Love Nation 2016 (Day 5)

Even “A Bug’s Life” Matters

Young Ed was completely in awe. The little creatures seemed to come to life on his 12 inch black and white screen. The stories those little drawings could tell had him engrossed.

He knew what he wanted to do. Someday he wanted to go to work for Walt Disney and help bring that magic he loved to other kid’s screens.

Years passed and college came. His dream of animating still drove him. He loved spending his spare time imagining stories and trying to bring them to life. He enrolled as an art student and quickly came to the realization that he couldn’t draw quite well enough. So he turned to physics instead. But his love of animation never faded. Instead of drawing with a pencil he started learning how to draw with a computer. Many nights were spent sleeping in the computer lab just so that he could have more time on the main frame computer. But this was the early 70s, no one was thinking of computer animation seriously at the time. Still his love for what he could do with computers and animation drove him to write much of the language it would take to create three dimensional animation on computers.

Ed Catmull was good at what he did and people noticed. After getting his PhD in computer science from the University of Utah, he was hired to be the director of the Computer Graphics Lab at New York Institute of Technology where he met Alvy Smith, another pioneer of computer graphics with whom he and a team continued to develop 3D digital animation. The department struggled, however, but as is often the case the struggles led to something greater, because as his department was struggling a young man named George Lucas was noticing. In 1979 Ed, Alvy and others from their team at NYIT went to work for Lucas Film working on a series of movies called “Star Wars.” At Lucas Film, Ed befriended a young story-teller that had just been fired from Disney, who’s name was John Lasseter. Together the nucleus of a great thing had been formed.

As love would have it, George Lucas and his wife decided to divorce. As a result, he decided to sell some of the parts of Lucas Film. What he decided to sell was a small division in the graphics department formed by Ed Catmull, Alvy Smith, and John Lasseter called Pixar. The person who eventually bought this fledging entity from Lucas in 1986 was Steve Jobs. Still the future was for Pixar was murky at best. A large part of Jobs’ fortune went to just keeping them in some sort of business. Few people knew how hard people were working on something they didn’t even know they would care about yet. But when you love something, you chase it. And they were chasing something they loved. The love of story and imagination. Ed Caatmull had been working at computer animation with everything he had for twenty years before his dream came true. “Toy Story” was released in 1995 and I could easily say that the rest is history. That when you love something, you chase it with everything you have. But if I said that I would be fabricating a false story. Because without another love Pixar may not have progressed beyond “Toy Story.”

Pixar began working on a movie called “A Bug’s Life” shortly after “Toy Story” debuted. And instead of feeling joy at the realization of his lifelong dream, Ed Catmull felt like he had lost his purpose. This dream, this love, was at last, WORK. And there were things he didn’t know.

Pixar was a creative genius of a company. They could make beautiful images and they could tell fantastic stories. But they needed producers to create movies. What Ed didn’t know is that his creatives were shutting out the temporarily hired producers. What he didn’t know is that the produces he had to rehire to make “A Bug’s Life” absolutely hated making “Toy Story.” He didn’t know that his company had forgotten to care about a group of people. Once he realized his mistake he went to work solving the problem. Today Ed Catmull and John Lasseter run Disney Animation. Two loves are responsible for their achievement. The love of their dream and the love of people.

How often do we forget certain groups in our lives? Maybe they live in a far away country, or perhaps they’re a little too different from us. Too often something comes in the way of us seeing need. Too often we forget to care. Shortly after WWII, Theodore Geisel went to visit Japan. While he was there, he discovered that there was a whole country full of people who needed to be cared for, but instead were being ignored. He decided he would write a book about it under the pseudonym Dr. Seuss. He called it “Horton Hears a Who.” And in it he made the bold statement that, “A persons a person, no matter how small.” Who knows what we miss out on in life when we forget to care about the people we can’t see or hear. It’s our job as humans to see the people who need cared for. It’s our responsibility to listen for the voices crying for help. Our mission is to care. Because it’s when we see and hear and care we begin to love the people we once never knew about. When we love, we are given the tool that can change the world. To Ed Catmull, even “A Bug’s Life” had to matter. The future of his company depended on it. His love of story depended on it. Today He and John Lasseter run Disney Animation because he decided it was important to care about everyone who worked for him. That’s true for us too.

God Bless You,
Jake

Leave a Reply