The iconic images for me as a child were Walt Disney on television and the other was Albert Einstein, who had embodied this thing about understanding the world. I grew up liking both of those, but the deepest thing that I wanted to do was become an animator. I did a lot of drawing all the way through high school. I even had a class where I got an A plus, plus, plus. Now, I know that was based more on quantity than quality.
As I went from high school to go to college, I realized that I didn't know how to get the skills and it was not up to the level that I saw in the Disney animators, so I switched over to Physics.
Here's the interesting thing I found. I've told this story before, as you would guess, over the years, and there's always a titter and laughter in the audience, because the general concept that we have is to go from art to science is incongruous.
Why is it incongruous to go from one to the other and why do we think of them as two very different personalities? I will say that over the years, I have known world-class mathematicians and scientists and artists and programmers, and if I were to take another characteristic, let's say it's their organizational skills, the ability to get stuff done. I haven't found a correlation between them.
I had to think, “What is the source of the incongruity?”, and I would have to say that one of them is a terrible misconception in school that when we take art that we are teaching people to draw. What we are really doing is teaching people to see. That's the important function. That's why I think it is tragic when school funding gets cut, they cut out the art.
I liked the idea of being at the frontier. Now there was this new field of computer science, and it was like an Easter egg hunt where you were at the front of the line and they had just cut the ribbon.
There is this concept of the elevator pitch. We want this clear concept, so that when we get in the elevator, we can present it to somebody so cleanly that by the time we get there they realize they should fund this idea. There is an attraction to the clarity of an idea that most of us have. We talk about speaking clearly or making things clear. And the fact is, most of our stuff that we've ever made would fail the elevator test. And I take, actually, pride in that, because the way you pass the elevator test is to make it so that they already know. “We get that. That's a sellable idea.” Well, as soon as we go down that path, we're not really being creative. We're figuring out how to draw from the past, to repeat it. So, if we pick something that is really hard, that we might fail at, and have failed at, we're more likely to come up with something that is fresh and different. (13:25)
Ed Catmull, Pixar