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.]