Ed Catmull on “Ugly Babies”

In Longshots, Safi Bahcall explains how great leaders “nurture the crazy ideas that win wars, cure diseases, and transform industries.” That is, “widely dismissed ideas whose champions are often written off as crazy.” For example, Pixar’s Ed Catmull (right) refers to early stage ideas for films — loonshots — as “Ugly Babies.” In the passage that follows, Catmull describes the need to maintain the balance between loonshots and franchises — “the Beast” — in films.

“Originality is fragile. And, in its first moments, it’s often far from pretty. That is why I call early mock-ups of our films ‘Ugly Babies.’ They are not beautiful, miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be. They are truly ugly: awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete. They need nurturing — in the form of time and patience — in order to grow. What this means is that they have a hard time coexisting with the Beast….

“When I talk about the Beast and the Baby, it can seem very black and white — that the Beast is all bad and the Baby is all good. The truth is, reality lies somewhere in between. The Beast is a glutton but also a valuable motivator. The Baby is so pure and unsullied, so full of potential, but it’s also needy and unpredictable and can keep you up at night. The key is for your Beast and your Babies to coexist peacefully, and that requires that you keep various forces in balance.”

Loonshots was published by St. Martin’s Press (March 2019).

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Edwin Earl (“Ed”) Catmull (born March 31, 1945) is a computer scientist and current president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios (including the latter’s DisneyToon Studios division). As a computer scientist, Catmull has contributed to many important developments in computer graphics. He also co-authored with Amy Wallace a classic work, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, published by Random House (2014). I highly recommend it as well as Loonshots.

 

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