Our Review of Ed Catmull’s Book, Creativity, Inc., Speaking Events & The Pixar Post Book Club

Pixar Creativity Inc Book by Ed Catmull

When you think of Pixar, you more than likely think of its superb collection of films. Maybe you think of the emotions you feel when watching their movies. Or maybe, just maybe, you dream about working alongside some of the greatest creative geniuses in the animation industry.

The rich creativity and collective brainpower at Pixar is something that is often looked upon as a mythical being. It’s perceived as magic — a magic that makes us want to rub shoulders with the studio’s employees and have some of that creativity rub off on ourselves. The fact of the matter is that it’s not magic at all – it’s a very conscious effort to look for hidden roadblocks and ensure that an employee’s voice is always able to be heard (among many other elements).

Ed Catmull Creativity Inc Book

THE BEGINNING

Ed Catmull, Pixar’s co-founder and President, is one of the team of people that continually works to try and identify roadblocks within the studio. With his book, Creativity, Inc. (Random House), Catmull shares some of the wisdom he’s learned over the years of watching, listening and growing within the field of computer animation. In fact, Catmull is among the elite few who can say that they were at the very forefront of computer animation, and his contribution to the field is inarguable – so when he speaks (or writes), we’ll listen. 

The introduction of the book sets the overall tone perfectly – through his styling he lets the reader know that the information being presented will be very detailed, but told through stories culled from his years at Pixar rather than this being a list of studies, facts, and figures. Fans of Pixar’s history will surely enjoy the opening three chapters as they delve into the history of not only Pixar, but of computer graphics in general. Ed’s candor (a term he prefers to use) rings true across the pages – from his lack of managerial skills when Pixar formed, to the ability to listen to employees’ needs, Creativity, Inc. really finds its groove in Chapter four (Establishing Pixar’s Identity).

As Chapter four kicks off, we start to learn of the Braintrust (a meeting of Pixar’s finest creative talents across divisions) and how the group organically formed overtime to help work through a film’s inevitable issues. This is also where the history of Pixar starts to meld with the managerial and leadership stories which the subtitle of the book (Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration) alludes to. 

Pixar Creativity Inc Book by Ed Catmull

THE CAPTIVATING STORIES & THE BOOK CLUB

Throughout the book, inspiring stories of overcoming failure, dealing with unpredictability, and maintaining creativity as deadlines approach are plentiful. Additionally, for fans of Pixar’s films, there are many examples of how stories evolved over time. For example, during Up, one of the story elements that gets debated is why Charles Muntz would be of a similar age to Carl Fredricksen if Carl was a child when Muntz was first starting out. Heck, Charles would be pushing 100 years of age when Carl arrived at Paradise Falls. Originally, the team came up with an elaborate story of how the birds on the island were laying eggs that had “fountain of youth” properties to address the age difference. For simplicity purposes though, Charles’ age was never addressed as the story was derailed while attempting to satisfy the question. As a side note, the topic of Carl and Charles’ age was discussed on the Pixar Post Forum last October – read our discussion and age assumptions here.

The story of Up is one of the many that are discussed in the book – which is precisely why Creativity, Inc. is the first book that we’ll be reading as part of the Pixar Post Book Club (we even gave away a copy to one of our readers today). We want to create an environment where our readers can gather to chat about Pixar’s rich history and stories, one book at a time. Note: We have officially launched our Pixar Post Book Club – if you haven’t already, pick up your copy of Creativity, Inc. (links below).

THE CONTENTS

Introduction: Lost and Found

Part I: Getting Started

  • Chapter 1: Animated
  • Chapter 2: Pixar Is Born
  • Chapter 3: A Defining Goal
  • Chapter 4: Establishing Pixar’s Identity

Part II: Protecting The New

  • Chapter 5: Honesty and Candor
  • Chapter 6: Fear and Failure
  • Chapter 7: The Hungry Beast and The Ugly Baby
  • Chapter 8: Change and Randomness
  • Chapter 9: The Hidden

Part III: Building And Sustaining

  • Chapter 10: Broadening Our View
  • Chapter 11: The Unmade Future

Part IV: Testing What We Know

  • Chapter 12: A New Challenge
  • Chapter 13: Notes Day

Afterword: The Steve We Knew
Starting Points: Thoughts for Managing a Creative Culture
Acknowledgments
Index

THE BOTTOM LINE

Creativity, Inc. is a captivating book that balances the personal and organizational history of Ed Catmull and Pixar, the many leadership lessons Catmull has experienced over the years, and wraps itself neatly among many stories about our beloved Pixar films.

HOW TO BUY CREATIVITY, INC.

You can order Creativity, Inc. on Amazon in hardcoverKindle edition, or audiobook.

SPEAKING EVENTS & BOOK SIGNINGS

The following are a list of locations (originally listed as part of a Creativity, Inc. excerpt post on March 14, 2014) where Ed Catmull is scheduled to speak as well as hold a book signing – click the links for more details and to purchase tickets (if required):

  • April 7, 2014 – Berkley Art Museum (California) 7:30 PM PST (Tickets required). Pete Docter will also be a speaker at this event. NOTE: We will be posting a review of this event in the next few days.
  • April 10, 2014 – Innovation Uncensored event (New York) event starts at 8:00 AM EST (Tickets required). Catmull’s speech will take place from 11:30 AM – 12:30 PM as part of the event.
  • April 16, 2014 – Live Talks Business Forums (California) 8:15 – 9:15 AM PST (Tickets required.
  • April 16, 2014 – USC School of Cinematic Arts (California) 7:00 PM PST (Free event).
  • April 17, 2014 – Book Passages (Corte Madera) (California) 7:00 PM PST (Tickets required). Jim Morris (Pixar’s Executive VP of Production) will also be a speaker at this event.
  • June 11, 2014 – Stanford Breakfast Briefings (California) 8:00 – 9:00 AM PST (Tickets required).
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