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8 Creativity lessons from a pixar animator

Sometimes immersing yourself in the creative world of people doing amazing things can bring unexpected results.

Leo Babauta, Entrepreneur, 04 September 2014  Share  0 comments  Print

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Sometimes immersing yourself in the creative world of people doing amazing things can bring unexpected results.

My son Justin is interested in 3D animation, and my daughter Chloe is into screenwriting, and so it was a thrill to take them on a tour of Pixar Animation Studios, courtesy of one of the Pixar animators.

Bernhard Haux is a ‘character technical director’who models characters and works on their internal motions: This means he is a small piece in the larger Pixar machine, but aware of what everyone else is doing too. He’s worked on major movies such as Up, Brave, Monsters University and others.

Bernhard showed us around the Pixar campus, and while we couldn’t really dig into their super-secret process, we did get a few glimpses of the magic. And I learnt some surprising things.

Creativity Lessons

Tenacity matters. Bernhard told a story of a friend who did a drawing every day, for more than three years, and became amazingly good by the end of that stint.

He shared Looney Toons legendary animator Chuck Jones’ assertion that you have to draw 100 000 bad drawings before you have a good drawing.

Bernhard said you might not seem very good at something when you start out, but if you’re persistent, tenacious even, you can get amazingly good.

Art is your particular telling of reality.


When we talked about letting go of preconceived ideas and drawing what you actually see, Bernhard compared it to a night out with a friend.

While Bernhard might recount that night by saying, “We went out and had some food and went home,” his friend might have noticed interesting details that Bernhard didn’t, and tell a different story. Same experience, different interpretation, different details.

Feed off others’ ideas.

When Pixar artists create characters, it’s not just one artist sketching out how he thinks a character should look. They all sit around a table, drawing ideas, putting them in the middle, and taking those ideas and riffing off them.

Dozens and dozens of sketches come out from this process, until they find the one that works best. Everyone’s creativity builds on the creativity of others.

This can help you even if you don’t have a bunch of geniuses to work with – find others who are creating cool things, and riff off them, and share your riffs.


Let go of ego.

Because so many talented artists are throwing ideas into the pile, the fact is that most ideas/sketches won’t be used. They’ll be discarded.

If you want your idea to win, you’ll fight for it, but this only hurts the process. Pixar animators have to let go of their egos, and put the best interests of the project first. I think this is true of any creative project.

Everyone should know the mission well.

Some studios outsource their animation work overseas, but the animators often don’t know the movie, and don’t care about the final process because they’re just doing one tiny piece.

But at Pixar, everyone involved is trying to create the best movie possible, and they take pride in this mission. Everyone is invested in the mission, everyone cares about the work they’re producing, and it shows in the final creation.

Lots of hard work, tiny but amazing results.

When Pixar created Brave, deleted scenes would have made the movie five times as long.

That means that hours and hours of creative, brilliant work was thrown out, and only the best of the best of all of this creative process actually was used. That’s a lot of amazing stuff, to get very little. That means what we see is of incredible quality.

Surround yourself with heroes.


When Bernhard was interviewed for the job at Pixar about six years ago, it took all day. The list of people interviewing him was a list of his personal heroes. That’s who he works with, the best in the world.

How inspiring is that? You’d jump out of bed to get to work each morning, wouldn’t you? Not all of us are that lucky, but we can surround ourselves with the work of our heroes, and use them for inspiration. Shoot for the stars, or at least illuminate your life with theirs.

Help those just starting out. Bernhard gave us a tour, because a young man is interested in computer animation. “I was where Justin is now, and it’s nice to pass on what I know today. Passion and dreams are important to keep alive,” he said.

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About the author

Leo Babauta, Entrepreneur

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