Ed Catmull: Creativity, Inc. [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

May 5, 2014
Stanford eCorner
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Ed Catmull: Creativity, Inc. [Entire Talk]

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In this video, Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation, discusses his new book Creativity, Inc. He talks about the early days of Pixar, including their struggles and successes, as well as the unique approach they took to fostering creativity and innovation within the company. He also shares insights on how Pixar's methods can be applied to other organizations.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Ed digitize his hand for a class project?

Ed used a class project at the foundation school for computer graphics to digitize his hand. He made a plaster of Paris mold of his hand and carefully digitized it using software. He then created a movie of it and showed it at a conference.

Q: How did Ed's childhood interest in animation and computer science come together?

In the 1950s, Ed grew up idolizing Walt Disney and Albert Einstein. He wanted to be an animator, but there were no schools for it at the time. So he switched to studying physics and later computer science. However, when he took a computer graphics course, he realized that art and technology could come together, and he became passionate about combining the two.

Q: What was Ed's role at the New York Institute of Technology?

Ed was hired by Alex Schiller, the president of the college, to bring high technology into film. Alex wanted to become the new Walt Disney and was willing to fund Ed's vision. Ed built a team and worked on solving the problems of computer animation, which eventually led to the creation of the first computer animated film.

Q: How did Steve Jobs get involved with Pixar?

Steve Jobs was initially interested in buying Pixar to use as the foundation for his new computer company, Next. However, the deal fell through, and Ed Catmull and others realized that Steve wanted to validate their worth rather than sell them. Eventually, Steve acquired Pixar and became involved in its management.

Q: What role did the brain trust play in Pixar's creative process?

The brain trust was a group of highly skilled and passionate individuals who provided feedback and critique on Pixar's projects. They had no authority to tell the director what to do, which created a collaborative and non-threatening environment. This allowed for open and honest discussions, leading to better creative decisions.

Q: How did Pixar's approach to creativity and innovation differ from Disney's?

Disney had a more process-oriented approach to creativity, focusing on efficiency and cost-cutting. In contrast, Pixar emphasized the importance of taking risks, experimenting, and continually striving for excellence. They also valued candid feedback and embraced failure as a learning opportunity.

Q: How did Pixar and Disney Animation work together after Disney acquired Pixar?

When Disney acquired Pixar, Ed and John Lasseter were asked to run Disney Animation. They kept the two studios separate but applied Pixar's principles and philosophy to Disney Animation. This eventually led to a turnaround in Disney Animation's success, with several critically acclaimed and commercially successful films.

Q: What is the concept of the "Hungry Beast and the Ugly Baby"?

The "Hungry Beast" refers to the part of a company that generates revenue but also incurs costs. It needs to be constantly fed with new ideas and products to sustain its growth. The "Ugly Baby" refers to new ideas or projects that may not initially appear promising or successful but have the potential to grow and become successful over time. Both the Hungry Beast and the Ugly Baby need to be balanced to ensure the long-term success of a company.

Q: How did Pixar maintain an openness and willingness to share their innovations and discoveries?

Even though Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Pixar, was known for his penchant for secrecy, he never applied it to Pixar. The company believed in the power of sharing and publishing their findings, which helped attract the best talent and foster a strong sense of community within the computer graphics industry.

Q: How did Ed Catmull and Steve Jobs work together despite their different management styles?

Ed and Steve had a collaborative and productive working relationship. They had disagreements but resolved them through ongoing discussions and open communication. Ed learned to present his ideas to Steve in a way that allowed him to process the information more effectively. Steve also evolved over time, becoming more empathetic and sensitive in his interactions with others. Ultimately, their mutual respect and shared vision for Pixar helped drive the company's success.


Pixar's success can be attributed to a unique combination of factors: a culture that values openness, experimentation, and candid feedback, a collaborative and non-hierarchical work environment, and a focus on continually pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation. By fostering a sense of trust and shared responsibility, Pixar has been able to consistently produce critically acclaimed and commercially successful films. The company's approach to creativity and managing talent is applicable to various industries and organizations, highlighting the importance of creating a safe and supportive environment that encourages risk-taking and learning from failures.

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