Falling On Your Face

After their company was acquired by Disney some years ago we had a visit from John Lasseter and two hundred of his staffers from Pixar Animation Studios. The Pixar team was given a special tour of the Walt Disney Company in both the Burbank and Glendale facilities. It was good to see old friends and colleagues again and I couldn't help be reminded of how far Pixar had come since my Bay Area stint back in the nineties. Back then the studio was still a start-up with a staff of less than three hundred people. However, Pixar wasn't  always a dominant player in the animation business. Much like Walt Disney's Laugh O'Gram days in Kansas City, the guys and gals at this studio were not an overnight success.

I had the opportunity to visit Walt Disney's Laugh O'Gram studio in Kansas City a few years ago and I couldn't help wonder what would have happened if failure hadn't sent Walt Disney packing and trying his luck in California? Disney had to leave this disaster behind and prepare for a new beginning out west. Likewise, Pixar's first story pass on "Toy Story" was a bit of a disaster as well. However, John Lasseter and his crew rose to the occasion and turned the film around in record time. I know. I remember those early story reels when the movie failed to excite the Disney executives. Of course, Walt Disney was well acquainted with failure and often spoke of what he had learned from early missteps in building a business. As a matter of fact, Walt said, "everyone should experience failure early in their career." The Old Maestro certainly knew the failure factor and the positive things one can learn from falling flat on their face.

On a more personal note, I’ve had my own failures as well. Some years ago, I worked for a small film production house in Hollywood. The facility produced animation as well as live-action motion pictures. On this occasion, a rather demanding client needed an animated sequence created for a segment in their live-action movie. Since all our producers were busy on other jobs, the responsibility for producing the animated sequence fell to me. Undaunted, I assembled my crew and although there were some technical glitches, we managed to complete the movie on schedule. The film was screened for the client late one Friday afternoon and to say the client was dissatisfied would have been an understatement. In truth, the client hated what we had done. As producer/director of the segment I was the one who took the heat, and rightly so. As you can imagine, I went home that Friday evening practically in tears. However, there's a silver lining to every story. The next morning I received a call from my boss and I expected another well deserved chewing out. I was taken aback to find the boss surprisingly upbeat and not upset about the situation. It appears he had had more than a few "failures" of his own and none of this came as a surprise to him. His positive manner completely lifted my spirits and the following Monday we gathered the crew together and began work on fixing the problems. The next week we went back to work generating more artwork and shooting the whole segment on an improved camera system. The new screening took place at Consolidated Film Industries, a well respected production facility in Hollywood. The screening ended and the lights came up revealing a group of smiling faces. The clients were not only satisfied - they were delighted. Like so many others, I had fallen on my face and managed to recover. Like Walt Disney, I had  clearly learned a good deal from my failure. Of course, I've plenty of company when it comes to falling on your butt. Walt Disney Animation Studios has had its fair share. "The Lion King" was a mess before it became Disney's biggest animated hit. "Aladdin" had to reboot while in story development, “Kingdom of the Sun” had a total rewrite before becoming “The Emperors New Groove” and even the classic, "The Jungle Book" was restarted from scratch when Walt Disney became dissatisfied with Bill Peet's adaptation of the Kipling novel.

Failure is not an ending. More often than not it’s really a new beginning. Even Pixar director, Andrew Stanton advises you to, “fail as fast as you can.” No less a success than Walt Disney learned that lesson early in his career and its one important lesson we would do well to learn as well.

From time to time we all fall on our... faces. It's simply the way we learn.

From time to time we all fall on our... faces. It's simply the way we learn.