The Pixar Process

Posted on June 30, 2017

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The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in NYC had a fascinating Pixar exhibit in 2016. Getting a small peek into the work within the studio gives a real appreciation for the concepts (like simplexity) that are applied in the Pixar process:


And how research, collaboration, and iteration wrap around Pixar’s story wheel:

“…You are sure right about the importance of a good story in movies. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot of work (and rework, and rework and rework) to get it right. And even then quite often we’re not 100% pleased. As John Lasseter likes to say, our films don’t get finished, they just get released.” –Pete Docter

pixarframeworkWhile they’re no slackers when it comes to research, the bottom and right of the wheel show up frequently in writing about Pixar…as if iteration is the gravitating foundation and collaboration is the forward force to keep the wheel moving (in a left-to-right world). As Peter Docter puts it to Grantland:

…the first three to three and a half [years] are writing and rewriting and rewriting. And that’s not only in the form of words, but also in the form of pictures. We draw almost a comic-book version of the movie. Then we put it with temporary dialogue, music, and sound effects, just to give it a road test, to see how it plays. Then we play it, we all sit and watch it. I drag in, like, John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton and all the other guys who are making their own movies. They get to sit and watch my movie and then we all get upstairs and talk about what worked and what didn’t. A large percentage of the conversation is what didn’t work. And a lot of great suggestions are offered up. Sometimes they’re not quite right. We refine and so on, but then we go back, rewrite, redraw it, recut it, and all that stuff.

And Anthony Lane details in the New Yorker:

This is how you make a Pixar movie. First, you have an idea: toys that talk, piscine parenting, the last robot in the world. That kind of thing. Then you write a script, which you kick around in the company of friends…

Iteration and collaboration together provide the productive feedback needed to advance the creative process. Operating in a safe space allows great teams to embrace risk and keep hitting a consistently high quality bar. We all could use a little Pixar process.

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The Lightning Field, Part 1

Posted on May 26, 2017

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Visiting Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field is like going to an event. You might know the framework, but you can’t predict the exact experience. So after some fortunate advance planning (I read about visitors waiting 10+ years for schedules to align) and a journey into Western New Mexico, I stand with my main art friend and four other overnight visitors in an isolated cabin next to a grid of 400 polished stainless steel poles. A simple framework.

We congregate on the back porch of the cabin. Clear skies, no lightning expected. In the washed-out afternoon light the poles blend into the high desert landscape. Wind comes and goes, loud then silent. Rabbits scurry from beneath the cabin, a few cows stroll in the distance. Without connectivity to the outside world, time seems to slow. Walking the field brings the scope and scale to life. One mile by one kilometer, 220 feet between poles. It seems we’ve seen it. Time to chat.

But the field is not done…at the golden hour the light changes and the poles catch the sunset. The sharp polished tips begin to glow white. Silver torches. Then poles fully illuminate. Bright gold and deep orange tubes. The field becomes Flavin. Sunset fades, the air cools, and we gather back at the cabin. Did you see that!?!

 

Click here for Part 2.

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Future You

Posted on January 8, 2017

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My best personal planning occurs when I consider the context of my situation – past, present, future – and act in the best interest of my future self. In its simplest form it’s asking, will I tomorrow be pleased with the decisions I make today? Especially as New Year’s resolutions start to fade into post-holiday realities, I encourage you to plan – and progress – the optimal future you.

The Past

Recognize the connection of past decisions to present situations. Personal histories in health, in education, in career, in relationships, etc. are too frequently rationalized in hindsight, rather than fully related to the present. In financial hardships, for example, the real villain is often the victim’s past self. The point is not to beat yourself up over past decisions, it’s to recognize how your decisions impact your situation. As one of my colleagues likes to say, life is not a series of independent events.

“These are but shadows of the things that have been.” –Ghost of Christmas Past

The Future

Your future is a chance to begin again. The future you will have a personal history that includes where you are today plus the decisions you make up until the next point you look back. Even with a debilitating illness, you can embrace a version of yourself that you positively influence. Take ownership of your future self.

“You are what you choose to be tomorrow.” –James Altucher

The Present

This is where the work happens to create your future. Take one step at a time if dramatic transformation is difficult. As long as steps are in the desired direction, you’re making progress. Make mindful trade-offs between what you do and what you don’t do, between the present you and the future you.

“You have to participate in your own recovery.” –Gregg Popovich


Ask yourself – Where do I want to be in the future? How will I get there on an acceptable timeline? Are my decisions helping or hindering my future self? – and align your actions this year. The future you will appreciate it.

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Watermelon Day

Posted on August 3, 2017

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In basic red-yellow-green project status reporting, a watermelon is a project that is reporting its status as green when it is actually red at its core. Green on the outside, red in the middle. It is superficially showing on track when it’s really at risk. What is seen on the outside doesn’t match the reality of the content. On National Watermelon Day, resolve to go below the surface, have substantive conversations, and solve real issues. Let’s go cut into some watermelons.

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Continuity

Posted on July 14, 2017

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Most organizations have routines, either formal or informal, to introduce changes into the environment. This if often cyclical with some form of stimulus, incubation, and strategic acceptance followed by tactical realization and new (or refined) activities in ongoing operations. Challenges arise when something breaks the continuity of the cycle. A critical leader leaves, the organization is overly insular, strategic decisions aren’t clearly cascaded to execution, incentives aren’t aligned, etc. When (not if) the cycle is interrupted, the key to exceptional performance is how quickly the cycle can pick back up. The longer the cycle stagnates, the more fuel it needs to restart.

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The Lightning Field, Part 2

Posted on May 28, 2017

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Click here for Part 1.

“Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.” -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

We make the cabin our true home for the night, supplementing dinner with what we’ve brought to share – salad, sauce, drinks, conversation, perspectives, music, connections, and paths. In darkness we find ourselves lying in the field watching the light parade of stars, jetliners, and cigarettes before we scatter for bed.

Sunrise brings another golden hour, a quick breakfast, and multiple last looks at the field before our ride arrives on schedule but all-too-early at 11am. Returning to our cars in Quemado, we exchange contact information and best wishes for easing back into civilization – New York, LA, Santa Fe, our crowded ports of reentry. As my friend and I drive back through The Narrows toward I-40, we pass the gravel shoulder where we stopped for lunch yesterday. It feels like a week ago.

“And then you have to leave.” -Geoff Dyer, The New Yorker

 

To Corey, Dave, Mary Katherine, McClean, Jessi. The Lightning Field 5/24/17-5/25/17. Word.

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