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?)