The Pixar Innovation Story – Not a Coincidence

It’s the back to school season and cartoon characters and superheroes have taken over the supermarket shelves – bugs, toys, robots and cars are on merchandise of all sorts. Most of these are the Pixar animation creations that have ignited the imagination of children and adults worldwide.

Pixar is one of the top innovation and creativity power houses. It is a trendsetter known for its distinctive approach to the work place. Since their Toy Story success in 1995, all their animated features have enjoyed blockbuster success.

As the company’s timeline shows, its beginnings go back to 1979 when George Lucas set up a group to explore techniques for digital printing and editing. He hired Ed Catmull, a leading researcher in computer graphics. In 1986 a deal was struck with Apple founder Steve Jobs, who was attracted by the talent of the team and passion to make full-length computer-generated animated films. The collaboration with Disney started in 1991. Pixar would conceive its stories, write the scripts, direct animation, and carry out post production while Disney would focus on marketing and distribution.

Creative success and unblemished track records don’t just happen. Behind this once small company’s success, is a strong understanding of innovation processes. In an article on the Harvard Business Review, Ed Catmull, President and co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and President of Walt Disney Animation Studios, reveals some of the innovation principles and practices which have guided Pixar through the years.

A Community of Connected Creators

 The Pixar culture is one that prioritises the importance of nurturing a creative community. Many companies opt to outsource for economic reasons or practicality but for Pixar in-house creativity is a must. Catmull believes that there should not be a disconnect between the creators and makers of products. The Pixar President champions a stronger connection between creators and production that leads to better products.

Failing to succeed

At Pixar, only after passing through extensive development will a story finally move to the much more costly digital animation phase. Failure is an inherent part of innovation. A feature which takes just over an hour to watch, takes at least five year to get developed and produced. And many other stories don’t make it to production. The company is known to conduct post-mortem reviews of films where teams have the opportunity to share what they would and would not do again.

 Life Long Learning and Spatial Dynamics

Pixar has built a company culture of lifelong learning. The company has even established Pixar University which offers more than 100 courses and employees are encouraged to devote up to four hours a week on their education.

To encourage interaction among different departments, Pixar has created a large atrium at its centre with a cafeteria, meeting rooms, and mailboxes. Innovation in communal space design is used to create a different atmosphere as opposed to conventional office life.

 19 Academy Awards and $3 billion at the box office are not a coincidence. Pixar’s success story so far, has been the result of a deeply ingrained culture of creativity and innovation.

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