Finding Pixar: Andrew Stanton On The Culture Of the Animation Giant

Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins reflect on over 20 years of Pixar.

This is an excerpt of a larger interview appearing in the Pixar issue of BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. magazine. To read the full interview, and to read articles about Pixar's many classics as well as the behind-the-scenes struggles and triumphs of the company, pre-order your copy right now.

Thirteen years ago Andrew Stanton directed Finding Nemo. While that was his first directorial credit on a Pixar feature, Stanton had been there from the beginning, almost a decade earlier as one of the writers on Toy Story. Stanton briefly left the world of Pixar to make the live action John Carter, but otherwise the previous two decades of his life have been spent inside the record-breaking, culture-molding, classic-making animation studio.

Now Stanton has returned to his old characters with Finding Dory, a sequel to Nemo that comes almost a generation later. The audience for this new film will be kids who grew up with Nemo, and it’s been made by a studio that has changed and grown immensely in the years since Stanton first got little Nemo lost at sea.

BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. sat down with Stanton and his producer Lindsey Collins (who has been at Pixar since A Bug's Life) to talk about what it’s like to see your little studio turn into one of the giants.

So often when Pixar filmmakers do press they talk about the evolution of the technology. I’m more interested in the evolution of the studio and the people who work there. What have the changes been like since the days of Presto and Toy Story?

Andrew Stanton: The obvious thing that comes to mind is the state of the environment of the studio. The making of the films themselves - it’s kind of similar. You put on a play in your freshman year of high school and you put on a play in your senior year of high school and the process is the same. The people are different, the scenarios are different, but it’s the same kind of feel and process. And that’s what you love doing, the play. As long as that doesn’t change there aren’t too many red flags.

The environment is very different. From the beginning to Nemo it was very different. In the beginning the size of the crew to make Toy Story was the company, so the company was that one movie. Every single movie we made from then on, until about The incredibles on, every time a movie was made you felt its cultural influence on the studio.

Lindsey Collins: Like the senior class. The senior class is The Incredibles class!

Stanton: You would see the culture evolve. Nemo was definitely part of that. It felt like being a high school because it was very linear - there was a class in front of us and a class behind us. Now, thirteen years later, because we make three films every two years, that’s a lot of things in production and development. So there’s always a minimum of five things going on in these two big buildings on campus. It’s an interesting historical kind of study, to see how you can get too large, or how you have to deal with it. Nothing’s gone wrong but it’s different. It’s just a numbers game; you’re at a size now where something can go on with one film and the ripple effect maybe touches one movie… but not everybody. Not everybody in the house hears what went on. It’s very interesting.

The other thing you can see is that there’s a culture of the studio that’s independent. When we first started on Toy Story we had Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas visit. They were two of the original Disney Nine Old Men. They kept talking about our digs in Point Richmond like it was the original studio that they had in Burbank that was very small. We found it funny that they weren’t pining for the Walt Disney Studios, which they built and which everything grew from. But now we’re in this place where we look back with fondness when it was smaller and scrappier and in one building. You see that this is just how it happens.

You’re not really in a club you have many members of. You figure it out as you go. That’s the thing that makes me sleep well at night: we’ve never been the same place for a year and a half. In a weird way the one constant has been change. That’s the thing that makes me feel like, even if we make a wrong turn here or there, the fact that we’re not the same place we were two years ago or the two years before that starts to give you this weird sense of comfort. It means you’re trying. You’re trying to figure out the parameters of what you have there instead of just trying to hold on to it and quantify it and calcify it.

Read the rest in the Pixar issue of BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH.!

Finding Dory comes out June 17th. Get your tickets to see it at your local Drafthouse!