Ed Catmull on How Pixar Creates Stories

This is my favorite quote by anyone involved in animation, it is INCREDIBLY liberating (inasmuch as you do not need to write for sappy parental approval):

“As far as heading for an audience? We don’t target a group — in particular we don’t go after kids, alright…it’s a bad idea to target films for little kids.  Two reasons.  One is, essentially it is talking down to them. And if you talk down to them, they don’t like it that much. And for adults its very boring.  The truth is, children live in an adult world, and they’re used to hearing things they don’t understand.  So our approach is, we want to make movies that we enjoy. There’s a physical humor and physical comedy that comes from acting from animation that kids do enjoy. So there’s a thing that they do like. And obviously, we don’t put in things into our movies that would offend families or their children.  But, we write the dialogue and the story for us. We want them to be meaningful for us. And that’s how we think about it.”

One wonders if supposedly loud vulgar blood-thirsty leaders like Genghis Kahn or King Leonidas (see below) were actually more straight-forward, level-headed, well-spoken strategists with good ideas like Ed Catmull.

Ed Catmull’s presentation to the 2007 Entrepreneurship Conference at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (key points in the video: 43 minute mark and the second to last sentence, in true Genghis fashion, “Then they can burn and die.” Go Ed!!!! )

Imperfect Transcript

Update: Pixar Artist (of 20+ years), Craig Good, expresses a similar sentiment:

“We don’t make movies for kids. We make movies for adults, actually ourselves, and then just make sure there’s nothing in them that the little ones shouldn’t see. The local cineplex is littered with movies made by studios who want to second-guess what the audience wants. We find we get better results by making what we want, and then assuming that there are other people like us out there. If audiences in general are underestimated, kids really get the patronizing treatment. Two things are often forgotten about kids. One: They have no taste. They will watch just about anything. This is normal and healthy. Taste comes later. Two: They are not stupid! Kids are born intelligent, and there’s no good reason to make dumbed-down entertainment for them.”


Additional thoughts by Catmull:

“We work hard on culture here,” explained the animation studio’s co-founder and president Edwin Catmull. “When you go into other studios, you’ll find that most are either artistically driven or technically driven. We’ve tried hard to make sure that our technical people and creative people are peers. We’ve found that when the technology is strong, it inspires the artists. And when the artists are strong, they challenge the technology. The result is that our artists and technical people appreciate each other talents.” One of the ways the animation studio sets about establishing a sense of camaraderie is through education.

“Another thing we do when people [artists and technicians] come on board is send them to Pixar University,” revealed Catmull. “This is a ten-week classroom program to teach people how to use our tools and to cross-train them. So we’ve got classes in filmmaking, sculpting, drawing, painting, and improvisation.” The benefits of the unique initiative have proven to be indispensable.

“One of the effects Pixar University has on the culture is that it makes people less self-conscious about their work and gets them comfortable with being publicly reviewed.”