Week fourteen: Pixar Co-founder and President Ed Catmull in person, discussing his new book “Creativity, Inc.”

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SCA 108, 7:00pm. Please arrive at 6:50 to check in and claim your reserved seat.



Ed CatmullEd CAtmull Audience



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44 Responses to Week fourteen: Pixar Co-founder and President Ed Catmull in person, discussing his new book “Creativity, Inc.”

  1. Yizhou Li says:

    I thought Ed Catmull’s talk was kind of interesting. My favorite parts were talking about the different starting versions of Up. I am glad they were willing to change the story to reach the better film in the end.

  2. Dustin Reno says:

    Mr. Catmull’s talk was too short, but he said some good things in the time he had. My favorite part of his talk was regarding not being afraid to iterate on your idea until it is right. It’s a very different kind of pressure when you’re trying to make a feature versus a student film, but most of the factors and pieces are the same. It’s one of those nice reminders that “it isn’t just me” and that even the greats struggle with that.

  3. I think Pixar was such an inspiring and fresh thing when it released Toy Story almost 20 years ago. Like Ed Catmull mentioned it felt like an improvement in storytelling as well as a technological leap. In the years following I´ve seen Pixar become a more static entity, slowly devolving into very traditional ways of narration. Things like the brain trust, the 20 rules of storytelling and the “Story is king” motto seem to be carvings in stone that have caged them in a style instead of an evolution on the things they were trying to improve with their first movies. They do have unconventional ideas, like WallE and Up, but the resolutions of the stories seem to be more conventional which every movie. I do wish they would go back to the things that made them unique at the beginning. For this reason it was interesting to see the mindset behind their decisions. Even though I felt very disconnected through most of the whole talk cause it seemed to be more of a corporate talk on creativity, there were some snippets of knowledge that I will keep in mind. The best one for me is the risk not equating difficulty. The opportunity of being in the same room with one of the creators of Pixar is a great one and I´m glad I got to experience it.

  4. Ruthie Williams says:

    Ed Catmull was engaging, clear, and well-spoken, and his matter of fact perspective was very refreshing. I thought it was interesting that he reflects on success and failure in business from a more scientific/experimental point of view rather than focusing on the glory and value of his contribution, which sounds like a liberating approach to solving a problem. I also think that his advice to venture out into the unknown and figure it out rather than trying to copy someone who is already successful was an inspiring sentiment. After 3 years of seminar guests, I think the nearly unanimous answer to ‘how do I get there?’ is ‘you won’t know until you get there.’ A scary thought, but it also means anything could happen.

  5. Evan Harbuck says:

    I really enjoyed listening to Ed Catmull and like Dustin mentioned, I think his talk was too short. He had great insights and personal perspectives to share. I appreciated his thoughts on introspection and I got that sense that his reflections have informed a lot of his professional experiences. I was surprised that so much of his talk focused on storytelling which I found very thought provoking. I would have loved to hear more about his early work in computer graphics but I imagine he doesn’t focus much on that in his book. In a similar vein to what Simon mentioned in his post, I wonder much of the early success of Pixar is due to an element of “all the stars aligning.” Ed mentioned that what worked for his generation can’t be replicated and won’t work for the next generation. I wonder what this will look like for the future of Pixar and if we’ll ever seen another successful group of friends and artists like the class from CalArts from the 70’s.

    • elisabethmann says:

      My CalArts peers from the early ’90s included Stephen Hillenburg, Sheila Sofian, David Fain, Mark Osborne (Director of “Kung Fu Panda 1” and the upcoming “Little Prince”), Eric Darnell (Director “Antz”, “Madagascar 1”, “Madagascar 3”), Bill Lebeda (Creative Director of Picture Mill), and Jamie Kaliri (Creator of Dragonframe and cut-out stop motion animator), just to name a few of our “rock stars.” There are plenty of classmates still working in some capacity in the industry or in the arts. Everyone eventually finds their path. By the way, Christine was our teacher too!

  6. Ryan Gillis says:

    I was very impressed with how insightful Ed Catmull’s responses were, even to the most basic questions. He never really repeated himself, it was like peeling layers of a deeply introspective and intelligent onion. It actually made me want to read his book. Something that book-publicity tours usually never do.
    Like Ruthie said, I think it was nice that he never descended into cliches when discussing how to get jobs or success. He talked about failures, and staying loose and open to change.
    One of the things that resonated most for me was his assertion that you can’t replicate someone else’s success, and the difficulty of going off into uncharted waters.
    It was a great talk, overall. Thanks to Lisa for hooking us up with the seats.

  7. Caress says:

    I really loved the Ed Catmull talk. All of his commentary about having to lead a business and how success is defined on a creative team was a real breath of fresh air. I’ve always wondered about the nuances in relationships while working on large studio projects, and I felt Ed Catmull gave realistic scenarios and instances where he had to problem solve. Rarely do guests who work in these big studios give unique insight.

    I wish the Q&A was more interesting to listen to…Most of the questions were from students who just wanted Ed to tell them how to be successful in life at age 22. It was pretty frustrating, since he’s had such a rich history as an innovator in animation technology that he could have spoken more about.

  8. Ivan Sayon says:

    I found Ed Catmull’s talk very insightful considering his background in computer science and applying his knowledge of management to feature animation. The keys points that peaked my interest were: 1. Forming an ideal environment that limits hierarchical power within a creative group by sitting down and listening to creatives, and 2. Seeing set-backs, bad decisions, and crisis situations as the best way to improve. It’s good to know that there are executives out there that actually listen to employees lower on the chain as it does seem to boost innovation based on the films that come out of Disney/Pixar. Even though Steve Jobs is gone, it’s good to hear from someone who worked with him and witnessed a drastic change in his attitude. Other advice that I thought was helpful was: “People who can’t let go of personal ideas can’t lead a team.” and “Most people wilt under commitment and the acceptance of honest constructive feedback (The Truth) is what is needed to get over this issue. I would’ve liked to hear more examples of disaster scenarios from his own experience and possibly even some of the major mistakes he has made in the past. But then again like he said, “Success can’t be copied” even though all our struggles are different, at least we can learn and see things from a different perspective.

  9. LinHui Wang says:

    I liked his talk, and as everybody mentioned, it was too short. And there was a question asked by the girl at the end kind of reminding me something interesting, so what if you can give some advises to your 15 years old , what would you say?

  10. Andrew Malek says:

    Ed seemed like a really smart dude. Its interesting to see someone who I really associated with the technical side of CG, be so interested in the logistics of supporting and perpetuating the success of highly creative people. Ed was full of interesting pearls of wisdom that hinted at a highly perceptive mind. I think the most important thing he talked about creating an environment where different is okay and allowed, which is surprisingly rare in the world of movie making.

  11. earnason says:

    I thought Ed Catmull gave a fantastic talk and was inspiring to listen to. I am very happy I had the chance to see him speak.

    My favorite line of his was “Don’t be afraid to throw everything away and start again, that’s how you learn to learn from your mistakes.”

    I am very curious about his book.

  12. Josh Weisbrod says:

    Ed Catmull’s talk was super interesting and yes, much too short. It was cool to hear about the early days of Pixar, but I wish he’d gone even further back and spoken more about pioneering CG– but it is something amazing to hear a story about someone who set out to achieve a goal and then finally achieved it after 20 years of trying– changing all of our futures in the meantime. It is a story of persistence, which is maybe a good answer for all of those wondering how to be successful right when they get out of school.

    I would like to read his book some time as well.

  13. Sophie Xing says:

    It’s my pleasure to hear Ed Catmull’s interview. I learned more things about animation industrial. It’s interesting to know about earlier Pixar.

  14. Jake Zhang says:

    I like his saying that “knowing the truth is useless while how to know the truth is really important”. Indeed, there are so many some kind of truths about success around, the only thing we should work hard on is to explore the only truth that owned by ourselves.

  15. Hearing Ed Catmull talk was really interesting, and it was awesome to get to sit so close. I definitely agree with many people’s comments that his talk was too short . . . and really, I think it was too broad. I would have liked him to focus on one chapter of his book more instead of talking more generally about being very high up at a huge company.

    I did really appreciate how he described his experience with Steve Jobs . . . as someone who held strong convictions and opinions, but when presented evidence that countered his position, he adapted his stance.

    And I also enjoyed how down-to-earth Ed seemed. It was a great reminder to spend your time doing what you’re passionate about and just be yourself.

  16. Tristan says:

    I thought Ed Catmull’s talk was pretty good. I would have been interested to hear more about the inner workings at Pixar. I found the story about what UP was originally to be pretty insightful. It would have been funny if someone asked to examine his hand and compare it to the film about his hand, to see how much had changed.

  17. Maggie Harbaugh says:

    I really enjoyed Catmull’s talk. He was so well spoken with a point of view that is so unique considering his history and accomplishments. His point that “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably just copying other things” really hit home. I also found it appropriate since he was talking to students, who are in a time of their life where they should be making the most mistakes. It was comforting to hear that even studios such as PIXAR encourage mistakes and that these slips don’t equate to failure. If anything, I’ve felt like errors lead to an unexpected idea or an creative work around. During the Q & A when the woman asked about his relationship/transition between science and art, he had a pretty expected answer, but I liked how he clearly spelled out that both require problem solving.

    Honestly, I was pretty much just star struck being in the same room as him. It was a really great experience. Thank you, Lisa, for rearranging the schedule so we could attend this talk. His book is taunting me on my bookshelf saying, “REEEAAADDD MEEE!” and I can’t wait until P1 is finished so I can crack it open.

  18. Jiexi Wang says:

    I’m very happy given the chance to see him talk in person. He is very honest and gave us a lot of inspiring thoughts. I wish the talk could be longer since he must have so many interesting experience to tell.

  19. Joanna Barondess says:

    It was amazing to have Ed Catmull come speak with us about his achievements and, of course, his book. Like my fellow classmates, the talk was much too short, but I did love hearing about the struggles that all storytellers go through when trying to invent this unique spin on an often-told story. Hearing the first draft of PIXAR’s ‘Up’ was incredible to me.

    I also enjoy the fact that Catmull loves the marriage of science and art and finds passion in both areas. If this were not the case, PIXAR wouldn’t be the giant that it is now.

    Like Erin, I loved hearing about Steve Jobs’ way of receiving criticism. I think we should all take that into account–if we know we’re wrong, we want to have that wrongness confirmed in order to move on to the next thing. We become so invested in our own work, that it’s difficult to take a step back and really evaluate what’s being made. That little anecdote was wonderfully relatable.

    I would love to have Ed Catmull return and, hopefully, speak for a longer period of time (possibly in a more intimate setting, exclusively for seminar). Ed Catmull was incredibly down to earth and a fantastic guest. I can’t wait to read his book!

  20. Yifu Zhou says:

    Ed Catmull is awesome! So exciting to see him in person. Can’t believe we are having him in our seminar. Love to hear his stories.

  21. Tim says:

    Ed was very inspirational, and down-to-earth. I loved hearing the story of Up’s countless revisions (it made sense of why that movie feels like the beginning and end of 2 different stories to me!) and like everyone else, I wish he could have talked for much, much longer.

  22. Joseph yeh says:

    Ed Catmull was very enlightening and informative! I was honored to be able to hear the words of such an inspiring founding father. Live life- I think is one of the themes of his talk or at least how I interpreted it. Experience what you have and make the best of the simple things. Wonderful!

  23. emily says:

    It was so cool to see Ed Catmull in person! He is smart and I whish we can have him longer. So we can learn more from him. His speech was really inspire! Great Seminar!

  24. Fernando Rabelo says:

    This was a super inspirational one. Ed Catmull is an incredible smart man who came to give us only words of wisdom. Throughout his speech I could picture all the magic moments he was telling us, such as the moment when he teamed up with 4 other incredible minds to create Pixar. Seminars like this are very well accepted because we are very curious to see how things work in a world that we dream about working at and only have access through DVD’s extra credits. I was delighted by this seminar and I wish we could have more nights as this one.

  25. jrronzani says:

    Ed Catmull’s talk was great. Modern animation has become a combination of state-of-the-art technology and old fashioned story-telling. I love how Pixar focuses on both of these while most animation studios (and modern Hollywood films in general) focus mainly on the technology. I admired how Mr. Catmull admitted that Pixar has had their fair share of cash-ins (like Cars), but if it takes a couple of those every now and then to lead to the next Toy Story 3, then I don’t mind so much.

  26. I was not able to attend this week’s seminar as I was scheduled to speak at UC Irvine. Dr. Roxanne Varzi had invited me to use “The Cat and the Coup” to teach about Mossadegh in her Modern Iran class. This was one of 4 universities were I spoke in the last 2 weeks. The experience at UC Irvine was particularly rewarding as the students followed up the lecture with their own interpretations of my artwork for the videogame. I have been invited back to speak in the graduate seminar of the Visual Anthropology dept, on May 5th, 2014. The title of the seminar is “Between Art, Anthropology and Politics” Of particular relevance to Animation students is that our videogame will be compared and contrasted to the works of William Kentridge, a fine-artist known for his animated films of a pre-democratic South Africa! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Kentridge
    Could our videogame be a similar precursor to a democratic Iran?!

  27. It was a very interesting experience, for me, to hear the words of this old time inventor pioneer. He has such a long history inside the animation medium, also having contributed so much. After the seminar a switch turned on my head, just by seeing the figure of that man speak. 3D is such a recent digital art form that all the early artists are still alive, which makes me happy to have an opportunity like this. Also liked the words he shared about Steve Jobs and the early days of computing.

  28. Sijia Huang says:

    Ed Catmull is a great artist and creator. I am shocked by how much he have done during his life time. I wish I can have his passion to keep moving forward!

  29. Zheng Kang says:

    I really loved the talk of Ed Catmull. His experience inspired me a lot. I wish the talk could be longer, he must have so many interesting experience to tell. Anyway, He is awesome, honest and gave us a lot of inspiring thoughts. Such as “if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably just copying other things”. Also I learned more things about animation industry.

  30. Eric Cheng says:

    Ed gave us a good talk. I am very surprise when I know he study computer science in college but he is very familiar and sensitive with story. The information he shared is very cool and fresh for me, though some of it is very high level knowledge that I would use them immediately, it’s still a huge fun to hear.

  31. About as legendary of a guest as we could’ve gotten for Seminar. This man, even beyond Pixar, is one of the Godfathers of CGI. In fifty years he’ll be spoken in the same breath of historical ingenuity as Douglas Trumbell or John Whitney. The man’s legacy is immense and it’s one reason why Pixar is not only at the top of the animation world but is a standard of excellence for all of cinema. And the seminar proved that while Lasseter was the heart and Jobs was the muscle, Catmull acted, and acts, as the brains of the operation. About the only thing I wanted to know more of was just what they have next in store.

  32. Yawen Zheng says:

    He is a wise man, not only with the success in career but also the way how to be a true person. I remember he told us: Accept that we are not perfect or omnipotent. Keep reflecting on ourselves and correct the mistakes every day. Willing to face the unknown areas and accept the different opinions. There are really touched me.

  33. Reggie says:

    I enjoyed Ed Catmull’s talk. His approach to running Pixar and Disney was fascinating. He brings up great points about companies in general. They start out small and full of passion, and after a few years the become giant beasts that needs to be fed or the companies fall. With the current state of Pixar and Disney, it’s always a balancing act between innovation and profits. His experience communicating with artists and company heads/brain trusts was insightful. I’m glad that Catmull shared his wisdom.

  34. Lanzhu Jian says:

    very inspiring, the first man combine science and art. Maybe we should think about what we can do for the next decade and one day we can give speech and telling people what they should think about for the next 20 years.

  35. Li,Xia says:

    1. Have courage to face to unknown realm.
    2. get feedback from others , look at our issue as a tool, as a tool for growth. digging deep inside ourselves and growing, treat is as an opportunity for growth.
    3. Don’t afraid of fail, Learn to fail, fail to learn.
    4. Permission to be human. accept you are not perfect.
    5.Do it!

  36. Ning Xu says:

    ED is a great inspiration and great pioneer in the Animation industry. Its so crazy how early days he can figure that out with Steve Jobs.

  37. Simo Liu says:

    ED is very cool. His speech inspired me a lot. What he said encourages me to have move courage to purse animator as my career. I will have more passion and moving forward.

  38. Frank Gu says:

    It is a honor that we can have Mr.Catmull here in USC. his speech is very inspired me . I just wish we van have him longer because it is like he has more stories that he can share with us.

  39. Catalina says:

    Seeing Ed Catmull speech reminded me of an advice that one of my high school professor told me once (I will try my best to translate it) “when curiosity meets willing creativity can blossom everywhere” I think he is an example that creative people can come from a different background and not just arts.
    I like that he is always analyzing his work and always drawing conclusions on how to improve it or fix it.

  40. Chaoqi Zhang says:

    Thanks to Ed Catmull of the charming seminar, humorous and wisdom. Embrace the mistakes, and transfer it to be the powerful tool to improve. Hope can listen more from him in future.

  41. He was a very inspiring guest. I loved his advices about being innovative and not to be afraid to make mistakes. Also his tips about working in groups hit me – I think being able to collaborate is much more important than most people find it to be; the group dynamics are key. I seeEd as a multidisciplinary man – an artist, a scientist, a manager etc – and it is great to see all this skills come together as a great whole.

  42. Brian Rhodes says:

    A great lesson on refining ideas and having the patience and courage to take something from good to great. For me it is inspiring to see the emphasis on story and developing a solid idea before the massive amount of work it takes to make animation.

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