Creativity Inc

Ed Catmull’s Creativity Inc.

If you’re in the business of creativity but allergic to business books try Ed Catmull’s ‘Creativity Inc’ , a business book sure, but one in the guise of a whirlwind narrative on being at the apex of bleeding edge technology and the hard graft of the creative process.

Catmull earned as a doctorate in computer science discovering amongst other things, texture mapping, at technique that’s used by all 3D graphics applications now. He went on to head up a computer graphics division in George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic but, owing to an expensive divorce settlement, Lucas had to sell the division off to Steve Jobs and so Pixar was born.

In the book Catmull talks candidly about the difficulties encountered as each project brought a slew of financial, technical and organisational challenges. In fact candour is incredibly important in any organisation. It’s just a matter of where it happens:

Believe me, you don’t want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or matters of policy are being hashed out.

On the business of creativity Catmull talks about the terror anyone faced with a blank page or screen feels:

There is a reason that writers talk about the terror of the blank page and painters shudder at the sight of an empty canvas. It’s extremely difficult to create something out of nothing, especially when you consider that much of what you’re trying to realize is hidden, at least at first.

The creative process in Pixar is about constant iteration. “Story is King” – if that isn’t working then no amount of animation magic will fix it. Each director, no matter how established, has to subject their film’s story to a peer review where it is critiqued and pulled apart. The Braintrust acts as counsel too but it’s up to the director to go way and fix any problems. At the next Braintrust the same happens gain. This ensures that the story is the best that it can be every time.

Making a Pixar film is a long process (around five years) involving a lot of people and a lot of cutting edge and very expensive technology. Animation is an extremely laborious process where every tiny decision has a large implications. Even so, creative avenues are often explored, sometimes for months, before being discarded because they simply don’t work. The creative process is often teeming with inefficiency. That’s were faith comes in:

I still understand the need for faith in a creative context. Because we are often working to invent something that doesn’t yet exist, it can be scary to come to work.

Ed Catmull will be speaking at next month’s Web Summit.

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