Disney animation gets Pixar-ization

Catmull thinks a radical shift is needed

By Ben Fritz
February 24, 2007

Walking up the stairs of the Disney Animation Studios building, Ed Catmull talks about change.

"We took down as many walls as we could," he says, showing off a bright and open second floor -- a stark contrast to the narrow hallways and separate rooms on other floors.

Entering his modest office in a structure that only opened in 1994, he adds: "We are planning to build an entirely new building."

There's no hiding that the new president of Walt Disney Feature Animation thinks a radical shift is needed both physically and psychologically at the venerable toon unit, which has been struggling since the late '90s.

That attitude is exactly why Bob Iger brought on Catmull, a computer science Ph.D. who started Pixar as a division of LucasFilm in 1979 and led the company from the time Steve Jobs bought it in 1986 until its acquisition a year ago, when he acquired Pixar last year.

Together with chief creative officer John Lasseter, his much better known partner, Catmull is charged with reviving the biggest name in animation while simultaneously keeping up the creatively and commercially unblemished track record of Pixar, which the two continue to head under the combined rubric of WDFA.

It's a monumental task, but Disney CEO Iger bet $7.4 billion that Catmull and Lasseter can handle it when he decided to acquire Pixar last year.

"More than anything else, the impetus for the Pixar deal was getting two experienced leaders who can give a shot of adrenaline to Disney Animation," says studio topper Dick Cook. "You can't come close to calculating what that means in the long term for the company in terms of new characters, stories, and lands for films and parks and publishing and more."

Former Pixar CEO and current Disney board member Steve Jobs is also modestly involved, as he sits on a six-person animation oversight committee for the Mouse that also includes Catmull, Lasseter, Iger, Cook and chief financial officer Tom Staggs.

The hope is that the Pixar team will create and maintain properties to flow throughout Disney's many ventures, such as a "Finding Nemo" ride set to open this summer at Disneyland and a new "Cars" section on Disney.com.
full article at http://www.variety.com/article/VR111...goryid=13&cs=1