More on why Pixar’s movies are so much better than the competition: According to “Pixar Rules — Secrets of a Blockbuster Company,” the company has created an incredible work environment that keeps employees happy and fulfilled. The result: “A tightknit company of long-term collaborators who stick together, learn from one another, and strive to improve with every production.”
At the heart of this effort is Pixar University:
The operation has more than 110 courses: a complete filmmaking curriculum, classes on painting, drawing, sculpting and creative writing. “We offer the equivalent of an undergraduate education in fine arts and the art of filmmaking,” [Randy Nelson, dean of Pixar University,] said. Every employee — whether an animator, technician, production assistant, accountant, marketer, or security guard — is encouraged to devote up to four hours a week, every week, to his or her education.
Randy Nelson is adamant: these classes are not just a break from the office routine. “This is part of everyone’s work,” he said. “We’re all filmmakers here. We all have access to the same curriculum. In class, people from every level sit right next to our directors and the president of the company.” [...]
Thanks to Pixar University, employees learn to see the company’s work (and their colleagues) in a new light. “The skills we develop are skills we need everywhere in the organization,” Nelson said. “Why teach drawing to accountants? Because drawing class doesn’t just teach people to draw. It teaches them to be more observant. There’s no company on earth that wouldn’t benefit from having people become more observant.”
That helps to explain why the Pixar University crest bears the Latin inscription, Alienus Non Diutius. Translation: alone no longer. “It’s the heart of our model,” Randy Nelson says, “giving people opportunities to fail together and to recover from mistakes together.”
Nice to see that creative courses aren’t limited to “creatives.”
And here’s a great quote from Nelson on why the company eschews the industry’s standard practices (which favor one-time contracts over long-term affiliation).
“Contracts allow you to be irresponsible as a company. You don’t need to worry about keeping people happy and fulfilled. What we have created here — an incredible workspace, opportunities to learn and grow, and, most of all, great co-workers — is better than any contract.”
You can try to outspend the competition. Or you can try to outculture them. Create a place that makes employees feel special. A place that makes them feel like they’re part of a bigger whole. A place where they continually get to learn and evolve. A place where everyone actually likes each other.
If you create a culture like that, who would want to leave? Plus, you’ll get the best minds out there knocking on your door to get in.
Related: The human side of Pixar’s robot [SvN]
Timon 08 Jul 08
I saw the Pixar University mentioned somewhere not long ago, but didn’t know what it was. It sounds absolutely great!
But the great part of course, is not so much that they give different trainings for their employees but that all of their employees seem to be treated the same way on that regard.
It also sounds like a way to get into Pixar, from something like running around getting coffee to a real creative job. At least, one (like me maybe) could dream of that happening… (didn’t that actually happen to some guy who ended up being the model for the guy in Ratatouille?)
Hasan Luongoon 08 Jul 08
what about the Disney effect? I’ve heard the culture is going down hill from a long time Pixar employee that recently left because of this factor.
I kinda think Wall-E may be the last true Pixar flick and the Disneyification will start to set in.
Nothing against Mickey and Walt but there is a huge diff. between the core culture of a highly focused animation co., and a big behemouth marketing company. Hope they hold on to their culture because, well, i love there movies.
Trevoron 08 Jul 08
I hope that John Lasseter can point Disney the same direction as he did Pixar. When Disney brought Pixar in house, they made Lasseter the head of Animation and Imagineering, so hopefully he’s got enough leeway to really change Disney’s culture, instead of the other way round. At least their Animation and Imagineering depts.
Christoffer Hallason 08 Jul 08
Pixar seems to provide an ideal work environment, and the deans argument that drawing class not only teaches a person to draw, but to be observant is true, and the principle applies to almost everything.
In mathematics you learn to think logically, in science you learn to solve problems, setup hypothesis’ and to test any analyse. etc.
In my mother tongue, Danish, we have a word this, called Supercompetence. It means that the purpose of for example a class to learn how to interpret a symbol, isnt about learning this specific symbol, but to be able to apply the symbol interpretation method to other symbols, that you may not have encountered before.
Brianon 09 Jul 08
Sure that’s what they call it internally? I ran a phrase search for Pixar University and found this article along with the SFGate and NYTimes articles. Nothing from the company, though.
Ralph Haygoodon 09 Jul 08
I have the impression, from watching both the films and the extras on Pixar DVDs, that Pixar is run by people who don’t think of themselves as making films “for children”. Beyond their sheer visual splendor, the characters, stories, settings, humor, and seemingly endless marvelous details of Pixar films are amply rich enough to delight viewers of almost any age. This inclusiveness with respect to audience strikes me as consonant with the inclusiveness of Pixar University.
Yannon 09 Jul 08
Although, I must point out that Kungfu Panda is Waaaaaaaay better than wall-e, maybe not technically, but artistically and as a movie, I just personally liked it much more…
Until the Panda, I used to think the same: “Pixar’s movies are so much better than the competition.”
Timon 09 Jul 08
@Brian Yes, they call it like this internally, I have seen it mentioned for a job position on pixar.com. However you’re right that pixar.com doesn’t seem to say anything about it. I looked and couldn’t find what it was.
Vivon 09 Jul 08
Yann: Are you serious? I saw both and I don’t put KFP in the same league as WALL-E …
I would be interested in an elaboration of your thoughts. I’m not mocking you … just surprised.
Matt Radelon 09 Jul 08
That’s really cool. I love the hell outta Pixar.
Jason Powellon 11 Jul 08
Finding Nemo… My wife and I like it as much as our son (maybe more). The best Pixar film by far. Incredible really. Obviously a very advanced and well run company.
Michael Lee Stallardon 12 Jul 08
Some years ago I met John Walker, producer of The Incredibles, in Aspen the summer before The Incredibles was released. It was apparent that he was fired up about his work and that motivated me to take a closer look at the company. It seems to me that Pixar has the kind of culture I described in a manifesto I wrote for changethis.com i.e. a Connection Culture where people thrive because they feel connected to their daily tasks, they feel connected to their colleagues at work and they feel connected to Pixar’s identity. I love the values communicated in Pixar’s movies. Who wouldn’t be proud to help produce movies that reflect truth, beauty and goodness. Pixar University seems to be the meeting place that helps bring about human connections and helps develop a sense of community at the company. So few companies have that today. I’m looking for companies that have Connection Cultures for my next book and would be grateful if anyone had any suggestions they could send my way. The few I’m considering now include Cranium, Xerox, P&G, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey & Co., New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System and Beryl Corp.
Shell Smithon 14 Jul 08
I actually have a friend that works at Pixar – and he goes on and on about the company (especially the atmosphere). I think it is proof that if companies listen to their employees – discuss what works for them – then they will be happy and produce amazing stuff! I think the same goes for customers as well. It seems it is all about the feedback!! I recently read a book about this while trying to better my company. I think a lot of people could use Pixar as an example.
This discussion is closed.