Catmull on Technology and Storytelling
Bill Desowitz: It's been a great year for animation and visual effects.
Ed Catmull: Well, you know, I was looking at the voting for the VES Awards this year, and as I was going through, I couldn't help being struck by the general quality of the work. Usually you see one or two at the top, but uniformly it was high all over the place.
BD: That's what people were saying at the bakeoff. And pretty soon we won't even be discussing the effects or the technology but just the visual storytelling.
EC: I think we've kind of reached that point now. If you look at the quality of the effect itself, I find it pretty hard to distinguish values in a technical sense between them. If I look at how well they integrate to tell a good story, then, of course, it gets mixed in with the quality of the story. But at some point, how do you disentangle them? These effects were part of a merging of this whole, and you evaluate in a somewhat different way.
EC: I buy the worlds. They sold me.
EC: It was. First of all, I really enjoyed the movie -- it was what I expected. Cameron does know how to tell a good story -- there's no question about that. Incidentally, with Star Trek, I had to see it twice. It turns out, the first time I had to recalibrate my head about what I was seeing with the alterations and the fact that they were younger. But the second time I really enjoyed it. And I hardly ever do that. But by the second viewing, I was saying, "I really like this! This is a very good film!"
BD: They really conveyed outer space more believably in a Star Trek film.
BD: Again, you buy the world. And you certainly buy the world of Up, which is another milestone for you.
EC: Well, we're very happy about it -- it doesn't fit into anybody's categories. It's different and Pete's a phenomenal director and has a strong personal vision.
BD: In looking back at your career, did you ever think it would end up like this?
EC: No, the goal of making the animated feature was a goal that lasted 20 years. And in the process of getting together people who shared a similar goal, then there was something beside the movie that was created, which was a style and a way of thinking, and people who were always wanting to create something that was new and challenging and different. And it was only after Toy Story that I could think about it in different terms, and in terms of that creative culture. And the goal was different: How do you make a sustainable culture? Something that is dynamic and unstable? The thing is, I believe strongly, that successful groups are inherently unstable. And so you can't think of it in terms of: "I'm going to grab on to what I've got and hang on to it for dear life." Rather, if we're going to keep changing, how do we adapt and modify and bring people in and help people grow and let people do great things, but don't let us get stuck in the past by always heading off in an exciting direction?