February 15, 2013

Brad Bird, Pixar’s two-time Oscar-winning (The Incredibles, Ratatouille) director, credits candid and direct working relationships to drive success.  A strategy article published by The McKinsey Quarterly reports Bird, whose body of work includes The Simpsons, as a prime example of how to stimulate a team’s collaboration, innovation and, ultimately, efficiency.

Bird hired to shake things up

Pixar hired Bird to come shake things up.  After great success with the Toy Story films, they explained, “The only thing we’re afraid of is complacency.”

Bird began developing the film, The Incredibles, and created a team of animators. On this and other films he directs, he had recurring meetings where every animator is in a room and Bird shows each person’s scenes on a projector in front of the whole group. He encourages everyone to contribute and give feedback, and Bird believes their learning curve goes up dramatically as a result of this process.

Pushing for the truth

As The McKinsey Quarterly reports, Bird also believes his films are better when he and his producer both push for the truth:

“My producer and I are famous for fighting openly, because he’s got to get it done and I’ve got to make it as good as it can be before it gets done. If you look at the extra materials on The Incredibles DVD, there is a moment where we’re fighting about something and John says, ‘Look I am just trying to get us across the line.’ And I say, ‘I’m trying to get us across the line in first place’.

I don’t want him to tell me, ‘Whatever you want Brad’ and then we run out of resources. I want him to tell me, ‘If you do X, we’re not going to be able to do Y.’ I’ll fight but I’ll have to make a choice. I love working with John because he’ll give me the bad news straight to my face.

Ultimately we both win. If you ask within Pixar, we are known as being efficient. Our movies aren’t cheap, but the money gets on the screen because we’re open in our conflict. Nothing is hidden.”

Beautiful films at the right price, where art and candor meet.