Pixar University -- a professional-development program that puts as much emphasis on employee education as it does on company training -- is the company's secret weapon.
"During 90 percent of your workday, you're in this box -- you get to do only certain things," said Polson. "And yet we're all here because we love movies and art. At Pixar University, all the boxes get removed. All the walls come down, and you get to be the director of your own creative idea." Polson has taken classes in drawing, screenwriting, and color, and he's completed a course in which he made his own short film.
The point of improv -- like most of classes in the packed curriculum -- is to push Pixar employees to try new things, work together better and test new ideas. "If you don't create an atmosphere in which risk can be easily taken, in which weird ideas can be floated, then it's likely you're going to be producing work that will look derivative in the marketplace," said Pixar University Dean Randy Nelson. "Those kind of irrational what-ifs eventually lead to something that makes you go, 'Wow, I never would have thought about it.'"
Animators agree that Disney, Pixar's most prized partner in production of its first films -- and its recognized competitor in the animation world at large -- has begun to produce films critics call formulaic.
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Nelson said the university's primary purpose is to build morale, spirit and communication among employees.
By the time these people worked together for 25 years, you would just not believe the things that would happen."
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