Disney, Pixar learning how to work together

With the recent completion of its purchase of Pixar Animation Studios Inc, the Walt Disney Co must now figure out how to bring together the two biggest names in animation without diminishing either, experts say.

Pixar, famous for its computer-generated animated features such as “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo,” is seen as the best hope for bringing back the magic to storied Disney animation, which made such classics as “Pinocchio” and “Aladdin” but has not had a major animated hit in more than a decade.

“(Pixar) led the field in a way that no one has since Walt Disney’s time,” animation industry historian Jerry Beck said.”I think there is going to be a sense of mission here, are newed purpose: ‘We already conquered CG (computer generated) films, now let’s return and restore Disney to what it was when I was a kid’.”

That job will rest largely with Pixar Vice President John Lasseter, the creative chief at Pixar who spent several years as a Disney animator and revered Walt Disney. He returns to Disney animation as its creative director as part of the merger in a move that the animation community has lauded.

Disney Chief Financial Officer Tom Staggs told Reuters on Tuesday that Lasseter has gone to work to build a “brain trust”; of talent at Disney similar to the group of Pixar directors who crafted the story lines and technical direction for each of Pixar’s six blockbuster films.

“John and (Pixar President) Ed (Catmull) are key to the whole thing,” Staggs said. “There is a creative center they are seeking to coalesce at Disney,” Staggs said.

The two studios will be run separately and will not be confined to creating one type of animation, or a consistent ‘look,’ Staggs said, but will work on “a project-by-project basis.”


A return to Disney’s glory days of hand-drawn animation “is definitely not something we would rule out,” Staggs said.

“We will be driven by the individual product and movie concept if the right project comes along where the creators think (it’s appropriate),” he said.

Observers say Lasseter and Catmull, who became President of Disney Feature Animation in the merger, were busy reworking Disney films that were already in various stages of production, and were taking pitches for new projects.

“The atmosphere is pretty good,” Steve Hulett, business manager for The Animation Guild Local 839, which represents workers at Disney Feature Animation, told Reuters.

“I know most people went through a whole bunch of different stages — ebullient euphoria, then, ‘What’s going to happen, are we going to get laid off?”‘ Hulett said. “But I know …that the anxiety that was there two or three months ago has eased.”

Observers said no plan has been put forth about how, and if, Disney’s unionized animators will fit in with Pixar’s nonunion and more freewheeling shop, but it appears that, in addition to Disney’s new “brain trust,” Lasseter and Catmull are bringing other aspects of Pixar’s creative culture.

In February, Catmull “said that producing more (short films) would be part of the agenda,” Hulett wrote in the Animation Guild’s Web log.

Pixar encourages animators to innovate with short films and has won several filmmaking awards in that category, including “Luxo Jr,” Lasseter’s first 3D film at Pixar.

His attention to storytelling and power to “green light,” or approve films has meant an initial slowdown in Disney’s production schedule, as Lasseter has reworked some films, stopped production on others, and halted the making of cheap and quick direct-to-video sequels of features films, according to the Animation Guild’s Web log.

“You can’t expect Disney to deliver fast, direct to DVD sequels to classic favorites as it used to before he came onboard,” Animation Magazine Editor Ramin Zahed said of Lasseter.

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