Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator

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From Zen Habits:

Sometimes immersing yourself in the creative world of people doing amazing things can bring unexpected results.

My son Justin is interested in 3D animation, and my daughter Chloe is into screenwriting, and so it was a thrill to take them on a tour of Pixar Animation Studios, courtesy of one of the Pixar animators.

Bernhard Haux is a “character technical director”, which in his case means he models characters and works on their internal motions (I think — I didn’t fully grasp the lingo). Which means he is just a small piece in the larger Pixar machine, but a piece that’s aware of what everyone else is doing too. He’s worked on major movies such as Up, Brave, Monsters U and others in the last 6 years.

Bernhard was gracious enough to show us around the Pixar campus, and while we couldn’t really dig into their super-secret process, we did get a few glimpses of the magic.

And as a result of these small glimpses, I learned some surprising things.

I’d like to share them here, in hopes that they’ll inspire others as they inspired me.

Creativity Lessons
Bernhard actually answered a whole bunch of our questions, and I was too polite to record it all, so here are a few things I remember:

Tenacity matters. Bernhard told a story of a friend who did a drawing every day, for more than 3 years, and became amazingly good by the end of that stint. He shared Looney Toons legendary animator Chuck Jones’ assertion that you have to draw 100,000 bad drawings before you have a good drawing. Bernhard said you might not seem very good at something when you start out, but if you’re persistent, tenacious even, you can get amazingly good.

Art is your particular telling of reality. When we talked about letting go of preconceived ideas and drawing what you actually see, Bernhard compared it to a night out with one of his friends. While Bernhard might just recount that night by saying, “We went out and had some food and went home”, his friend might have noticed a lot of interesting details that Bernhard didn’t, and tell a story with those details in a way that’s interesting and hilarious. Same experience, different interpretation, different details.

Feed off others’ ideas. When Pixar artists create characters, it’s not a matter of one artist sketching out how he thinks a character should look. They all sit around a table, each drawing ideas, putting them in the middle, and others taking those ideas and riffing off them. Dozens and dozens of sketches come out from this process, until they find the one that works best. This means everyone’s creativity builds on the creativity of everyone else. This, btw, can help you even if you don’t have a bunch of other geniuses to work with — find others who are creating cool things, and riff off them, and share your riffs.

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