Exclusive: Interview with David Price

In March, Myself and The Dream Of Pixar sent some questions to David Price, author of The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. David was extremely wonderful to take his own time to answer these questions. From the bottom of my heart, I’m grateful for what David has offered to PNC readers. Enjoy!

1. Why did you get so interested in Pixar?
I saw my first Pixar film, the short Tin Toy, at a conference in the late 1980s. The film wasn’t quite finished yet; it ended with the baby chasing Tinny into a box, and the next thing the audience saw was “to be continued.” The humor and drama of Tin Toy won me over right away. I had the chance to see the rest of John Lasseter’s great short films during those years, too. So I became a fan before Toy Story.

2. What direct sources did you use in research for your book? Did Pixar support you, or was it you doing all the digging?
Pixar is understandably very protective of its image, and didn’t want to be involved with a book that they couldn’t control. Fortunately for me, a lot of former employees, and a smaller number of current employees, were quite supportive of the concept of an independent history of the company, and they were generous in the help they gave me. They included a number of the original, Lucasfilm-era employees, like Alvy Ray Smith, one of the co-founders of Pixar, as well as the former CEO, Charles Kolstad, from the pre-Toy Story years. Alvy opened up his old office files to me. I also got materials from the SEC and from various other places.

3. Of course you were already a big fan of Pixar, but what really urged you to write a book on the topic?
I didn’t think about writing a book about Pixar until 2003, after I finished my book about the Jamestown colony, Love and Hate in Jamestown. I was going to write another colonial history book, but I was having trouble deciding on the right subject. I wanted a story with strong characters and lots of conflict, and one that hadn’t been fully told before.  Finally a voice in the back of my head, I guess, helped me realize that Pixar’s story was all of those things. As a nice bonus, it gave me an excuse to use my computer science background a little bit.

4. I saw by reading your bio in The Pixar Touch that you have a degree in computer science, why have you pursued writing instead?
I sold my first article to a computer magazine, Byte, when I was 14 and it came out when I was 15. The thrill of getting that check in the mail and holding the issue in my hands must have made an impression on me, because I’ve been writing professionally ever since.

5. You had mentioned in your interview with The Pixar Podcast that you had been following Pixar since the very beginning, what is your comparison from then to what Pixar is generally like today.
The scale has changed incredibly. There were 40 or 45 employees when Pixar spun off from Lucasfilm in 1986. Now there are more than 1,100. There was just one animator—you know who—in the early years. There were still only a few animators by the early 1990’s. Also, the headquarters building and campus are much nicer than Pixar’s old quarters in Point Richmond and San Rafael. What hasn’t changed is that the standards are high and people work hard.

6. Do you approve of the merger Disney had with Pixar? Either way, why?
It made some people rich, or I should say even more rich, but I don’t think it has hurt the quality of the creative output. Pixar could have found itself under pressure from its Disney bosses to make multiple feature films a year, but that hasn’t happened.

The creation of Pixar Canada to make spinoff television productions probably wouldn’t have happened without the acquisition, but of course it’s too early to judge their work.

7. Why Pixar? There are other computer animation studios out there such as Dreamworks, what made Pixar catch your eye?
Pixar was doing the most interesting work in the early years of computer animation, and they were the first to attain the goal (which other groups also had) of a fully computer-animated feature film. But what made Pixar the natural choice for a book was the great characters and the rollercoaster ride of a story.

8. Favorite and least favorite Pixar films?
Among the feature films, my favorite is still Toy Story. Partly, I think, that’s just because it’s the first one I saw. But Toy Story is also an exceptionally good movie. It was the last Pixar film that had all of the studio’s top talent working on the same film, hands-on. The script sparkles in a way that few others do in any genre. The Incredibles and Ratatouille are close, though.

My least favorite is the last two-thirds or three-quarters of WALL-E. I thought WALL-E was interesting up to the point where the robots leave Earth, then I found the rest of it boring. The critics didn’t see it the same way, obviously.

9. Have you thought about writing anymore on Pixar?
I put out updates and occasional short pieces on the Pixar Touch blog (http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog).  I said most of what I have to say in the book, but there are a few things I’d like to get into if I could make the time to write something in-depth again.

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