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Monday, August 25, 2008

Pixar and the Internet: Do they get it?

Few people would argue that Pixar has put together the most high-powered animation team since the heyday of Disney.

But are they focusing on the right challenges?

Harvard Business Review has an article and podcast featuring Pixar and its co-founder, Ed Catmull.

Every since the company made 'Toy Story' in 1995, Pixar has produced three products: short films that let it test out new technologies and techniques (these are shown at SIGGRAPH, sold on iTunes, and played before Pixar's features in theaters), full-length features, and animation software called Renderman.

Around 2003, the company shifted from making one feature every 24 months to one every 12 months - which was a big deal.

In 2006, after Disney acquired Pixar, Catmull and John Lasseter essentially took over Walt Disney Feature Animation.

That's a lot of work.

And yet I'd still argue that the big challenge for Disney and Pixar to be thinking about is animated content for the Web... stuff that can be produced less-expensively, that connects with audiences in different ways, that takes big risks Pixar wouldn't take on the big screen.

Imagine an embeddable animated character for your MySpace or Facebook page that would greet visitors with a different quip every time they came. Or content delivered to cell phones that might introduce you (and your kids) to the characters in the next Disney or Pixar feature -- and reminding you to see it in theaters or buy the DVD. Or a Pixar serial, updated every week online, that might eventually add up to a feature?

(Of course, when DreamWorks Animation tried to do a TV show, things didn't work out so well... but I think that was a risk worth taking.)

One of Walt Disney's genius moves was to look at television and realize that it was not just a medium for promoting his movies... but also a medium that presented new creative opportunities. Ask anyone who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s whether watching Disney shows on TV, like the 'Davey Crockett' series, had an impact on their childhood. It certainly had a major positive impact on the Walt Disney Company.

I'd suggest that the Internet today is what TV was in the 1950s - a medium that offers the chance to take big creative and business risks, and potentially earn big rewards.

Will Pixar?

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