HackedThat famous Pixar lunch of 1994 (2014)

That famous Pixar lunch of 1994 (2014)


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Scott Myers

I suspect we all know how hard it is to come up with a single great story idea. Imagine one meeting in which you come up with four great ideas, each of which becomes a hit movie. That happened with Pixar. More here:

Four of Pixar’s leading directors- John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft (who unfortunately died in a car accident in 2005) had a lunch meeting one day in 1994, when the production of their first movie Toy Story was almost finished. Four of Pixar’s movies were born from that one meeting.

Their next idea for a movie was Bugs Life. Bugs, like toys, would be easier to animate and thus an easier option. They were trying to build on the Aesop fable, the ant and the Grasshopper. Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft suggested that the grasshoppers, unlike the fable, would just take the food from the ants.

Toy Story was based on the belief that kids thought toys came to life when nobody was looking. Pete Docter, who says that after the movies release, everyone started believing that the toys really did come to life when they weren’t looking. For one of their next films, Docter suggested that they come up with another popular belief, that monsters were hiding in the children’s closet ready to come out and scare them.

Andrew Stanton got inspired to come with Finding Nemo, from many of his experiences. First, he remembers as a child watching the fish in the tank at the dentists office, and wondering if the fish wanted to go home. In one of his trips to Marine World (Six Flags Discovery Kingdom), he saw a shark which he thought could be done so well in animation (like Bugs Life and Toy Story, at that time animation was restricted and advance materials could not be made). He also got the idea of an over-protective father when he was doing the something with his son at the park one day. He got the idea of clown fish, by seeing a photo of a clown fish and decided it was perfect for his purpose.

At the lunch meeting, after discussing these movies they finally discussed the last movie Walle-E. Andrew Stanton asked “What if mankind “What if mankind had to leave Earth and somebody forgot to turn off the last robot?”

I have written about the power of ‘what if’ here, in my view the two most important words in the creative process, especially generating story concepts. And we see it here at work at this famous Pixar lunch, even literally with Stanton’s question that led to Wall-e.

You can download the production notes for Wall-e here. In the notes, there’s this from Stanton about that lunch:

“One of the things I remember coming out of it was the idea of a little robot left on Earth,” says Stanton. “We had no story. It was sort of this Robinson Crusoe kind of little character — like, what if mankind had to leave Earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off, and he didn’t know he could stop doing what he’s doing?”

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Note: It’s more than just a what if. It’s a character. The “last robot,” a “Robinson Crusoe kind of little character.”

I’m currently teaching Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling. I love that course for any number of reasons, but one in particular: The storytellers at Pixar have a strong pull toward characters. That informs most everything they do in developing and shaping their stories.

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1 Comment

  1. Wall-E is by far my favorite Pixar movie, and IMO one of the best in any genre made in the last couple of decades. Really speaks to Pixar's creative genius that they can strike gold from even the most random premise. It is literally about a romantic trash compactor living in a post-apocalyptic Earth.

    Fun fact – the film took so long to produce because Andrew Stanton knew Pixar couldn't realistically animate space when he conceived of the idea. Good thing they waited too, as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPW3mvAN0Rc was the final result.

    I will say though that after decades of Pixar basically defining the standards of what computer generated animation should be, studios are starting to catch up to and even leapfrog their style. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Arcane are two notable examples of this.

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