Catmull puts it smartly when he writes, “The key is to look at the viewpoints being offered, in any successful feedback group, as additive, not competitive… The Braintrust is valuable because it broadens your perspective, allowing you to peer — at least briefly — through other’s eyes.” He shares an anecdote from the making of The Incredibles, where an early draft of a fight between Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible came off like “a Bergman film.” The Braintrust knew something wasn’t working, but they couldn’t quite figure out what it was. But once they pointed out the problem out, director Brad Bird had to ruminate on it until he figured out an elegant solution. Since Mr. Incredible was so big, his fight with Elastigirl looked threatening on screen. But if he changed the animation so that Elastigirl was physically bigger, the threat disappeared. That was a case of constructive criticism leading to a better movie.
“Any successful feedback system is built on empathy, on the idea that we are all in this together, that we understand your pain because we’ve experienced it ourselves,” Catmull says. It’s good advice for putting together a trusted council of people for whatever creative project you may have, and it’s clearly had a great record over at Pixar. It may even, in the right light, be its own argument for MFA over NYC. (I enjoyed hearing what Catmull had to say about “failure,” since the first Pixar “failure” was important to the company’s structure.) Catmull has created quite a team and quite a legacy at Pixar, and while Creativity, Inc. is written through rose-colored lenses, it has some smart things to say about how to be creative in a world that isn’t very supportive of the pursuit.