LA Times‘s Silly Pixar Article

Yesterday’s LA Times had an unnecessarily sensationalistic article about the difficulties of breaking into the directing ranks at Pixar. The piece is misleading simply because the idea of building a hand-picked stable of animation directors is not unique to Pixar but a cornerstone of most major animation studios, past and present.

The article uses Jimmy Hayward as an example of an artist who had to leave Pixar to get his shot at directing Blue Sky’s Horton Hears a Who! but what the article neglects to mention is that Blue Sky’s first three features were directed by the same two people: Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha. The simple math of hundreds of artists at an animation studio and one or two directors on each film makes it obvious that not everybody’s going to direct. Also, with the stakes so high on each computer-animated film, it makes sense that studios would develop a core of trusted directors instead of trying out new helmers on each pic. Why the LA Times feels that Pixar should be any different is beyond me.

In fact, the article fails to discuss one of the great things that Pixar does which most other feature studios don’t, and that’s how they use their short film division as a place to try out new directorial talent. In just the past few years, numerous Pixar folks have directed shorts for the first time including Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews (One Man Band), Gary Rydstrom (Lifted), Jim Capobianco (Your Friend the Rat) and Dan Scanlon (co-director, Mater and the Ghostlight). The short that’ll debut in front of Wall-E is again helmed by a freshman director, this time the talented Pixar animation veteran Doug Sweetland. Considering the relatively few directing slots available in animation in general, I think Pixar does as fine a job as any contemporary studio possibly can in terms of spreading directing opportunities amongst its artists.

[Disclosure: I am currently working on a book for Pixar.]


  • http://RyanMcCulloch.com Ryan McCulloch

    And from what I hear, Gary Rydstrom will be directing a feature soon. Thanks, Amid.

  • Chuck R.

    Wait, Amid’s defending Pixar and using the word “helmer” all in one posting?

    Seriously, great observations, and best of luck on the Pixar book. Can you say more about it?

  • http://spritzer93436.tripod.com/ Art Binninger

    Your comments about the creation of short films is something that the get-rich-quick mentality of many studios fail to grasp. With each new short, Pixar is building a library. As the library grows, the studio is investing in a future revenue stream by releasing a shorts collection on video (just as Pixar did this past Christmas). Warner Bros. continues to reap a fortune from their shorts library and tie-in merchandise from films made over 60 years ago! Who said there’s no money in shorts?

  • http://otherthings.com Cassidy

    “In fact, the article fails to discuss one of the great things that Pixar does which most other feature studios don’t, and that’s how they use their short film division as a place to try out new directorial talent.”

    Both Blue Sky and DreamWorks also use short films to break in new directors, as well as new artistic leadership in other departments (animation, lighting, etc.) Not sure what Sony does, but I have a hard time imagining they’re much different in that regard. So which “most other feature studios” are you talking about here?

    Just as the funnel getting narrower at the top is inherent in the structure of the business, so is the need to groom new talent. It should be no surprise that different studios arrive at similar strategies for doing so.

  • Steve Gattuso

    Agreed. Pixar has done more to give upcoming directors chances to shine than any other studio these days, though Disney is now stepping back into the same territory thanks to Big John. The other studios would do well to follow their lead and set up shorts departments to start farming for new talent before someone steals it away.

  • http://afrokids.com Floyd Norman

    Aw, c’mon! That’s simply what the media does. If there’s no controversy – - then create one. Pixar’s love fest with the media is over. They’re now rich and successful, so the press has to take another tack.

    So, what do we do? Show what “bad guys” they are. Rant over how talent is stifled inside the big Pixar bunker. Maybe that’ll sell papers.

    Actually, Pixar is doing a pretty good job developing new directors. While it’s true not everybody will be a part of the coveted “inner circle,” that’s really no different than any other studio.

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    It’s such a backhanded compliment as well. Here Jimmy Hayward has a film coming out, and the “only way” he could have done it was to leave Pixar and go somewhere else. It reads as if he settled or something. By everything I’ve seen, Horton pushes CG character animation in a direction it has yet to go in. The characters look, move, and act great. While I do wish they would have spent the same amount of time, effort, and budget on something original, you have to admit the results are pretty nice. Pixar has nothing to do with it. It’s a shame the article is so pro Pixar while Blue Sky is the one with the film.

    Also, sometimes you just have to move on to move up. That’s the way things are. There are “closed circles” at every studio. Many times, you are either in the clique or you are not. Jimmy Hayward and the rest of the Blue Sky crew have what looks to be an awesome film coming out this week.

    [Disclosure: I used to work for Blue Sky.]

  • Ricardo Delgado

    I’ve worked on two Pixar films, and I did not feel the article was sensationalistic. I don’t know this director from Adam, but I do know from my time at Disney how clogged it can get to try and helm your own picture. Perhaps the best way to categorize this article is to say that the Director in question had to leave a pretty talented stable to get his shot.

  • http://www.andyseredy.com Andy Seredy

    Hey man. Great post. It started a pretty lengthly debate at work. I’m sure tons of Pixar guys and gals would love a shot at the big chair. There’s a big catch, though. Theres a few hundred of them, and only half a dozen chairs. By all definitions, it IS very hard to move into directing, and rightfully so. It’s a tough gig. Though, Pixar is making a noble effort. Thanks for the post.

  • Christopher Olson

    Jimmy Hayward isn’t the “director” of Horton Hears a Who. He’s the “co-director”, along with Steve Martino. That’s one of the things the article doesn’t really talk about.

    Unlike Blue Sky or Dreamworks, Pixar trusts the director’s singular vision… unless you count Chris Sanders getting kicked off of American Dog, a concept he originated. I guess I kind of defeated my own purpose there…

    Whatever, congratulations to Hayward on achieving one of his childhood dreams.

  • http://www.daganm.blogspot.com Dagan

    Here-here Amid! :)

    Honestly, I think you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find much wrong with the way ‘Pixar’ conducts their operation… There’s a REASON almost EVERY animator i know would LOVE to end up there!

    I DO think the media is circling and PRESSING to find something to turn into a ‘negative’ … That’s a shame. Why not just report on Hayward’s achievement and on ‘Horton,’ as mentioned above?…

    I’m a bit of a Pixar ‘nerd,’ sure, but from ALL that I have read and researched through the years, they are one of the FEW studios that just-plain-get it RIGHT!

    AND, btw, I’m SO thrilled that we have a place like ‘Blue Sky’ here on the east coast. They have an AMAZINGLY talented group over there, and they’re doing wonderful work. So if you’re gonna write an article about Blue Sky, make it about BLUE SKY! They deserve to stand alone in the spotlight, too!

  • http://www.octop.com Aleksandar Vujovic

    Pixar does do a great job, really can’t deny that. Yes, they’re all about talent, and about staying true to the story. Story is king.

    But how I’d explain the American Dog fiasco, I’ve no idea. I know it’s not Pixar, so maybe nobody’s keeping Lasseter in check, but that was a mighty dumb decision, especially once they came out with that god-awful puke-provoking rancid teaser image for Bolt.

  • http://www.myspace.com/crumbcrispcoating Jonathan the Bellboy

    The day before they had a an article about life after the writer’s strike that focused on a PA who had been promised he’d direct an episode of some prime time pot-boiler but it got cancelled after the strike. I don’t believe that if you’re on the verge of directing, they call you in to strike the sets after cancellation. Different career track.

    It’s amazing to me how much coverage the L.A. Times gives to entertainment business relative to their inability to get much of it right.

  • red pill junkie

    I agree Amid, the short-film opportunities Pixar provides are great.

    Hmmm…. seems that Pixar has become the hero everyone wants to topple from its pedestal now, isn’t it? Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. They will just have to cope with the fact that they have become the standard of the industry, and as such, the prime target of attacks.

  • Shannon

    Well… there may be new guys directing shorts at Pixar, but how many of those guys have moved into directing features?

    I know there are plenty of guys who’ve been there since the beginning, who have directed Oscar winning shorts (Ralph Eggleston comes to mind) who haven’t directed features.

    On the other hand there are guys who have gone to Pixar, with no prior directing experience, who were immediately directing. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, neither Lasseter or Bird had directed feature films before Toy Story and Iron Giant and we all know how well those films turned out.

    I’m just wondering if there are guys at Pixar who have proven themselves as great talents, who might be a little upset that other people have moved into the directing slot before them.

    I’m not criticizing Pixar. It’s the only feature animation studio that consistently gives the creator of an idea the opportunity to direct that idea.

    However, no system is perfect.

  • robiscus

    the guys with great talent don’t let corporate politics hold them back from directing something. endlessly positioning yourself for consideration, pandering, begging, and leapfrogging your fellow workers will take the same amount of effort as working on shorts on the side – but when you commit to the latter you have something to show for your efforts. cream rises to the top and its a waste of time to consider the sour grapes of those who thought they were going to get the big payoff by being “a company man”(or woman of course).

    don’t ever let yourself have that kind of loyalty to a company. its a company after all. it is plagued by bureaucracy and inequality by design. only a fool would think that they were guaranteed an equal return on all of their contributions. its mathematically impossible for every employee to get their just deserves so ALWAYS create your own content on the side.

  • Shannon

    Robiscus I think you should reread my post and know a little more about me, before you start lecturing me on how I should view the world of animation. Trust me, all of my spare time is spent working on personal projects. I understand the inherent inequality of a studio, which is why I create things with or without them.

    Also, I never suggested that someone should pander, beg or leapfrog to get an opportunity to direct. I also didn’t suggest that seniority at a studio should grant an automatic directing chair. I specifically mentioned people who had proven themselves as talented directors.

    You contradict yourself when you say “the cream rises to the top” but “only a fool would think that they were guaranteed an equal return on all of their contributions.”

    If the cream always rose to the top there would be more than 9 Old Men. All those guys were talented, but politics and bureaucracy played a role in the limited membership in that club; and I understand even those guys weren’t treated equal.

    I’m not dwelling on the negative, I’m just suggesting that there are plenty of people who deserve a chance based on past experience, whether they get one or not.

  • robiscus

    Shannon i was replying to the general tilt of the article. i didn’t even read your post.

  • Shannon

    Um… sorry Robiscus… uh how’s the weather where your at?

  • http://chippyandloopus.typepad.com/ John Sanford

    I was going to comment on how a certain large animated studio that may have recently dumped their head of animation chooses directors, but I am legally prevented from doing so.

    However, it is abundantly clear from the quality of Pixar’s movies that they are doing something right.

    (Disclosure: I am a story artist working at Pixar.)

  • Floyd Gidney

    There were 9 old men because they crossed the picket lines during the 1941 strike and stayed loyal to the company, which in those days meant Walt. Stock options allowed those 9 guys to retire comfortably well off. One size does not fit all.

  • Brad Constantine

    Hey, could be a lot worse..You could get Walt’s son in law to come and direct…I wonder how the other Disney guys felt about that one.

    Maybe Floyd Norman can answer that ….any resentment when Ron Miller came on board in the 50′s? Although it was live action movies, his rep was he was a good football player. Had he directed anything before? I think it’s better now, especially with shorts coming back strong. Good luck with Horton, Can’t wait to see it with the kids!!

  • http://www.mousetracksonline.com Greg Ehrbar

    You know, this might seem like something out of left field, but I’m reading a book called “Rudolph, Frosty, and Captain Kangaroo: The Musical Life of Hecky Krasnow,” about the unsung hero of children’s records who believed in recording “Rudolph” when all the record execs scoffed, and practically had to prop a hungover Gene Autry up to reluctantly record the best selling classic that made HIM a household name. Krasnow was a child prodigy at violin, but his father overshot his hand by setting him up in a concert when he wasn’t ready. Washed up in his teens, he played violin at restaurants and WPA concerts until he was stricken with Crohn’s disease and couldn’t do much of anything — except watch his little 6-year-old daughter frolicking around his apartment, making up songs. He collaborated with her and eventually launched a career in the last thing he expected — children’s records — and ended up working with the all-time greats on records that millions cherished and still listen to.

    How many of you even know the name Hecky Krasnow? And does it matter? And what is my point, anyway? Well, it’s this. You can work in a big company for years and only move ahead in baby steps, or you can move ahead in leaps. You can do this by talent or by sucking up. The cream does indeed rise to the top, but the dregs rise up too. Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s not.

    Over the last century, great Disney artists have languished and others have been lauded. Some left Disney and did better on their own, some did okay, some did not. Things just happen the way they happen; there’s no secret formula, no entitlement, no assurances of reward for loyalty.

    But before we all start slitting our wrists, I really do believe that there are compensations and balances in life. Friends, family, pets. The fact that we have a forum like this for our loving rants.

    One of the things I always try to remind myself is that I have been blessed with passion for the things I enjoy. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t feel somewhat the same way. Animation, movies in general, great TV, outstanding music — it’s a source of joy that not everyone can tap into.

    Congratulations to those who move up at Pixar, best wishes to those who find huge success elsewhere, and to those of us somewhere in between, life’s what you make of it.

  • Shannon

    Thanks Greg. Very well put:)

  • Chuck R.

    I’ll second that. Nice piece, Greg!

    I can easily get bent out of shape over the negatives that come from having to please others with something as subjective as artwork. But when I talk to my non-artist friends who are amazed that I can pay a mortgage with drawings, my perspective changes. A lot. The nice thing about being an artist or a designer, is you never know when that break is going to come. In some professions (sports, modelling, bubblegum pop) you’ve got a very limited window of opportunity.

  • Stan B.

    “unless you count Chris Sanders getting kicked off of American Dog, a concept he originated.”

    Sanders QUIT his project and quit Disney. He may not have liked the situation he was put in, but that’s just a simple, and very well known fact.