Will Pixar Bring Magic Back to the Magic Kingdom?

If you missed it on Sunday, there was a terrific article on the very different way Pixar does Business in the NYT:

"Since 1995, with the release of "Toy Story," Pixar’s films have reinvented the art of animation, won 19 Academy Awards and grossed more than $3 billion at the box office. But the secret to the success of Pixar Animation Studios is its utterly distinctive approach to the workplace. The company doesn’t just make films that perform better than standard fare. It also makes its films differently — and, in the process, defies many familiar, and dysfunctional, industry conventions. Pixar has become the envy of Hollywood because it never went Hollywood.

More than a few business pundits have drawn parallels between the flat, decentralized "corporation of the future" and the ad-hoc collection of actors, producers and technicians that come together around a film and disband once it is finished. In the Hollywood model, the energy and investment revolves around the big idea — the script — and the fine print of the deal. Highly talented people agree to terms, do their jobs, and move on to the next project. The model allows for maximum flexibility, to be sure, but it inspires minimum loyalty and endless jockeying for advantage.

Turn that model on its head and you get the Pixar version: a tightknit company of long-term collaborators who stick together, learn from one another and strive to improve with every production. Consider the case of Brad Bird, writer and director of "The Incredibles," who spent the first decades of his career shuttling around the business as an ever-promising, never-quite-recognized animator. (He worked on "The Simpsons" and directed one feature, the critically acclaimed but commercial dud, "Iron Giant.") When Pixar recruited him, Mr. Bird went to work immediately on "The Incredibles," which went on to win two Academy Awards and a nomination for best original screenplay."

Given that most mergers are unsuccessful — at least when measured by how much value they create for shareholders — the big question is not whether Disney can integrate Pixar into their corporate culture, but vice-versa:  Can Disney adapt Pixar’s looser style and methods to their other creative departments; can they port that formula within the company?

There are definitely risks: The upside is bringing some magic back to the Magic Kingdom; the downside is killing a terrific franchise.



How Pixar Adds a New School of Thought to Disney
NYT, January 29, 2006

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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Anonymous commented on Jan 31

    Pixar will do fine right up to the time that Steve Jobs’ eye wanders toward his next big project. Once he leaves the animators alone to fight the Magic Kingdom bureaucracy, quality will decline.

    Disney better bust its butt to keep those animators happy. They must realize that startup costs for the next Pixar are minimal. In this business its not a matter of owning the equipment or the process, but rather a matter of keeping the talent happy. This is where Eisner failed so miserably.

  2. royce commented on Jan 31

    Add Pixar into the “what’s hot” column, meaning that everyone is talking up their genius at using the same core group of animators.

    If the next two movies tank because people have become bored with the Pixar-style movie, suddenly we’ll be hearing that, “The company has relied too much on the same core group of people- unlike other Hollywood companies who constantly circulate new creative talent through the production process, Pixar’s once winning formula has become fixed and increasingly out of touch with moviegoers.”

  3. me commented on Jan 31

    1. They paid WAYYYYYYYY too much.
    2. I still haven’t figured why Disney closed the animation studio in Orlando, laid off in Calif. and sent jobs overseas?

  4. Amos commented on Jan 31

    It’s also called the studio system. In the glory days, the studios took in talent, trained them, kept them together, and made some pretty darn good movies. But the thinking of the system’s leaders became formulaic and inflexible. The only recourse was to break apart the studios and rely on “virtual” organizations, just like they did in the beginning of the industry. Now, the pendulum swings back?

    Given the tenor of the NYT article, I’m surprised that Barry comments that Pixar’s style is looser. From the outside looking in, I’d guess that the battle is going to between a bureacucracy that tries to control the creativity vs. one that controls the producers.

  5. David Silb commented on Feb 8

    This may be late to the party but Wired Magazine did a story on Pixar. Aptly title, “The Wonderful owrld of Pixar.” In the June 2004 issue.

    If you are still interested in Pixar this aricle is a great read. Discusses Corporate culture, approach, teaching/continuing educaton, etc. I came away from that article with a new found respect for the “little studio that could” and I also try implement some of their practices in my own business.

  6. natalie commented on Jul 4


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