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I know. You were not looking for another tribute to Steve Jobs.
Hard to deny, though, that he seems a pretty remarkable character.
A lot has been said, of course, about his role at Apple. How he redefined what a personal computer, and then personal technology, could be.
Ultimately defining what it SHOULD be, for better or worse, depending on your relationship at the moment with your iPhone. Regardless, this summer Apple surpassed Mobil Exxon, the company that sells much of the fuel that powers the world’s enterprise, in market value. Apple’s market value (stock shares outstanding x share price) makes it THE MOST VALUABLE COMPANY IN THE WORLD, currently around $390 billion.
Seems there is less talk, though, about Jobs’ role at Pixar. Of course there is at the company a remarkable creative force in John Lasseter. Much of the Pixar success can be rightly credited to him. But Jobs was the business boss. That is, someone has to say, “Yes, we should spend what it takes to get this right.” Someone has to say, “If we have to delay the commercial release, and forego all that revenue, because creatively we could make this better, then we delay the release.” Someone has to say, “Making ‘good enough’ animated pictures isn’t how we want to build this company.”
I don’t know anything about making animated pictures. But I do know how hard it is to do creative work that looks magical. And how hard it is to make writing sing. And characters come alive. And move people to have an emotional reaction to your work. And I can’t imagine how hard it is to make kids and adults, equally, respond to your work.
Somehow, Jobs created that environment at Pixar. Pixar single-handedly revived an industry (animated film) that had sunk into irrelevance. It transformed the industry and made it harder (obviously still not impossible) to unload crappy animated films full of cynicism, bad art and snide inside-Hollywood jokey writing onto the public.
In the extra material that accompanies “The Incredibles” DVD, there is a glimpse of an original direction that the movie might have taken. The introductory scenes had been drawn in pencil, but the characters were clearly in place as the setup to the story was being explored. Watching the clip it was obvious that a lot of work had been done and that the movie was well on its way. But the Pixar directors, Brad Bird and John Lasseter, trashed the whole thing. Threw it away and started over. It wasn’t a BAD start, and for most movie-makers, I would guess entirely adequate. But they knew it could be BETTER, so they started over. My guess is that Steve Jobs agreed. And ultimately he had to pay for it. But ultimately his determination to make it BETTER, paid off.
The quality of all animated films is BETTER for it, the industry is BETTER for it, Pixar, their employees and shareholders are BETTER, and consumers, all of us who have to watch kids movies over and over, are MUCH BETTER for it too.