When “Toy Story” was released 20 years ago, Pixar transformed itself from a struggling special effects company into the leader in computer animation.
Over the past two decades, Pixar has become the most successful movie studio in modern Hollywood history — even though Pixar is actually headquartered in the Bay Area suburb of Emeryville.
A lot of Pixar’s success is due to how it marries great storytelling with eye-catching technology. But as we learned from Pixar employees when we visited the studio’s campus, the success is also due to strong leadership and the company’s willingness to subject every movie it makes to round-after-round of tough, constructive criticism.
That way of doing business flows from company president Ed Catmull. He’s a pioneering computer scientist who helped build Pixar into the empire it is today, but despite the studio's success, he understands the need to constantly innovate.
"I know that with most companies that have a lot of success, it tends to throw you off and you can become more conservative," Catmull said. "One of our questions is, How do we keep from being pulled into conservatism because we're afraid of not being successful again?"
In addition to encouraging Pixar's creative staff to take chances and evolve, Catmull understands that changes in the industry introduce challenges they haven't yet encountered. For Pixar to survive, it has to anticipate and react to these changes swiftly.
"We have a whole number of unknown things in front of us," Catmull said. "We have seen companies not respond to that. We looked at the music industry, they were so late to the game they got run over. So how do we as an industry figure out what to do? The excitement is trying to figure out what to do and how to respond."
Listen to the full interview with Ed Catmull to hear about how Pixar approaches diversity in its staff and talent, how the studio learns from the mistakes its made in the past, and what Catmull envisions for the future.