March 27, 2008
"Pajama Gladiator"
Posted by Gordon Smith

When we lived in Wisconsin, I noticed occasional announcements in my alumni magazine about the BYU Animation Program, which has produced a number of award-winning films. Last year, my daughter started her college career intent on majoring in some form of visual art. After investigating the Animation Program, she was hooked, and she started taking classes last fall. It's a very cool major at the intersection of technology and art. She works incredibly hard, but she loves what she is doing.

With this personal investment, I was very pleased to read today about the creation of a new BYU Center for Animation. And I was especially pleased to read the remarks of Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios:

"Over the years, Pixar has worked with a lot of different universities around the country and hired people. One of the interesting things is, all of a sudden, in the last few years, we found that BYU has risen to the top. BYU has an extraordinary program here."
...
"It's amazing to suddenly see that BYU is producing the best in the industry.... It's the perception not just at Pixar but also at the other studios that something pretty remarkable is happening here."

If you follow the link above, you can see a preview of the latest film from the BYU animation students entitled "Pajama Gladiator." More stuff here.

UPDATE: The original post was mainly just me bragging about my daughter. One thing that I didn't mention is that the Animation Program accepts only about 10% of the applicants each year, and this selectivity must be part of their formula for success.

This morning, I read more about Catmull's speech in The Daily Universe, BYU's campus newpaper. His discussion of the making of Toy Story 2 may be of more general interest to readers of Conglomerate:

Through most of the production, the team [working on Toy Story 2] had internal problems. As a result, the film suffered. Nine months before the movie's release, Pixar requested to start over with a new crew, even though it was a daunting task.

"We just had an idea that was a good idea, and we put a team on it and they screwed it up; they couldn't do it," Catmull said. "And we put a great team on it and they fixed it. It's absolutely clear the issue for us has nothing to do with finding that idea. It's all about putting together a team that works well together."

...

Catmull ... emphasized the importance of doing the best one can. He mentioned how Pixar was told to make "Toy Story 2" second-class and release it to video for a large profit.

"The problem is [Disney's] sequels weren't very good," Catmull said. "We realized, as we went through with this, the very concept of [doing] 'B-work' was bad for our souls."

There is wisdom borne of experience.

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