Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Valuable Lesson

I'm sure a lot of you are expecting me to talk about the recent controversies in Animationland… Namely Ed Catmull's involvement in a wage-fixing cartel that screwed over hard-working artists and animators…

Do I think Ed Catmull is a bad person? Yes.

Do I think Pixar is a terrible place? No. It's home to highly talented individuals who make great films.

Do I admire the good things Ed Catmull has done in the past? Yes.

The expose of Catmull's actions teaches what I believe is a great lesson. An artist, filmmaker, writer or anyone like that is somebody you don't know. You never really knew Ed Catmull, or John Lasseter, or anyone at Pixar for that matter. People can act a certain way in the public eye, Ed Catmull has pushed this facade, a "cares-for-the-artists businessman who is not like those other unethical baddies in Hollywood" act. He did so successfully, from interviews to a lavish book. I have not purchased Creativity, Inc., I was going to wait for my birthday to get it, but now I have no intentions to even read the puff piece.

At least other business people like Jeffrey Katzenberg and the like pretty much - intentionally or unintentionally - admit to their scumminess. I think someone like Katzenberg is a piece of work, but I won't deny the good things he did at Disney and at DreamWorks. At the same time, I don't have to admire him as a person. I admire the achievements… The same goes for Catmull.

Catmull was a driving force in the formation of Pixar and has fostered a creative environment at that studio. I'm not going to deny that. That stretch of films from Toy Story to Toy Story 3 in my eyes is extraordinary. I think Brave and Monsters University are also very well-made, thoughtful films, while Cars 2 is just a silly summer blockbuster. Their upcoming projects intrigue me. I love Pixar, and my love for Pixar isn't tainted because of what Catmull did. Catmull is just one person, a film is something else.

Business is ugly, but this is nothing new. It's just astounding that Catmull was able to convince many people that he was on our side, that he's all about the people at Pixar, and so on and so forth. So not only is he a typical business goon, but he's also a very good liar. What he did was illegal, and not to mention it wasn't right to begin with. I have no respect for him now, I only respect his achievements.

Why am I not so saddened? Well, I'm used to this. Artists and many other types of big shots can possibly be bad people… We've seen this before in countless films too, especially animated films. The seemingly humble hero who rocks turns out to be an unpleasant jerk or someone who does bad things, we've seen it before. It is life, unfortunately.

Look no further than Walt Disney. A great man to some, an absolute monster to others. Floyd Norman refers to him as the "best boss I ever had", while Walt Peregoy said he was "a shit". I still admire what Walt accomplished his whole life, but I didn't know him as a person and neither did many of you. We've seen dark sides of several artists over the years, whether they have revealed that they are jerks or have actually gone as far as committing crimes or doing horrible things. This is all why the Catmull scandal doesn't phase me. I'm more upset for the animators and the good people who suffer because of things like this. Again, it's not shocking to me. Especially in the world of business. American feature animation is a business, more so than it is an art factory.

"Nothing personal, it's just business."

To people who are very heartbroken about this, it is okay to be upset. However, in order for this specific kind of heartbreak to never happen again in life, one must… Separate the art from the artist. Separate the achievement from the man or woman who earned it. Pixar films will always be a part of my life, and I highly anticipate what's coming from them. Why is that? Because of the films and what the people behind them have given us, not the people themselves and not people like Ed Catmull.

I feel, my fellow readers, that you should do the same. You will be better off if you do, I firmly believe. Enjoy the art and be inspired, but be wary of the people behind the art. Keep reminding yourself, "That creator/person who worked on it could turn out to be a terrible person." Don't get attached to people like this, don't look at them as good people, because you don't really know them. Look up to their achievements instead. It would be easier to cope with something like this if Catmull had never presented himself the way he did, and that he wasn't glorified the way he was in the first place. That ethical executive who isn't like those other Hollywood higher-ups…

All of this makes me think of Monsters, Inc. and Monsters University. Why's that? Well, the villainous Mr. Waternoose doesn't come off as such a menace before the film's third act. Such a grandfatherly type, a seemingly nice business leader... On the Monsters University audio commentary, one of the filmmakers (don't recall if it was director Dan Scanlon or not) described the short scene where Scott "Squishy" Squibbles looks at Sulley after learning that he rigged Mike's round of the final Scare Games challenge. He compared the multi-eyed monster's reaction to the reaction someone had when he/she just witnessed Superman rob a bank. Quite the perfect analogies…

1 comment:

  1. I never knew how big of a scumbag Ed Catmull was.