/ Domopalooza Keynote Feature: The Ed Catmull Story

In the world of computer animation, Ed Catmull is a pioneer. And we’re thrilled to have the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, and current president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, as a keynote speaker at this year’s Domopalooza.

A lifelong Disney fan, Catmull combined his first love of animation with computer programming to develop technologies that ultimately made creating a computer animated movie possible. Under his charge, Pixar delivered Toy Story in 1995 as the world’s first, feature-length, computer-animated film.

Yet Catmull’s contributions don’t stop with the movies. The author of the bestseller, Creativity, Inc., Catmull has also offered deep insights into how organizations of every type can cultivate and maintain a vibrant creative culture.

A technical foundation.

Though Catmull, now 71, contemplated a career in the movies when he was a child, he pragmatically chose to study computer science and physics as an undergraduate college student at the University of Utah. But his original ambition and area of study collided after he discovered computer graphics as a graduate student.

He’s credited with discovering some fundamentals of the field (texture mapping and bicubic patches, if you want to get technical). Catmull was also one of the creators of the RenderMan rendering software, “which has been used in 44 of the last 47 films nominated for an Academy Award in the Visual Effects category,” according to Walt Disney Studios.

In addition to championing technology, Catmull and his longtime colleagues have also always remained committed to the art of movie making. John Lasseter, Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, has said that “technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.”

Relaying that sentiment, Catmull wrote in the Harvard Business Review that “to us, those aren’t just words; they are a way of life that had to be established and still has to be constantly reinforced.”

Cultivating creativity.

Catmull’s democratic approach to the creative process of making movies has helped Pixar produce scores of blockbuster films, with recent additions including Finding Dory and the short film Piper, which earned an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film last month.

The Pixar head says in HBR that making a movie is like “an archaeological dig where you don’t know what you’re looking for or whether you will even find anything. The process is downright scary. Then again, if we aren’t always at least a little scared, we’re not doing our job.”

In his book, Catmull’s provided a veritable roadmap for creating a culture that allows the best ideas to surface. At the core of his strategy is finding ways to constantly and democratically share knowledge among colleagues. For example, Pixar staff have daily reviews of their work, where they put incomplete or in progress projects out for comment. Catmull says that the process not only provides constant feedback, but inspires the entire team to be even more creative.

He recently told Fast Company that many successful people don’t want to hear that something they’ve been working on isn’t succeeding, and they naturally resist that type of feedback. “What you need at this point is an outside force to hit you with a 2×4 and say it’s not working,” he says. For Catmull, even competing companies – in his case, the friendly, merged foes Pixar and Disney – can offer that constructive criticism, and occasional wallop, to get a project back on the right creative track.

We’re all creatives.

The tech genius has made a career in a traditionally creative field, but Catmull says that his advice isn’t just for artistic endeavors. “I apply the term ‘creativity’ broadly … it’s problem solving. We are all faced with problems and we have to address them and think of something new and that’s where creativity comes in,” he told the audience at Fast Company’s 2014 Innovation UnCensored Conference.

Catmull is bringing his pioneering approach to technology and passion for cultivating creative cultures to Domopalooza this month. Discover how he and other industry luminaries have tapped into tech to revolutionize how business gets done.

See what else is going on at Domopalooza 2017.