Could this article from the Los Angeles Times, published in the Orlando Sentinel of Thursday, June 15, 2006 be the early indicator how the merger of Pixar with Disney will change Disney culture and creative output? I've cut out huge but relevant chunks to stay on the good side of the Moderators here at MousePlanet.com, but the original article was in the LA Times June 12, and in the online Business Section of the Orlando Sentinel June 15 (scroll down the home page to Business on June 15, it's there, or Search the site. It's about Ed Catmull of Pixar, about to start a new phase of his career by turning around Disney's Feature Animation unit. Again, I've editted out huge chunks, but I hope what's left will set up the idea of the article's point.
From the Los Angeles Times
It's too early to know. But already, Disney animators say a remarkable change is taking place.
"It's like somebody opened the windows and fresh air is coming into the room," said Glen Keane, who during 32 years at Disney has supervised such hand-drawn hits as "Tarzan" and "Aladdin" and is set to direct the upcoming computer-animated film "Rapunzel."
Chris Sanders, director of Disney's last big 2-D hit, "Lilo & Stitch," agreed. "It's like the Berlin Wall being torn down."
Pixar people frequently recite Ed-isms — Catmull's oft-repeated theories that inform how he operates and, by extension, how the studio is run.
Ed believes that you should always hire people who are smarter than you.
Ed believes that it's more important to invest in good people than good ideas.
Ed believes in a "talent-ocracy." If you make films for everybody, you need to listen to everybody's ideas, whether they come from a janitor or a storyboard artist.
Ed believes that you learn by making mistakes and that success often disguises problems.
Ed believes that magic happens when you don't operate out of fear.
For starters, he put one of Disney's most experienced animation producers, 30-year veteran Don Hahn, in charge of the creative development team. In the past, that group reported to the animation president and was instructed to find story ideas to assign to directors. Now, directors think up their own ideas and the group supports them.
Similarly, Catmull has halted the practice of executives yanking back movies from directors at various stages of production and making changes as they see fit.
Catmull believes that the filmmakers should have "complete ownership" of their movies from beginning to end. He's empowered the production teams to set their own schedules, manage budgets and control all other aspects of the filmmaking process. Most important, he's entrusted them to solve their own problems.
Directors no longer get mandatory notes on their films from three levels of executives. Instead, they get feedback from their peers at Disney and Pixar. Directors describe it as a refreshing free-for-all of ideas and uncensored opinions.
"Ed's been the catalyst for new times around here," Hahn said. "It's a team sport that I haven't seen in a long, long time. This is a cultural change."
And the animators aren't the only ones rejoicing. In an interview, Disney CEO Iger praised Catmull for providing what had been lacking for too long.
"It's important to know the edge of our competency and just how far your leadership can go," Iger said of his decision to entrust Disney's 700-member animation team to Catmull.
"I felt we needed help in animation. It was not just about buying Pixar, but about buying the great talent at Pixar…. Ed has emerged as a real leader of a creative business."
Catmull doesn't direct movies or draw on the computer. He leaves that to others. His role is to keep the larger creative enterprise humming. Call him a troubleshooter, a problem solver, a managerial sage.
"He's never been the guy to bring you the answers," said "Finding Nemo" director Andrew Stanton. "He knows how to get in the way or get out of the way to just guide you along."
Now, he's guiding double the number of people he did at Pixar alone.
On Jan. 25, one day after the merger was announced, Catmull and Lasseter flew to Burbank to address the animation troops for the first time. Catmull spoke affectionately about Disney's heritage and assured those gathered in the studio's huge Stage 7 that the building blocks were in place to return the company to greatness.
"We're not here to turn Disney into a clone of Pixar," Catmull said. "What we're going to do is build a studio on your talent and passion."
Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook, to whom Catmull reports along with Iger, said Catmull's remarks drew "whooping and hollering" from the gathering. "You could feel the electricity in the room — it was very inspiring."
Steve Anderson was one of the first Disney directors to see Catmull's theories put into action. When Catmull and Lasseter took over, Anderson's animated comedy "Meet the Robinsons" was already a troubled project.
Immediately, Catmull arranged a screening for a core group of Pixar directors. They flew to Disney and spent six hours brainstorming with Anderson about how to punch up the film. One director suggested making the film's buffoonish villain, known as the Bowler Hat Guy, more threatening.
Anderson was wowed. "It was very helpful," he said.
People who know him well say Catmull isn't in the film business just to make money or win awards. For him, animation is a form of activism.
"I really want to make movies that touch people and make them better," he said in a way that actually sounded believable, not trite. "Otherwise, what are we doing here?"
Catmull is willing to put himself on the line for his beliefs. During the Vietnam War, he sought conscientious objector status despite the fact that his father, a World War II veteran, and the rest of his family were embarrassed by his antiwar views.
As a manager, Catmull has risked losing his best people to stand on principle: He doesn't believe in employment contracts because he thinks they send the wrong message.
In perhaps the most surprising change since taking the helm, Catmull has repealed that decision, which he calls "a lame excuse for the failure of story." He believes that directors should work in the medium of their choice, even if that medium is traditional, hand-drawn animation.
Bring us the tales you want to tell, he's urged the creative troops. Tell us what medium best serves the story.
"Disney has had two major heydays," Catmull said, referring to animation's two golden eras — the first beginning in the late 1930s, the second in the 1990s. "We're going to make a third."