January 23, 2023

A rift between creative and production departments at Pixar almost destroyed it

After Pixar went public in 1995, Ed Catmull (President of Pixar) noticed a serious problem within the company. The creative folks and the production departments, both crucial to the success of Toy Story, were at odds with each other.

Production managers keep track of details of the project. They make sure the movie remains on budget and is delivered on time (similar to Program Managers in Tech). They manage resources and processes. However, artists and technical staff believed that the production managers impeded good filmmaking by micromanaging the process instead of adding value. The creative folks did not respect the production department.

As to why Ed was unaware of this problem during Toy Story's filmmaking process, he dug a little deeper to find out:

  • The production managers brought in for Toy Story considered their jobs to be temporary (nature of Hollywood productions). They believed their complaints will be ignored and didn't want to jeopardise future opportunities.
  • They believed in Pixar's mission and considered John Lasseter as an inspiring leader. They put up with the bad parts of their job to keep the good stuff.

To solve this problem, Ed started conversing and taking feedback from other people about what was and wasn't working at Pixar. He also abolished the principle of communicating through the direct manager. Now any one on any team could directly talk to one another (eg. an animator directly talking to a modeller) and the managers were informed later.


  • Creativity Inc. (Ed Catmull), Chapter 3: A Defining Goal