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Pixar's Success May Rest On Its Pixie Spirit

23 Aug, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

I just got back from a junket to Pixar's headquarters in Emeryville, Calif. From the outside, the Pixar think tank is a neatly manicured campus with fortressed buildings that sport a beautiful industrial architecture and vaultlike electronic glass doors framed in polished aluminum. Pretty, but just a little cold and forbidding.

That all changes once you are admitted to the inner sanctum. Through those imposing front doors, one walks into a huge atrium framed with stories of windowed offices. Sculptures of The Incredibles, larger than life, greet visitors.

On the ground floor is not only the cafeteria, but a room full of bins of a dozen or more kinds breakfast cereals and several kinds of milk (including cow, soy and rice), and a small video- and table-game arcade in the dining area, right next to the mailroom. The building, we were told, was designed so every employee would have to pass through this atrium to bump into coworkers at least once a day.

The halls are decorated with animation art and, even better, mock-ups of real items that the imaginary characters might have — Incredibles family photos, for example, and a jar of “bullets that have bounced off my chest.”

All these installations are designed to keep the workers in the mindset of the worlds they are creating, and they change depending on what the team is working on.

But along with those props are a variety of ways for people to give their minds a break. Around any corner you might see toys, or a scooter propped against the wall for the taking. The company encourages play. There is an on-site massage therapist. There's a large pool outside, along with other recreational facilities.

It may sound like the days of dot-com flyers and climbing walls, but it also supports the creativity that a place like Pixar needs to succeed.

Maybe some of the problems studio movies are having at the box office have to do with the world in which they are made. How can you make a fun movie if you're trapped in a nest of cubicles and bean counters, working for some tyrant who is, in turn, a slave to other bean counters?

Perhaps the people making the decisions at other studios about what gets made and how money should be spent should take a page from the Pixar manual. People in a fun, creative world are bound to have fun, creative ideas that will show in the product — and at the box office.

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