Softcover (Vintage) — Amazon
Audiobook (Tantor) — Amazon
Japan (Hayakawa) — Publisher
People’s Republic of China (China Renmin University Press) — Publisher
Taiwan (CTW Culture) — Books.com.tw | Amazon
Korea (Heureum) — Publisher

The Docter Is In (and how he got there)

Everyone knows that Pete Docter’s film Up, coming next month, stars a square-headed man and a kid he finds annoying.

Not so many people know that a square-headed man and an annoying neighborhood kid helped Docter get his job at Pixar.

Docter spent three years at the California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, before receiving his degree in character animation in 1990. He won a Student Academy Award for his third-year animation project, a short film called Next Door about … a square-headed man and a kid he finds annoying. (A couple of images from the film are online here.)

Every spring, John Lasseter and a few others from Pixar attended the student film festival at CalArts to check out the new talent. Next Door set Docter apart right away. For the Pixar group, Docter “had the whole package as an animator,” one of them remembered: strong drawing skills, timing, and story-telling.

Docter joined Pixar later that year, the third animator the company hired after Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. There, he went to work animating commercials for Tropicana and Lifesavers. Pixar had turned to commercial production to keep itself afloat while waiting for the chance to make a feature film.

He also made two other films at CalArts, titled Winter and Palm Springs. (The Minnesota born-and-bred student evidently had weather on his mind.) 

Docter’s story is one that has repeated many times at Pixar, on both the artistic and technical sides of the house. Outside Pixar, too. It’s important to have the skills, but the way you make yourself stand out from the crowd is to use those skills to create something good and original — a calling card, even if it’s something small, like Next Door.

(Revised 4/16/2009)


Ed the help-line guy

John Nedwidek, a reader, wrote to share this anecdote from his experience learning Pixar’s Showplace program in the early 1990’s. (Showplace, long since discontinued, was a consumer-oriented program for creating 3D scenes; it was one of several products in Pixar’s effort, pre-Toy Story, to refashion itself from a computer hardware company into a software company.)

When I was learning Showplace I called the Pixar help line a fair number of times. I usually spoke with a guy named Ed. He was very patient and knowledgeable. He told me how to get into the guts of Renderman – including how to adjust the settings of the carpet shader to affect the appearance of vacuum marks. Nice! A few years later I attended a SIGGRAPH show (we had some clients exhibiting) and I wandered over to the Pixar booth. Lo and behold, there was Ed Catmull. I introduced myself and mentioned how much I liked working with Showplace and that “Ed the help guy” was a great resource. I’m sure you’ve guessed now that they were one and the same. I never even considered the possibility. 



The Pixar Touch in Japan

The Japanese-language edition of The Pixar Touch has just been released by Hayakawa Publishing. Haven’t held a copy in my hands yet; looking forward to it.


Library Journal best business books of the year

I was happy to learn that this week, Library Journal named The Pixar Touch one of the best business books of 2008


Pixar is from Mars, Disney is from Venus?

A Slate blogger is the latest to argue that Pixar's film's have “girl trouble”'—that is, too much focus on strong male characters at the expense of strong female ones.

Although it's true that this disparity has existed over the years, it's less prevalent in some of Pixar's recent films, such as The Incredibles and WALL-E. Keep in mind, also, that Disney feature animation has historically been at least as focused on leading ladies as Pixar has been on its leading men. Granted, there are some important exceptions like The Lion King and The Jungle Book. Overall, though, the roll call of great Disney feature film characters has mostly been a roll call of heroines and villainesses, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to this year's The Princess and the Frog. (Well, it's unknown yet whether the heroine of the frog movie will be great or not. Moviegoers will find out in December.)

Pixar director Brenda Chapman, who has been known to refer to herself kiddingly as Pixar's “token female,” has worked at both studios and noted the difference in emphasis:

At the start of my career, I was the only woman in the story department at Disney, but at that time we were working on “Princess movies” with strong female leads, so at the time there didn't seem to be any need to strengthen other female roles…most of the funny characters were guys…. But now I'm at Pixar, and there films are very much for the boys. I don't think it's a conscious thing, I just think they're making films they want to see….

(Brenda's film The Bear and the Bow, starring Pixar's first fairy-tale princess, is scheduled to be released in 2011.)