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The Secret Of Pixar's Success
How to make great movies and billions of dollars

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So you want to set up a mini-movie studio that will turn out critically acclaimed, financially successful, universally adored movies? Well, here’s how! In just a few easy steps, you too can make $6.2 billion at the box office and score an average review rating of about 93 percent while creating modern masterpieces of animation – or anything else. Just follow the simple steps to Pixar’s success…

WORDS HELEN O'HARA
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The Secret Of Pixar's Success | Innovate
Innovate

Pixar grew out of the very earliest days of computer animation. Set up originally at ILM by a very forward-thinking George Lucas, the company started as software developers working on computer graphics. Chief among the recruits was a former academic called Ed Catmull, already something of a legend in the field for cracking three huge problems of early computer graphics. He’d figured out how to make the machine assign depth to objects so that they’d correctly hide or be hidden by other objects (The science bit: it’s called the “z-buffer”), how to add detail to a 3D object by wrapping it in a 2D image (“texture mapping”) and how to build curved shapes thanks to a “subdivision surface” (Now you can impress nerds with your knowledge!). And all this in the early 1980s when he was working with computers which had about as much welly as your mum’s old mobile (see left). Catmull’s the Pixar founder that people tend to overlook, but without his flair for solving technical problems, Pixar would never have gotten out of the gate. Not least because it started off making money as a software company, with Catmull (whose childhood heroes were Albert Einstein and Walt Disney) and John Lasseter only gradually shifting the focus to animation. They slowly turned the software-showcasing shorts into events in their own right, the clever clogs.

The moral of the story:
Don’t be afraid to work at the technology until you’ve got it right (see also: James Cameron waiting ten years to make Avatar). Consider making a dedicated problem-solver part of your team. And you might want to think about alternative, more traditional revenue streams to get you through those difficult early years.

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