Pixar Power

If  you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I not only love the Pixar films, I also love the Pixar creative process.


A couple of years back, I was fortunate enough to meet the creative development team from Pixar, and it changed my approach to creativity forever.

Now, there’s been numerous pieces about Pixar in the press (this GeekDad/Wired piece on the bumpy development of the film Brave, as is this Fast Company piece about the ‘Brain Trust’).  What that first piece, which explores the laser-like focus on story, doesn’t delve into is that Pixar makes each of their films about 7 times.


They actually construct each film, in animatic form (think: a moving storyboard with voiceover and music), between five and eight times to screen for both their vaunted ‘Brain Trust’ and the larger Pixar staff community.  Everyone can give comments, and the film’s director is the final arbitrator of which comments get accepted and incorporated and which ones get rejected.

When I first met the Pixar people, I was starting to craft a new booked called ALIENATED (about the only human boy at the high school for aliens at Area 51).  It’s a big, epic comedy-adventure that combines the coming-of-age tales of a John Hughes film with the sci-fi chops of an Amblin movie or the original Men In Black.

High School as an alien world!

Alienated cover amend

But I was operating in a vacuum, so I decided to open up the creative process, literally sharing work-in-process chapters and prose with readers both on and offline.

It was a scary, untraditional move.

Conventional wisdom (and publishing is full of conventional wisdom!) asserts that you never show your work to the public until its 100% final and fully edited.  I was doing the opposite.  It was a risk; but I felt the bigger risk was continuing to create in a vacuum.

That was two years ago and now I’m pleased to share that I’ve come out the other side…with a full, fun, and funny manuscript in hand.  The creative process of including a small group of intended readers has resulted in a funnier, stronger, and more poignant story and the finished book will be all the better for it.

Alienated new logo

It takes courage to share writing that isn’t finished, to be brave enough to open myself up to feedback and criticism at an early stage in order to make the final book that much better.  Now, there are digital tools like wattpad to share work in progress and future-savvy publisher Hot Key Books has created an interactive reading/writing adventure for author Fleur Hitchcock called THE STORY ADVENTURE.  But I believe the benefits of sharing work in progress make it all worthwhile!

For the past few weeks, a final group of beta-readers has been reading the book and today, we  gather them to feed back on the book at the Children’s Media Conference in a special workshop called Collaborating With Kids.


Yes, real live children at an industry event!  I think it’s a first!

Opening up the creative process – live, with kids who’ll say unexpected things.  Scary…but fun!

Recently, I met Pixar president Ed Catmull (his book is well worth reading) and it confirmed everything I’ve come to respect about Pixar.

© Disney • Pixar

I’m a convert to the process of opening up creativity, developing in iteration, and including trusted others (experts and the audience) in the creative journey….and I think the work is all the better for it!

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