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
While they’re no slackers when it comes to research, the bottom and right of the wheel appear 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.