DETROIT — Dr. Ed Catmull is the president and co-founder of the Pixar Animation Studios and the president of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. He spoke at a special meeting of the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. His company has been responsible for producing films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up. Catmull said there are several barriers that stand in the way of success. He offered some tips on how businesses can get beyond those barriers and become successful.
Catmull was born on March 31, 1945 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. He studied physics and computer science at the University of Utah. Catmull began his career as a computer programmer at The Boeing Company in Seattle. Then, he returned to Utah for graduate school in 1970. Catmull graduated again in 1975 and was hired by Applicon. In 1986, Catmull became the Chief Technical Officer of Pixar after Steve Jobs bought Lucasfilm’s digital division. In 2006, Disney acquired Pixar.
“We were thinking the story was the most important part of the movie,” Catmull said. “I made an odd discovery. I realized some movies are stories. It doesn’t have any meaning. Creativity is widespread. Our goal is to make stories to touch people and mean something. While we use technology in doing that, it’s not our driving force. We want to be in a state where we have to keep reacting.”
The Pixar President and Co-Founder discussed five blocks that separate businesses from being successful:
- Self-assessment, not introspective: “As you become more successful, it’s harder to find what the threats are.”
- Dynamics of honesty: “People want to be police and they don’t want to embarrass themselves. Our problem has to do with middle managers. It’s OK for people to disagree.”
- Fear of failure: “Either we tried something new or you screwed up. We’ve had failures inside but we haven’t released them. We really learned a lot from them. It’s easier to fix problems than to prevent them.”
- Change: “We will keep changing. We’ve had some films that failed. Most successful directors change frequently.”
- Balance: “Lucasfilm in 1979 was a difficult thing to figure out. It was a tug-of-war.”
Pixar announced a film project called Newt that was to be released in June 2012. The film was removed from the official Disney A to Z Encyclopedia. An unsigned message indicated that the film had been canceled. Pixar’s Facebook page indeed confirmed the cancelation in Sept. 2010.
Catmull said that Pixar has released 11 successful films in a row. The motion picture company’s 12th film, Cars 2, is scheduled to be released on June 24, 2011. The new film will be part of the celebration of Pixar’s 25th anniversary.
Monsters, Inc. 2 was announced in April 2010 for a theatrical release on Nov. 2, 2012.
In regards to Michigan’s 42 percent tax incentive for the film industry, the Pixar President said: “The issue is true with all of the states. We’ve heard about it and talked about it. Most of the time, don’t trust the states to keep it in place. That is the primary problem. The incentives are good. In order for it to work, there needs to be a long-term commitment to be able to stay to the studios, this will be here for a long period of time.”
The next Detroit Economic Club will be a wrap-up of the findings from Time Magazine’s Assignment Detroit. It will feature panelists John Huey (Editor-in-Chief of Time, Inc.), Bobby Ghost (Deputy International Editor, Time Magazine) and Steven Gray (Assignment Detroit Bureau Chief, Time Magazine). WDIV-TV Local 4 anchor Devin Scillian will be the moderator. The meeting begins at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 11 at the Masonic Temple in Detroit.
For more information on the Detroit Economic Club, visit www.econclub.org.