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    Pixar Co-Founder on AI and Storytelling

    enJanuary 21, 2024

    Podcast Summary

    • The importance of staying curious and going beyond the obviousExploring new things and staying curious can lead to groundbreaking discoveries and insights, preventing potential industry failures.

      Staying curious and looking beyond the obvious can lead to groundbreaking discoveries and insights. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar and a pioneer in computer animation and storytelling, emphasizes the importance of stepping out of the world of stereotypes and going out into the real world to discover new things. He shares his curiosity about the exponential rate of change in the tech industry and how companies failed to see its implications, leading to the demise of many workstation companies. Catmull's curiosity and determination to understand why this happened led him to investigate further and reflect on the importance of listening to one's own people and engineers in the face of management and growth pressures. In essence, staying curious and open to new discoveries can lead to valuable insights and prevent potential industry failures.

    • Technology's impact on industries: A cautionary taleThe rapid advancement of technology can significantly impact industries, leading to decreased workforce needs. It's crucial for industries to adapt and focus on the human element of storytelling.

      The rapid advancement of technology, particularly in the realm of computing power and machine learning, can have significant implications for businesses and industries that fail to anticipate and adapt. This was a concern voiced by engineers and experts in the past, who saw the potential for exponential growth to disrupt industries, but were often ignored by industry leaders. For instance, the implications of machine learning's faster growth rate compared to CPUs are only now becoming apparent, and the consequences for industries like animation are already significant. As Jeffrey Katzenberg noted, the number of people needed to make an animated film has decreased dramatically due to technological advancements. However, it's important to remember that technology should serve the story, not the other way around. As the number of people needed to create content continues to decrease, it will be crucial for industries to focus on the human element of storytelling and adapt to the changing technological landscape.

    • Creating high-quality animation with fewer people and AIAdvancements in tech and skilled people enable 'C-level' animation with a few individuals, but larger, more complex projects still benefit from a team of around 100 for diverse ideas and flexibility.

      The advancements in technology and the availability of skilled people have significantly lowered the barrier to entry for creating content, especially in the realm of animation. This means that producing a "C-level" film or animation is now relatively cheap and can be achieved with just a few skilled individuals using generative AI. However, for a rich, full film with a large number of ideas and perspectives, an optimal number of people is estimated to be around 100. This size allows for a balance between the need for diverse ideas and the ability to make changes when necessary. It may only be a few years before one person could use generative AI to create an entire animated movie, but the complexity of larger projects may still require a team. The evolution of technology in the industry should not be ignored, as it continues to change the way content is produced.

    • Creating compelling content for childrenSimple settings and low cost can create content, but value comes from originality and mental models help accept unpredictability in creative processes

      The creation of content, especially animated content for children, can be easily generated using simple settings and low cost, but may lack the compelling nature when only listened to without visuals. However, there will always be refreshing and original content that cannot be generated and adds value to art. Another key takeaway is the importance of mental models and accepting the unpredictability of creative processes. Using a mental model, such as riding bareback on a herd of wild horses, can help accept the unpredictability and allow for progress in creative projects, even when leading the team. Pixar's success lies in the intersection of story and technology, with examples such as the development of subdivision in "A Bug's Life" to create smooth surfaces on insects. Despite the advancements, there were times when ideas had to be halted due to technical limitations.

    • Balancing technology and storytelling in animationPixar prioritizes story authenticity and originality through research and real-world experiences, while ensuring technology doesn't overshadow storytelling.

      The advancement of technology in animation production has been a significant limiting factor in creating visually stunning films, but also an enabler for telling more complex and engaging stories. Pixar Animation Studios, in particular, has recognized the importance of setting clear stakes in storytelling to avoid getting lost in the visual spectacle. They prioritize research and real-world experiences to bring authenticity and originality to their stories. The challenge lies in striking the right balance between technological innovation and storytelling, ensuring that the latter doesn't get overshadowed by the former.

    • Understanding the world and human emotions through research and personal experiencesTo create meaningful stories, immerse yourself in the subject matter and connect with it through research and personal experiences to bring fresh perspectives and touch audiences with complex emotions.

      Creating meaningful stories, whether in animation or other forms of media, requires a deep understanding of both the world and human emotions. This understanding is often gained through thorough research and personal experiences. For instance, the film Ratatouille presented the challenge of portraying the inner workings of a professional high-end kitchen, an experience most audiences had not had. By immersing themselves in the world of high-end cooking and speaking with industry professionals, the creators were able to capture something new and intriguing for the audience. Additionally, it's essential to tackle ideas that may not be immediately obvious or relatable but have the potential to touch people on a deeper level. Animation, with its abstract and metaphorical nature, is particularly well-suited to exploring complex emotions. Through research and personal connection, creators can convey something real and draw audiences in with fresh perspectives.

    • Navigating Uncertainty with Mental ModelsEffective communication in new projects requires acknowledging what's known and unknown, using mental models to navigate change, and being open to adaptation.

      Effective communication in new projects involves appealing to both what people already know and their desire to learn new things, while acknowledging the uncertainty of the future. Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, emphasized the importance of mental models in dealing with the unknown and the challenge of navigating change in a world that demands immediate results. Despite the desire for clarity, it's important to recognize that the clarity may be incorrect and could potentially lead to negative consequences. Instead, focus on adapting to the unknown and being open to change. This approach can help leaders and companies make informed decisions in uncertain situations. Remember, clarity can be deceiving, and the ability to navigate the unknown is a valuable skill.

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