recommend not following this hyperlink, and instead picking up the dead paper edition. (It’s a really great issue.) As a huge fan of Pixar, it was a thrill getting to venture inside the studio, and meet with a few of the people who help make those wonderful films.* One of the lessons I took away from the Pixar process was the power of endless iterations, as the creative team slowly (very slowly) refines and revises the story, script, pictures and animation. The four year journey is exhausting, in large part because it depends on constant criticism, both internal and external. After all, those iterations can only improve if the feedback is brutally honest:

Animation days at the studio all begin the same way: The animators and director gather in a small screening room filled with comfy couches. They eat Cap’n Crunch and drink coffee. Then the team begins analyzing the few seconds of film animated the day before, as they ruthlessly “shred” each frame. Even the most junior staffers are encouraged to join in.

The upper echelons also subject themselves to megadoses of healthy criticism. Every few months, the director of each Pixar film meets with the brain trust, a group of senior creative staff. The purpose of the meeting is to offer comments on the work in progress, and that can lead to some major revisions. “It’s important that nobody gets mad at you for screwing up,” says Lee Unkrich, director of Toy Story 3. “We know screwups are an essential part of making something good. That’s why our goal is to screw up as fast as possible.”

*As a self-promotional footnote, I’ll be devoting a lot more words to the Pixar process in my forthcoming book about the science of creativity, Imagine. (ETA 2011?)

Comments

  1. #1 Jeff
    May 25, 2010

    I think the science of creativity is a great topic for your next book and I look forward to reading it.

    Perhaps in the interim you could interview Sir Ken Robinson of TED fame. I’d love to read a piece about him and his research (something like your piece on Henry Markram and the Blue Brain).

    I’m a big fan. Thanks for your inspiration and insight.

  2. #2 Chester Burton Brown
    May 25, 2010

    I’m an art director and an animator, and I can tell you that the task that occupies the most minutes and hours of every day is simply watching short sequences over and over and over and over and over and over again. Sometimes I eat lunch in front of looped clip, letting it go by for an hour, absorbing everything *not quite right* with what I see.

    Yours,
    CBB

  3. #3 Left_Wing_Fox
    May 25, 2010

    Features or television, CBB? I’m an animator myself, primarily in television production. Trying to teach myself 3d at the moment so I can start working on productions with a fraction of the quota I’m dealing with now. Would be nice to spend the time polishing a short clip to perfection, rather than cranking out 20-50 seconds of footage a week.

  4. #4 N
    May 26, 2010

    wait; they sit there and rip each other to shreds, first thing in the morning?

    (ahhhh yes. The critique. Also known as, the peer-review, in other contexts.)

    That sounds very depressing, negative, and anxiety producing.

    Yet the resulting end product, clearly, is not. It’s some of the most upbeat, amazing, inspiring media, created in the industry today.

  5. #5 dsmccoy
    May 29, 2010

    Dang! You came to Pixar and I didn’t even hear about it until I read it in your blog.
    I’ve been following your writing for years and would have loved to say hi.

    As to N’s comment:
    “they sit there and rip each other to shreds, first thing in the morning?

    That sounds very depressing, negative, and anxiety producing.”

    It could definitely be that if you are defensive, competitive, and closed minded.
    And that goes both for those commenting and those receiving the comments.
    In a collaborative atmosphere, it can be more like brainstorming ways to make it even better, and learning from each other.

    And CBB’s comment:
    “watching short sequences over and over and over and over and over and over again.”

    Yes, but in a collaborative group, you not only loop it over and over, but you have many sets of eyes on it simultaneously, each pair with a slightly different outlook. I think ten people watching it twenty times is better than one person watching it 200.

  6. #6 David Hunter
    May 29, 2010

    Do they do this for scripts? Would this work elsewhere? Because I’ve seen a lot it committees take a bit of marketing or an event’s logistics and turn them to mush by the sheer amount of input and everyone having different ideas about something. I guess if you have a group of animators, or musicians, or other like-minded experts, you’ll get a better product, but if next week everyone on staff where I worked got together to read and re-read a letter or promotional peice, I know what would come out would be bland and peicemeal.

  7. #7 Isabel
    May 30, 2010

    “Most of the time, a studio assembles a cast of freelance professionals to work on a single project and cuts them loose when the picture is done. ”

    I don’t think this is true, especially in the major studios. And traditionally it definitely hasn’t been true.

    In general, there was little in your article that was unique to Pixar. For example everybody starts the day with dailies. That’s why they’re called dailies.

    And what was depressingly familiar to see in the photos, as a survivor of the industry, were the rooms full of males with a lone female – who turns out to be – oh what a surprise! The super-mom producer! Just like ALL the successful woman I know of in the animation industry. She’s the one who keeps the wacky creative bad boys in line and makes sure it all gets done. And themed offices with beer on tap! What fun for the boys!

    In my experience, as far as sexism goes, academia is a cakewalk in comparison.

  8. #8 Isabel
    May 30, 2010

    “*As a self-promotional footnote, I’ll be devoting a lot more words to the Pixar process in my forthcoming book about the science of creativity, Imagine. (ETA 2011?) ”

    When you do, please be careful to separate what is the general practice in the industry, and what creative processes, if any, are unique to Pixar. Based on my own experience and also on your Wired article, I’m not convinced there are any. To many, the reason Disney-type (now Disney-owned) productions are so successful is because of the obsessively tight focus on a crowd-pleasing story and they ARE obsessive about the story. Many other productions are equally technically proficient and stunningly beautiful, through the same processes you describe.

    Frankly, you come off a bit starry-eyed, which is quite common when people are talking about animation. Wow! People are working in themed offices with beer on tap! What a fun, cool job that must be! Animation is a really hard, often tedious job. Is that critical process of looking at dailies so much creative or critical fine-tuning of a pre-determined creative direction? Animators are generally working with a predetermined number of frames and a pre-recorded soundtrack, not to mention strict guidelines on the characters, detailed storyboards, etc. *

    The animators aren’t really the “creative” people in the process, in the traditional sense that we think of artists. Of course, all problem solving and fine-tuning of this type is also creative in a way, but it exists in many occupations and endeavors that are not really thought of as especially “creative” – like, say, just living life and getting older and wiser.:) Also, if you look at the history of the industry you will find many examples of companies where directors and crew worked together for a string of successful films.

    Lastly, and not to sound too bitter, but maybe you could mention the sexism at the company, and how this contributes or detracts from the creative process. Is it a male-bonding thing? From the Wikipedia article:

    “Pixar has been criticized for its lack of female protagonists. Brave, Pixar’s thirteenth theatrical release, will be the studio’s first movie with a female lead (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), and despite the variety of characters in their other films, she will be a Disney Princess.”

    * This has varied greatly through the history of the animation industry, but I believe is generally the case that the big Disney/Pixar-type productions are the most top-down as far as creative control.

  9. #9 dsmccoy
    May 31, 2010

    Isabel:
    ” ”Most of the time, a studio assembles a cast of freelance professionals to work on a single project and cuts them loose when the picture is done.”

    I don’t think this is true, especially in the major studios. And traditionally it definitely hasn’t been true.’

    Are you talking about animation? Or film in general?
    Film in general has had freelance creatives since the breakup of the Hollywood studio system in the 50′s. It’s true that in-house teams are more common in animation, but only a handful of animation studios are successful enough to keep in-house creative teams together over the long haul. The assertion is that Pixar’s team operates somewhat differently than other studios. I believe that to be true because I’ve heard it from people who have worked at other studios before working at Pixar.

    ‘To many, the reason Disney-type (now Disney-owned) productions are so successful is because of the obsessively tight focus on a crowd-pleasing story and they ARE obsessive about the story.’

    Since when is success or “crowd-pleasing”, a problem? Would you rather see films made that people don’t like? There is a huge difference between crowd-pleasing and crowd-pandering. Many crowd-pleasing films go on to be classics, while the crowd-pandering ones usually look dated in a few years. Pixar’s oft-stated goal is to make timeless films that “we want to watch ourselves”. So Pixar isn’t trying to please some crowd abstraction created by market researchers, Pixar is trying to please a crowd to which they belong. So, yes, guilty as charged, crowd-pleasing films, and yes, obsessive about story, because if you don’t get the story right, the rest of the work is wasted.

    ‘The animators aren’t really the “creative” people in the process, in the traditional sense that we think of artists.’

    I don’t know how you think of “artists”, but I work with people I consider artists every day, some of them animators.
    Your statement is only true if you don’t consider actors creative.
    Actors in live action provide both the voice and the physical performance. In animation the voice actors provide the audio, but the physical performance is provided by the animators. So if you consider the silent physical performances of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd to be creative, then you would have to consider animators creative, since they provide the physical performance. The animators art even continues beyond that into the more “fine art” related way that a good animator worries about the composition in the frame.

    maybe you could mention the sexism at the company

    Ah, the old “sexism” charge.
    Sure, all of Pixar’s films to date have been directed by men; but more than half of all of the “Producer” credits are women, so it’s not as if women have no power at Pixar. Directors need stories that they can tell with authenticity; it’s better to have a good story than to fill a quota. I would love to see more female protagonists, but I also want to see that come from a director who can tell a good story with a female protagonist. That will come naturally as more talented women come in to the field as I believe is happening.

    You reference the wikipedia article on Pixar about the thirteenth feature. The article sees fit to mention Reese Witherspoon, but doesn’t bother to mention that the film will be directed by a woman, Brenda Chapman. I consider that much more newsworthy than the voice talent. The wikipedia “Disney Princess” comment appears to be some uninformed wiki editorializing. I’ve seen the story reels for the film and I would recommend that you reserve judgement on the character until you see what Chapman does with her.

  10. #10 Isabel
    May 31, 2010

    “The animators art even continues beyond that into the more “fine art” related way that a good animator worries about the composition in the frame. ”

    Along with all the other responsibilities of being a good animator!:) That is besides the point of what is special about Pixar/Disney. And I wasn’t disagreeing with you about that part – the story IS key to their success and the appeal of their movies.

  11. #11 Isabel
    May 31, 2010

    “Ah, the old “sexism” charge.”

    Hahahah! What the hell is that supposed to mean?

    “Sure, all of Pixar’s films to date have been directed by men”

    Oh yeah, forgot to mention that.

    “but more than half of all of the “Producer” credits are women, so it’s not as if women have no power at Pixar. ”

    Um, see my comment #7 above??

    “We have a director and a lead voice actor for the character, but we have no idea what the character is. It’s all very mysterious, but I have seen the story reels from the film and think you should reserve judgment.”

    All we know is it’s our first female protagonist in thirteen films.

    It’s so funny how someone can brush off a company making a dozen films in a row about males, all directed by males, and claim it is not sexist! I guess female humans are just not that interesting.

    And finally a female director comes along and the character is a princess??

    This had better be good, dsmccoy.

  12. #12 dsmccoy
    May 31, 2010

    Isabel: Um, see my comment #7 above??

    Ok.

    And what was depressingly familiar to see in the photos, as a survivor of the industry, were the rooms full of males with a lone female – who turns out to be – oh what a surprise! The super-mom producer! Just like ALL the successful woman I know of in the animation industry. She’s the one who keeps the wacky creative bad boys in line and makes sure it all gets done. And themed offices with beer on tap! What fun for the boys!

    You’re referring to the pictures from the article? It sounds to me like you are projecting your own experience onto the pictures.
    There is the one big picture at the top with the Producer, Director, Supervising Animator, and Supervising Technical Director of Toy Story 3. So sure, the leads of the disciplines are men, and then there is the woman producer. I don’t know if I’d call Darla “super-mom”, but if you insist, fine.

    In the rest of the pictures in the collage down lower, I definitely see more men than women, some of the pictures are so tiny it’s hard to tell who’s in there, but each woman I see is different and none of them are producers. (If you hover over the pictures, a credit pops up for the in-house photographer, a woman.)

    Look at the credits for a Pixar film and you will see not only a lot of women in the production management (“mom”) roles, but listed as art director, director of photography, animator, editor, technical director, digital painter, … pretty much any discipline. The percentages essentially reflect the percentages in the available talent pool.

    It’s not like Pixar is some evil male empire trying to keep the women down:

    http://bawifm.org/Default.aspx?pageId=298004

    The last “boys club” bastions would be the roles sitting with the producer in that first picture. Since those senior roles require a lot of experience, they are influenced by the past. If there were more male animation school graduates in the past, a supervising animator is more likely to be a guy. The technical side used to require an engineering degree; as the tools mature and become more accessible to people with art backgrounds, the balance shifts. In breaking into the previously all-male directors circle, Chapman is hardly a newcomer; she was story supervisor on “Lion King” and director of “The Prince of Egypt”.

    As to why she wants to tell a story about a princess, I’m sure a lot of interviewers will bring that question up once the film gets released, but you’ll need to wait a while for the answer.

  13. #13 Isabel
    May 31, 2010

    “It sounds to me like you are projecting your own experience onto the pictures.”

    Confirmed by your insistence above that women have power in the industry because they were half the producers at Pixar. My experience was obviously typical.

    “I don’t know if I’d call Darla “super-mom”, but if you insist, fine.”

    She actually calls herself something very similar in the article:)

    “Darla Anderson has produced four Pixar films: A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc., Cars, and now Toy Story 3. “I’m the pushy mom of producers. I always drive it to the bitter edge,” she says. “I always want it to be better, even if it means throwing something out that we’ve spent months working on.””

    “It’s not like Pixar is some evil male empire trying to keep the women down:”

    Hahaha. They just don’t find females interesting.

    “As to why she wants to tell a story about a princess…you’ll need to wait a while for the answer.”

    Oh come on. She’s a female and she wants to appeal to girls, and girls want to grow up to become princesses. It’s totally logical!

  14. #14 dsmccoy
    May 31, 2010

    The flip side of the producer story is that nearly half of the feature film producers at Pixar have been men. It’s hardly a role that women get relegated to, it’s a powerful position for which people compete. Feature film producer is one of the most prestigious jobs in the industry. If Darla wants to self-deprecatingly call herself “mom”, fine. In reality there is a lot more to it than that.

    A big reason there is more male/female parity in the role of film producer is that it’s a role which isn’t contingent on special training, like animation, but a role that one works up to from lower-level production roles which are accessible to people with varied backgrounds. So the balance is not contingent on the demographics of animation school graduates.

    “Oh come on. She’s a female and she wants to appeal to girls, and girls want to grow up to become princesses. It’s totally logical!”.

    Maybe that’s wider industry logic, but it’s not necessarily logical from the Pixar perspective. By that logic, Pixar would probably never have made a film about a french rat cooking gourmet food, or one about a grumpy old man and a korean-american boy scout.
    Inside the world of Pixar, a film director makes a film because there is a story the director wants to tell. If Brenda Chapman wants to tell a story about a princess, that’s her choice. It has to be a good story to get a green light, but Pixar’s philosophy is that if you just keep the quality up, the target demographics will work themselves out.

  15. #15 Isabel
    June 1, 2010

    “It has to be a good story to get a green light, but Pixar’s philosophy is that if you just keep the quality up, the target demographics will work themselves out.”

    Could you elaborate on this statement please? What does “the target demographics will work themselves out” mean???

    12 films with 12 male protagonists is a shameful record. It is WORSE than the old Disney studios. The only way you (I assume you are an employee or some representative of the company?) could possibly make amends is to make the next 12 films about female protagonists.

    Also you seem to keep implying that male directors can only make films about male characters! What a ridiculous idea.

    Finally, do you think you may be contributing to a vicious circle? Why would young women even want to be animators after being completely ignored by the industry, when they are not being typecast as pricesses? WHAT is Pixar doing to recruit female animators? There are plenty of female animators. There is nothing intrinsically “male” about animation. And no one needs or ever needed an engineering degree to be an animator. In the independent animation world, there are many more women animators and directors.

    The last Pixar movie I saw was Cars, which was disappointing. The best animated feature I saw last year was also distributed by Disney and had a fantastic story and amazing animation and nobody I talk to has even heard of it. Why???? (The movie was Ponyo).

    Jonah, this is what I mean about macho hero-worshipping in this industry.

  16. #16 BikeMonkey
    June 1, 2010

    oh Isabel, I totally thought you were going for the latest Princess movie on that one..ah well.

    It was an advance for the genre, if you accept that they can’t totally turn the Princess superstory around. yet no traction, promotion or anything at the Land of Mouse. sad…

  17. #17 Isabel
    June 1, 2010

    Do you mean the Princess and the Frog, Bikemonkey? I don’t think that was Pixar.

    Anyway, this is a “sexism” thread;)

  18. #18 Isis the Scientist
    June 1, 2010

    Oh, FFS BikeMonkey. The black princess got her movie. What more do you want??? Equality done.

  19. #19 dsmccoy
    June 2, 2010

    Isabel: Could you elaborate on this statement please? What does “the target demographics will work themselves out” mean?

    Target demographics means worrying who the movie will appeal to.
    You said: She’s a female and she wants to appeal to girls
    From the Pixar philosophy, that’s putting the cart before the horse.
    The most important thing is that a film director should make a film that honestly appeals to the film director, not to some segment of the population.

    12 films with 12 male protagonists is a shameful record.

    Who’s ashamed of producing a series of good stories with universal appeal?
    I’m proud to be associated with them.
    Is a hollow contrived story fulfilling your checklist better than an honestly told story which doesn’t? Should Pixar have shoehorned some princesses in there?
    Your checklist sounds like the perfect way to kill creativity.

    By the way, you’re counting two films which haven’t been released yet (11 and 12), and at least three which have, but you haven’t even seen yourself (the ones since Cars).

    (I assume you are an employee or some representative of the company?)

    I am not speaking as an official spokesperson or representative, just an employee who enjoys Jonah Lehrer’s writing.

    Also you seem to keep implying that male directors can only make films about male characters! What a ridiculous idea.

    I am not implying that, you are reading that into what I am saying. The creative process is a very personal one. What I am saying, not implying, is that in a director-driven creative process like Pixar’s, the directors have to tell the kind of stories they can tell honestly with the kind of characters that they can tell it with. It depends on the individual. But you have to admit, male characters are likely to come a little more naturally to men and female characters a little more naturally to women.

    Finally,

    Promise?

    do you think you may be contributing to a vicious circle?

    How?
    By hiring a female director and green lighting her film?

    Why would young women even want to be animators after being completely ignored by the industry, when they are not being typecast as pricesses?

    Oh come on, completely ignored? (And don’t blame the entire industry on Pixar.)
    The Pixar directors vary in how well they write female characters, but there are some well-loved female characters in the Pixar films, even if they aren’t the leads.
    I’ve seen a woman with Colette from Ratatouille tattooed on her arm! I don’t think she’s feeling ignored, or at least not completely.

    There are plenty of female animators. There is nothing intrinsically “male” about animation. And no one needs or ever needed an engineering degree to be an animator. In the independent animation world, there are many more women animators and directors.

    There are many independents out there to start with, so are you entirely sure that the percentages are all that different? There may not be anything intrinsically “male” about animation, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the same number of men and women will choose animation as a career. If you have concrete information, I’d be happy to see it, but piling up anecdotal evidence won’t help.

    The last Pixar movie I saw was Cars, which was disappointing.

    When I hear people describe a film, or anything for that matter, as “disappointing”, I can’t help but wonder if the problem was with the actual film, or merely with the mismatch with the expectations.

    Cars wasn’t one of my personal favorites either, but if because of Cars you skipped seeing Ratatouille, Wall-E, and Up, you’ve missed some great animated films.

    The best animated feature I saw last year was also distributed by Disney and had a fantastic story and amazing animation and nobody I talk to has even heard of it. Why???? (The movie was Ponyo).

    Disney distributes all of the studio Ghibli films in the states, and they’re involved in dubbing the English version, but other than that have nothing to do with content, that’s all Ghibli.

    Ponyo was really beautiful, as have been all of the Ghibli films; they are hands down one of the finest animation studios in the world. Hayao Miyazaki is one of the best, if not the best, animation director ever. And he excels at writing female leads, more power to him. Ponyo was good, but the story wouldn’t be in my personal top five list of Hayao Miyazaki films. Miyazaki’s films are all classics, Spirited Away, Totoro, Princess Mononoke (OMG a Princess!), Laputa (wait a minute, Sheeta turns out to be princess), Nausicaa (the principality is pretty small, but dang if she isn’t kind of a princess too).
    Even Ponyo, child of a goddess and a wizard, makes her kind of like a princess.

    Jonah, this is what I mean about macho hero-worshipping in this industry.

    Hero worship?
    Sure. One of my prized possessions is a picture of my son standing next to Hayao Miyazaki … you know, the guy who made all of those great princess movies.

    Macho?
    Another thing where I’m never sure how much is in the eye of the beholder, but if you insist, fine.

  20. #20 Isabel
    June 2, 2010

    “Is a hollow contrived story fulfilling your checklist better than an honestly told story which doesn’t? Should Pixar have shoehorned some princesses in there?”

    Yes they should have shoehorned TWELVE princesses in there. And only princesses! Because all women are either princesses or they desperately, desperately want to be princesses. Hahaha.

    I was being sarcastic about the new film appealing to girls because it’s a female director and a princess lead.

    Your target audience is actually kids and families, and in twelve films you have completely ignored 50% of those people without, apparently even noticing.

    So what is Pixar doing about the situation?

    “Inside the world of Pixar,”

    You mean the Pixar studio? It’s just a studio that makes cartoons. Get a grip on yourself.

  21. #21 dsmccoy
    June 3, 2010

    Isabel: Your target audience is actually kids and families

    Well, not exactly.
    I left the tail off of the previous statement of goal:

    Pixar’s oft-stated goal is to make timeless films that “we want to watch ourselves”
    … and bring our families.

    Or are you being sarcastic again? Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

    and in twelve films you have completely ignored 50% of those people without, apparently even noticing.

    She says with confidence, never having seen approximately half of those twelve.
    As to the hyperbole of “completely ignored”, aside from my previous comments about the Colette tattoo, I’m reminded that my son didn’t feel “completely ignored” by “My Neighbor Totoro”, even though it’s about two young girls. Are you saying young girls have less imagination than my son?

    Maybe you feel ignored, but that’s you; as much as you might want to project it on everyone else, you don’t speak for 50% of the people.

    Check out how many female fans Dory from “Finding Nemo” has on Facebook sometime:

    http://www.facebook.com/FindingNemoDory

    “2,424,093 People Like This”, and they seem to be mostly female.
    Do all of those girls feel ignored?

    Jessie from “Toy Story” isn’t as popular:

    http://www.facebook.com/ToyStoryJessie

    Only “1,143 People Like This”, but then, it’s been over ten years since her last film, check back next month.

    “Inside the world of Pixar,”

    You mean the Pixar studio? It’s just a studio that makes cartoons. Get a grip on yourself.

    Sorry it that wording put you off. Maybe it would have been better stated as coming from the Pixar world view, rather than just “world”, because it is a different way of looking at things than in most of the industry.

    It’s definitely a different world view from the one which blames everyone else.

    So from my world to yours, goodbye Isabel.

  22. #22 dsmccoy
    June 3, 2010

    Forgot to preview,
    Missed the italics around:

    You mean the Pixar studio? It’s just a studio that makes cartoons. Get a grip on yourself.

  23. #23 skeptifem
    June 3, 2010

    Who’s ashamed of producing a series of good stories with universal appeal?
    I’m proud to be associated with them.
    Is a hollow contrived story fulfilling your checklist better than an honestly told story which doesn’t? Should Pixar have shoehorned some princesses in there?
    Your checklist sounds like the perfect way to kill creativity.

    Wow, way to miss the point.

    When you say stuff like this you imply that the boy’s stories are the only good kind. You are saying that there must not be any good stories about women out there because they would have made it by now if they were worth anything. Do you think it is a real meritocracy or something, and that white men just happen to succeed at such a disproportionate rate? It is laughable. It is like you think that 12 times in a row doesn’t imply anything except that guys just happened to have the best stories 12 times in a row. Are you really that short sided? Do you ever wonder what could have been, if the playing field were even? I can assure you that the world missed out on some good stories. You complained that trying to be inclusive would mean putting demographics before plot quality- you completely avoid the idea that they did put demographics before content, and decided to go with a demographic that supports the status quo.

  24. #24 dsmccoy
    June 3, 2010

    skeptifem:

    Hi skeptifem, welcome to the argument.

    When you say stuff like this you imply that the boy’s stories are the only good kind.

    No, that’s not what I’m implying at all. That’s what you are reading into it when you paint me with whatever brush you are painting me with rather than listening to me.
    I’m implying that the kind of good stories which can be told depend on the person telling them.

    You are saying that there must not be any good stories about women out there …

    No, I’m not saying that. Again, that’s what you are reading into it. There are plenty of good stories about women out there, and I’m saying that women are usually better at telling them. Stories about women aren’t the exclusive domain of women story-tellers, but whether a guy can write a good female character depends on the guy. Story-tellers should tell the kinds of stories they can tell well, not the kinds of stories other people insist that they tell.

    Do you think it is a real meritocracy or something, and that white men just happen to succeed at such a disproportionate rate?

    No, I don’t think “it” is a real meritocracy, whatever the “it” you are referring to might be.
    Now we’re adding in race, (I thought this was a sexism thread, Isabel said so. :)
    Ever notice how the generalizations keep piling up in discussions like this?

    Real problems are never solved by great sweeping generalizations.

    Meritocracy is something to aspire to, reality always lags behind.
    The best I can figure, the “it” you are talking about is our shared culture. The culture is not some machine with knobs one can turn to dial in the level of “fairness”.
    One has to start from the culture one is presented with and nudge it in the directions one is able to.

    It is like you think that 12 times in a row doesn’t imply anything except that guys just happened to have the best stories 12 times in a row.

    And how many of these twelve have you seen?
    I love how everyone is already passing judgement on two unreleased films along with the others.

    Are you really that short sided?

    Actually, I’m quite tall, and I take a very long view of things as well.

    Do you ever wonder what could have been, if the playing field were even?

    Sure, but doesn’t mean I can make it even.

    I can assure you that the world missed out on some good stories.

    I’m sure you can assure me of all kinds of things, but all I’m saying, it’s not my responsibility to tell someone else’s story, it’s not anyone’s responsibility to tell anyone else’s story. If Pixar had worried about anyone else’s story from the start, there would be no successful studio to hire a woman director and host a “Women in Film” conference.

    You complained that trying to be inclusive would mean putting demographics before plot quality- you completely avoid the idea that they did put demographics before content, and decided to go with a demographic that supports the status quo.

    Not sure how much you’ve got wrapped up in that “inclusive”. But if you mean making Woody a girl’s doll or something, then it would have been telling someone else’s story. It would not have rung true and there would be no successful animation studio to complain about.

    If you mean hiring a bunch of women no matter what their level of skill, the quality would not have been there and there would be no animation studio to complain about.

    If you mean bringing in qualified women when they are available, Pixar has been all over that from the start. Pixar is not powerful enough to single-handedly “fix” the demographics of the animation industry.

    Nobody can “fix” the culture, but we can have a positive impact on it. I think Pixar has had, and continues to have, a positive impact on the culture.

  25. #25 Isabel
    June 3, 2010

    So not only have you created a “World” you’ve had “a positive impact on the culture.”

    And exactly what is this positive impact you’ve had?

    Skeptifem: Character animators are well-known as the biggest nerds in the film industry. I think what he’s saying is that the (usually male) animators and directors don’t have enough experience with those mysterious female creatures to make successful films about them.

  26. #26 sarahbee
    June 3, 2010

    Heh, I came to the comments page to ask if Lehrer could please comment on the lack of strong female characters, but I see Isabel already has the argument in hand. Nice work, Isabel, although as usual I think you’re working uphill. I’m pretty sure there are people here who aren’t capable of seeing the problem, let alone listening to you when you describe it. I think it’s worthwhile to keep trying, though, because every now and then somebody benefits from hearing the minority view. ;-)

  27. #27 dsmccoy
    June 3, 2010

    Ok, fine.

    JL’s article is about the creative process, but all you seem to want to talk about is social engineering.

    I see where this leads now.
    Snarking to people you’ve never met, about movies you’ve never seen, about a creative process you haven’t a clue about.

    In other words, this conversation leads nowhere constructive.

    If crafting stories with positive themes of friendship and cooperation instead of fart jokes and pop culture references makes no difference to you, if you think characters in stories are interchangeable and just switching genders would be easy, if you are convinced that you already completely understand all of the social issues involved and know exactly how to fix them, then I have nothing to add.

  28. #28 Isabel
    June 3, 2010

    “about a creative process you haven’t a clue about.”

    You haven’t explained what is so special about it.

    It sounds like a lot of hype that Jonah has swallowed hook, line and sinker.

    But you don’t want to discuss it. So “Ok, fine” yourself.

    Hey Sara! Thanks for the support!

  29. #29 TheEmbargo
    June 16, 2010

    Hey, people… I just happened to stumble into this little blog here. I have a question, since this is about film and all. If a girl were to apply to become director, would she be ignored? Actually, I plan to be Producer, Director, and a member of the Writing Process and lines. I’ve known male directors to do this, and I know females are just as capable… so, would I be pushed away simply because of my gender?

  30. #30 Kate
    October 17, 2011

    I know I’m super late to the party here, but in the rare case that those commenting here happen to get notifications, I just wanted to say that I completely support dsmccoy.

    I’m a woman presently in the film industry and working on transitioning into public relations and I have run into a very “boys club” kind of attitude in many of the projects I have worked on. The industry is definitely sexist, but I agree that it’s mainly for reasons that dsmccoy stated; specifically, that the present is a creation of the past. Progress is happening, but it’s slow. Those in power generally like to remain in power.

    I commend Pixar for doing as much as they have done to support equality and for focusing on quality above demographics and consumer appeal. I look forward to seeing Brave, as I have seen the rest of Pixar’s films (excepting the recent Cars 2, although I may see it eventually) and I, personally, love that Pixar is turning the cliche Disney princess story on its head.

    I find the old Disney animated films ludicrously sexist and offensive as compared to Pixar’s line of films (with their male leads) and would take Toy Story over Snow White any day of the week for equality, innovation, and sheer entertainment.

    Please keep up the great work, Pixar, and remember that, although not everyone will like the choices you make, many of us do.

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