This past week my work sent me up to the Bay area to meet with our marketing partners at Pixar and Lucasfilm. (Who says your day job has to be a drag?) This was my first visit to both campuses, so I must admit I was pretty excited. I wrote a research paper on Pixar’s leadership during my MBA program, so I was familiar with Pixar’s story and the values that shaped them. I’ve read about their campus in Emeryville and I’ve seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for the delight of seeing the place for myself. We were treated with a first class tour of the campus, including visits to John Lasseter’s playroom – I mean – office and the legendary workspaces designed by the animators. I’m particularly found of the office that was dressed to resemble a plane crash in a jungle.
Here are a few pictures taken in the main atrium. For obvious reasons, I cannot post pictures from the restricted areas of the building.
We spent the afternoon at Lucasfilm, home to ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) a leading visual and special effects studio. I held it together for good while, but ended up geeking-out when we came across the props and models from some of my favorite films.
The trip was both productive and inspiring. Here is what struck me most:
The Elegance of Thoughtful Design – The Pixar campus is beautiful, but great design is not just a pretty face. It is the coalescence of simplicity and functionality. Each space is designed with a purpose that reflects the values of the community. For example, at Pixar they want to force people to encounter one another because they believe it is the interaction of people that sparks ideas and creativity. So the four restrooms are attached to the high-traffic areas near the central atrium. The mailroom is across from the dining area and all employees are required to pick-up their own mail. Everyday activities, like bathroom breaks and mail runs, can lead to encounters and conversations with co-workers, that would not happen if the restrooms were hidden down hallways and the mailroom was buried in the basement.
The Symbiotic Relationship Between Artists and Engineers – It is not about celebrity “creative types”. The right brain and the left brain need each other. At Pixar they say, “Technology inspires the art, and art challenges the technology.” It is the relationship between the two that has led to their success. The work of the one is not greater than the other.
Movie Magic is Indeed… Magic – Walking through the halls at Lucasfilm and seeing the matte paintings, models, and character designs from the incredibly rich history of films that ILM helped create reminded me just how much I love filmmaking. While computer generated visual effects have allowed stories to be told in ways we never thought possible, there is still something about practical special effects that I find magical.
The Importance of Playfulness – To step inside John Lasseter’s office is to see a big kid at work. His office is packed floor to ceiling with toys and collectibles. I noticed the same thing when I visited the restored offices of Walt Disney. For such powerful and influential men, they sure had a lot of toys in their offices. Playfulness and productivity are not mutually exclusive. We must never grow too old to be a kid.
Optimism – Beneath all the creativity and innovation I saw at both Pixar and Lucasfilm is an underlining optimism. “We didn’t know is was impossible, so we did it.” In a world where cynicism is having its day, perhaps the best reminder is that it is still possible to believe that anything is possible.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES