The Tim Ferriss Show, Episode 22: Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, on Steve Jobs, Stories, and Lessons Learned

67 Comments
Ed Catmull, President and Co-Founder of Pixar.

Ed Catmull, President and Co-Founder of Pixar.

NOTE TO E-MAIL SUBSCRIBERS: Please see this post in your inbox for a recording of the recent 2.5-hour live Q&A. Not on the email list? Sign up here and get extras like this for free.

Listen on iTunes, download (right click “save as”), or stream below now:

This podcast is brought to you by The Tim Ferriss Book Club, which features a handful of books that have changed my life. Here’s the list.  You can also find all 20+ episodes of this podcast here. Some are sober and some are drunk,  so you can roll the dice.

Now, on to our guest…

Ed Catmull is co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios (along with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) and president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. Ed has received five Academy Awards, and — as a computer scientist — he has contributed to many important developments in computer graphics.  He is the author of  Creativity, Inc., which Forbes has said “just might be the best business book ever written.” (!)

This episode touches on a lot, including lessons learned from George Lucas and Steve Jobs, the origins of Pixar, personal challenges, routines, and much more.

Show notes and links are below.  Enjoy!

Subscribe to The Tim Ferriss Show on iTunes.
Non-iTunes RSS feed
Do you enjoy this podcast? If so, please leave a short review here.  It keeps me going…

Show Notes and Select Links from the Episode

  • Why Ed felt a sense of loss, despite a streak of successes after Toy Story in 1995
  • The misleading question most people ask themselves when they become “successful”
  • Why, after wanting to be an artist for most of his childhood, he switched his focus from animation to physics
  • The congruence of art, storytelling, and science
  • Why experiencing crises on each project is essential for building a strong, creative team
  • How Ed connected to the ancient tradition of oral storytelling due to his inability to read poetry
  • The importance of having “breadth” of knowledge while deep-diving into specialization
  • Stories of George Lucas’ innovative decisions
  • The arc in the mythology of Steve Jobs, and what everybody missed
  • Why Steve Jobs decided to take Pixar public one week after Toy Story’s opening
  • Which Pixar movies caused major challenges and had to be re-worked
  • Why all Pixar movies suck at the very early stages
  • Pixar’s secret to creating stories and movies
  • The one film Pixar abandoned and the reasons
  • The book Ed gifts most often
  • Ed’s daily meditation practice
  • Why he would not give his twenty-year-old self advice, even if he could

LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

Books Mentioned in the Episode

Posted on: August 12, 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

67 comments on “The Tim Ferriss Show, Episode 22: Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, on Steve Jobs, Stories, and Lessons Learned

  1. Fucking loved this great episode, Tim. You’ve created an amazing podcast, I love it.

    Now, using your awesome interviewing style, when are you booking Walter Isaacson to extract new or unpublished stories from his biography works? :)

    Thanks

    Mitch

    Like

  2. Really interesting chat.

    I really liked the part about the desire for clarity when life is somewhat messy. I think many people with a somewhat technical orientation find this such a frustrating thing in life…you always want to understand things fully. But the serious complexity of life means that at some point you just have to accept that it’s complex and you waste to much mental energy trying to figure out every little detail of your life.

    Like

  3. Hey Tim,

    Can you please clarify what the note at the top of this post means? I’m signed up to your email list but don’t have anything related to this email…is it still to come?

    Cheers,
    Ken

    Like

    • Hi Ken,

      If you signed up for RSS, you might have emails from “The Blog of Tim Ferriss,” but you need to find email from “Tim Ferriss.” If you haven’t signed up, you can sign up with the form near the top of the blog.

      If you signed up, please check your Spam and other folders!

      Hope that helps,

      Tim

      Like

      • Tim- I’ve signed up for you’re email, but still get a pop-up asking to join your list on every page I click on. How do I make it stop? I’m already in.

        Like

  4. Loving all things TF. Wife & I heading to Berlin next month with one carry on pack for a too weaker. Hostel & no hard plans. Rookie vagabond trial run. JG

    Like

  5. Hey Tim,

    Loved this podcast. So glad I signed up for the ‘VIP’ email list. After finishing consuming this particular post I had a thought.

    I believe that if your methodologies and systems were mainstream you could change the world.

    Therefore, I think you should have a TV show. Here is how I would imagine it:

    -Weekly on some channel like discovery or vice.

    -Each episode is about a specific skill/topic/goal

    -Each episode features you and your experience with the subject, some professionals that helped you with the subject, and one or more ‘real’ people who try the approach you developed with the professionals to achieve something.

    I think audiences would really relate to a show like this and that it would have the potential to be an earthshaking success and bring your ideas truly mainstream.

    Let me know what you think, or just keep being awesome,

    Taylor Mendelsohn

    Like

    • Tim, let me first mention that I really like what you do. Keep it going.
      As to Taylors comments, I thought exactly the same thing – a regular video (or even TV) show in that format could propel your ideas a lot further. Plus it could boast notoriety & help people grow. Quite Franky, I believe you potentially could become the first ‘democratically elected’ interviewer. Get my idea?

      Is that right you have a readers-list of 300k subscribers? Multiply that by x if the show was done with the same professionalism, in good quality & available over the net + mainstream TV. Heck, this could even grow bigger & have an influence on politics in general. Just had another idea – think of the potential to further link ‘smart minds & money’ & create some real/sustainable alternatives !

      We do need smart answers to dig us out of this political & environmental mess we ve gotten ourselves into…

      Like

  6. Anyone thinking it would be cool to get transcripts for those? Beside the ability to skim through the interview (which might not be what Tim expects us to do), it’s always nice when you wanna find something back.

    Like

  7. Hi Tim I know you don’t read emails so I will comment on here instead I love the new email format but I thought I would be honest. Dark grey background with black text, it makes it difficult to view. I thought you might like to know. Keep up the good work and loving the new post with content in my inbox. Best Regards.

    Like

  8. Hey Tim – love the podcasts. Just one comment.

    When you’re listening to the guest speaker, can you not say “mmhhmm” after every sentence they say in reply to a question you ask? I found it pretty distracting as a listener. You are probably doing it unconsciously, which is fine, but maybe edit them out before you post the final podcast?

    Please disregard this comment if I am the only one who feels this way.

    Thanks Tim.

    Like

    • I am a huge fan of “Tim Tim Talk Talk”. Your questions are unlike anyone else in podcasting. But Tim, I do have to agree with Dylan here. The interjected “mmhmm’s” are really annoying. As I started to pay attention to them more, it almost seems like they are inserted into the clip in post. Is that correct? Love the show!

      Like

  9. Tim,

    Can I make one small suggestion when you are recording these podcast interviews? Whenever your guest is speaking, resist the urge to fill the empty space between their words with expressions like “mhmm”, “mmm” and “right”. Instead just let the guest speak and then when they’re finished, continue on with your comment or next question. For me, this is one of the most annoying habits of podcasters. It’s the equivalent of speaking and filling the empty space between words with “uhhh” or “you know?”.

    Like

  10. Hey Tim.
    So how does this new mailing/newsletter system work? And why have you been talking in the last mails about finally using e-mails again when I’ve been receiving notifications about new blog posts for the last 2 or 3 years? And why are you sending mails now from 4hourworkweek.com and from 4hourbody.com?

    Anyways, because you mentioned that bonus stuff for everyone who subscribed I signed up again with the same e-mail adress, since you said to subscribe even though to receive the mail I had to be subscribed already. And now I’m receiving mails from 4hw and 4hb, which link to the same articles on 4hw anyway. I’ve also received the same mail twice today.

    I guess I should just unsubscribe and resubscribe to fix this?

    Like

  11. Hi Tim – Awesome Information. Quick Logistics Issue – Your Emails sent to subscribers has “DARK” background. very Difficult to read the email contents and Links! Please ask your web-team to change it to Lighter (whiter) background! :) – Thanks Shravan

    Like

  12. Tim, I love the show, especially the episode with Josh W and perhaps also Ryan holiday. I don’t know if others notice it, but I’m finding when the subject is answering questions you have the occasional mhmm, which can be off-putting, especially with headphones.

    Look forward to more of the great content,

    Best,

    Like

  13. As a Animator (recently on Xmen) I leapt out of my chair seeing this update. I just started listening but I’m curious – if your inner comic art nerd influenced this? Can we expect more art/animation guests?

    Hats off to you. You’ve played a huge part in where I am today and continue to.

    Cheers,
    Rusty

    Like

  14. Hey Tim,

    Love the podcasts so far! I work as an illustrator in the entertainment industry myself and absolutely love insights like this! Thank you so much for making these!

    I read it a few times in the comments already but I also found it a bit hard to follow with all of the ‘mhhm’s’. I thought maybe some of them had been edited down in volume to lessen it to some extent but overall it got a little distracting. Anyway, just wanted to leave this comment because I really love that you can do this and only hope you continue to grow and improve on the format!

    Thanks Tim!
    Dave

    Like

  15. I find it so difficult read your email newsletters now, set on a dark grey background. Is there a way that you, or I, can change the setup, so theat I can read it without straining my eyes?

    Like

  16. Hey Tim, love your podcasts. Why no video?

    Maybe Google Hangout. What I find is that if there is a video, It’s much easier for me to listen. I don’t know why that is, maybe it has something to do with seeing someone and their body language, how they behave… or maybe it’s just me :)

    Like

  17. Absolutely loving all that you are putting out there. My only issue now is fitting in all of this great content. A good problem to have.

    Like

  18. The emails I receive from you are very difficult to read because of the background colour and/or choice of character colour. FYI. thnx

    Like

  19. Tim I appreciate how you post the raw podcast with your guests. I know some of us are not only benefiting from the knowledge and insight from the back and forth but also learning the art of conversation with preeminent people.

    Like

  20. T. – Thank you for taking the time to share these moments with the rest of the world. Loved hearing Ed and his thought process and your interview style is spot on.

    I’ve especially enjoyed your questions regarding, most often book you’ve given away as well as defining success.

    Rapid fire questions are a brilliant way to finish. Cheers buddy, have an awesome day.

    Like

  21. Your podcast has become the one I regularly listen to when working in my studio. Love what you are doing, and how engaged you are with everything you do.
    If you would permit one tiny tiny critical thought…
    Saying mmmhmmm the same way when conducting an awesome interview is an easy habit to fall into. Thats all.

    I love how deep you dig, and what you share!

    Like

  22. “How much of it was (is) me?” My sense is that Ed Catmull is still asking this question via his Vipassana meditation . He has redefined “it” and “me.” The question remains. (sorry for the cross-post. did not realize the conversation was here)

    Like

  23. “Having achieved the goal, I was now missing one of the defining frameworks!”

    I think this emphasizes the importance of setting an “impossible” goal. I think it makes it easier to set your next milestone when you cross a major milestone like going public. My “impossible” goal is “end homelessness.”

    Of course, that particular goal helps me avoid competition, because 1) most people think it’s impossible, and don’t even try, and 2) most people don’t see the incredible profit opportunities involved.

    By the way, I keep going back to the “Four Hour Work Week” audio book to keep me on track. Thanks so much for creating such a useful reference.

    Like

  24. Great episode.
    His book is amazing. It’s a business book, in story-form with incredible insight about human nature and social dynamics everywhere. I nearly highlighted the whole thing…

    TIM:
    You should have Joe Rogan on your podcast.
    For two specific reasons:

    1. He’s a VERY GOOD case study of stoicism in practice; of removing social discomfort by exposure to it (stand-up, fighting, conversations with high status people), and he’s self-made.
    Talk to him about his story, his practices, and the potential transfer they had to other areas.
    I want to know what things I can apply myself in order to achieve the kind of “relaxed, visceral confidence” he has.

    2. It allows you to reach his audience, which is a) ENORMOUS, and b) probably craving the kind of teaching they can apply professionally, rather than personally. It might create a lot of new entrepreneurs, is what I’m saying. And that’s a good thing.

    And besides… You know it’ll be really fun.
    No one I has really dissected Rogan’s upbringing; the environment/stimuli that created the person.
    It’s an allround win-win-win (You, Him, the audiences) proposition.

    Like

  25. TIM:
    On the podcast “Grumpy Old Geeks Ep 36: Thanksgiving with Tim Ferris” you mentioned having continual sleep problems.

    I HAD the same problem until I changed one thing: I cut out Pu Eh, and Green Tea. This completely eliminated by sleep problems: having trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

    Tea contains a lot of wakefulness-inducing substances, not just Caffeine, but also QUERCETIN, myricetin, kaempferol etc. (Affects PDE, adenosine receptors and much more)
    Quercetin, for example, stays in your system for 24+ hours, it actually accumulates, and is known to interfere with sleep.

    Cutting out these polyphenol-rich teas saved my sleep. You lose some of their benefits, but sleep becomes much more restful.

    Like

    • S.k.
      A year ago I would have been with you on getting Joe Rogan on Tim Podcast… but –
      Joe Rogan dissed Dave Asprey to help launch some other coffee based on totally flawed premises and spent about 4 episodes trying to prove his totally wrongheaded premise.

      I personally would like to see him on the podcast sometime, but until he apologize to Dave Asprey I cant listen to the guy.

      He accused me of being Dave Asprey because I literally filled pages with arguments refuting him and saying I have been a huge fan for years but blasting Dave Asprey is crazy.

      Dave Asprey did more than anyone for truly breaking down paleo and streamlining and upgrading it – and bulletproof coffee has gone ridiculously mainstream.

      To say Rob Wolf invented it is such an insulting thing. I literally went through the trouble of digging up old posts from after the time joe rogan mentioned, where rob is asked about what to use instead of milk for coffee and he says he knows of no solution.

      Either way, Rogan has taken a stance that he can determine bullshit when it comes to science while self describing himself as “not an intellectual” and constantly talking about how little he understands the “geeky” details of things as if it’s something to be proud of.

      To personally attack someone like that with little proof is something I can’t roll with – and personally I hope it comes back to bite him in the ass.

      Why?

      Cause his podcast started taking a swing down in quality a while ago, an opinion shared by many people if you look on the internet, and its because he’s sticking to his guns about both being able to be some kind of arbiter of science, and being a comedian who is only tangentially interested in science.

      It’s the most annoying thing in the world when someone appeals to scientific arguments, and then to defend the holes in the argument – uses comedy and popularity.

      Like

      • Alright. What can be concluded is that there’s a lot of negative attention being spread by both of them, and neither is officially world class at anything.
        Thus disqualifying them from being guests on this podcast. (IMO)

        Would love to see Walter Isaacson on there though. An amazing biographer, and I can’t name anyone who surpasses him in that skill.

        Like

  26. Tim, I am a huge fan of the podcast. I love the guests you have on and your interaction with them. I was super excited about this one because I love Pixar and their story.

    I was a bit disappointed with all of the questions about Steve Jobs and George Lucas though. Ed Catmull just published a highly reviewed book and I’m sure he was excited to share some of the lessons from the book with your audience but I don’t think he got the chance to do it. I think his comments when you asked “any closing remarks” demonstrate that. I was most engaged when you were asking about the Pixar process and challenges and it was clear Ed was most engaged when answering those questions.

    As a suggestion, you could have the interviewees do a little pre-work for you to identify the subjects, topics or key points they would like to share with your audience. Then you could shape your questions and direction to accommodate that while still addressing your curiosities.

    Just a thought.

    Either way, I love what you are doing and will be anxiously anticipating the next podcast.

    Thanks,
    Mike

    Like

  27. Hi Tim, I have had the great privilege of learning public speaking and presentation from a number of highly effective speakers: Steve Ballmer and Dave Blakely, included. So, I will be as constructive as possible with my criticism on this. You are hosting a number of great shows with wonderful topics and guests. As you progress and mature in this medium; which I know you will I point a few characteristics you should hone:
    Drop the multi-point questions. They tend to meander and can oftentimes sound like “all about Tim”. However, your questions are good they just need to be timed correctly or paced out. For example, you asked Ed a four point question where he had to answer in reverse order and struggled to keep it all straight. To be clear, this isn’t suggesting your guest isn’t following but it can be difficult to follow for both your guest and listener (perhaps, I am the slow one :) )
    Drop the 30-second acknowledgement: This is the “uh-huh”, “OKs” and “right” that serves to let the guest know you acknowledge their story. This is unnecessary and highly distracting. My only assumption is you do this to keep it “conversational” but remember others are listening in on high-end (insert Brand Name here) ear-buds. These “uh-huh” become every present.

    Beyond that, I think you are doing a great job and look forward to more guests and books (I enjoyed Vagabonding).

    Best,
    Eric

    Like

  28. Great episode!! As a fan of Pixar I wanted to know more than just Lasseter and Jobs. Also, as a person who has a constant tug of war between logic and creativity, this episode shed some light on that thanks to hearing about Ed’s balance between art and physics.

    P.S. I plan on buying his book ASAP.

    Like

  29. Tim, I absolutely love the podcast and can’t wait for new episodes to be released.

    I really struggled though with this one due to all of the “mm-hms” between Ed’s sentences. It was difficult to get passed it once I noticed it.

    Like

  30. Long time listener, first time caller. Tim I love you. And I am a big fan of all your work. Have to agree with the ‘mhmms’ as mentioned in the comments below (this is why i’m writing). Also, sometimes you ask about 5 questions at once. It happens so often that i’m coming to expect it and its giving me the irits. But besides that everything else is perfect and i’ll keep listening forever. You’re the best. Also can you come and visit me in Australia? ;-)

    Like

  31. Tim (or anyone who watched the Q&A), what is the technique to read a book when you actually need it in order to retain more and actually implement stuff you read about? It is mentioned around the end of the Q&A but I wasn’t able to understand (my fault, my bad english…).

    Thanks!
    p.s.
    sorry if I posted it here, but didn’t know where else :)

    Like

  32. @Tim and his assistants – I can’t find an alternative way to contact you, but please be aware that email subscribers are getting two identical emails per post every time you release a blog update. I don’t want to unsubscribe but I hate spam-y type things in my inbox. Please resolve this issue.

    Like

  33. I really like your podcasts but when you pepper the interviewee with an uh huh every 30 seconds, it’s hard to listen to. You’re the man though.

    Like

  34. This article is pretty cool it really gets my attention about Ed Catmull. He is a inspiring person for all the things that he contribute to this society. Being dedicated in his work is somehow amazing! Cheers.

    Like

  35. I read a lot of interesting articles here. Probably you spend
    a lot of time writing, i know how to save you a lot of work,
    there is an online tool that creates readable, google friendly articles in minutes, just search in google
    – laranitas free content source

    Like

  36. Wow! to learn from great people who have attained so much and contributed to the world is so amazing! I can’t wait to start streaming the video. I expect it would be worth the stream. Thanks a lot for this.

    Like