Pixar’s Jim Morris on navigating the pandemic plot

The final two years of the pandemic reflect a classic cinematic plot with elements of triumph over adversity as well as loss, grief, endurance, and hope.

As the head of the Disney-owned studio that created cultural moments from “Toy Story” to “Monsters Inc.” among others, Pixar Animation Studios president Jim Morris spoke to Reuters about how the organization s ‘is suited to this moment and has kept her team together in times of fear and isolation.

Q: You are leading a team known for their collaboration and creativity, so when the virus first hit, how did you deal with that?

A: We were all caught off guard, of course. We were in full production, finishing the movie “Soul”, and we were hoping to stay put. It soon became clear that this was not going to happen.

We got out of the office in two days, and because we were working with stuff we could take home, we got up and drove pretty quickly. “Soul” ended on schedule about four weeks later, so maybe the pressure of making a movie got us all focused.

Q: How have your teams adapted to new ways of working?

A: We are all incredibly grateful to Zoom for having existed, so we were able to look at each other on each other’s screens, talk and collaborate. It’s not like being there, but it worked well enough to keep us going.

Some services have been hampered a bit by teleworking, others less so. With story teams, for example, where you walk into a room together and brainstorm ideas, it seems to work best in person.

It has been very helpful that so many people here have worked together for such a long time. We have kind of a shortcut with each other on how to get things done.

Q: What leadership lessons have you taken from all of this?

A: It has been a difficult time for many reasons. People were uprooted from their workplace, and maybe they had kids at home and were trying to do home schooling, or maybe they didn’t have kids and were totally isolated – everything became more intense. A lot of things have come together to make leadership really difficult.

To improve this, we started having weekly company meetings, broadcast to everyone, to let them know what was going on in a straightforward, non-glossy way. We did this in conjunction with our Creative Director Pete Docter and just tried to be transparent about the issues we were dealing with and empathetic about what they were dealing with.

Q:.

A: I’m optimistic that we’ll have more people coming back to the studio – maybe not every day, but a lot of people will be coming back. It will depend on a lot of things like new variations and more vaccinations for children so parents don’t get so anxious.

Q: What advice would you give other companies about working together in times of crisis?

A: I know many companies were quick to say that they would work remotely forever. I think that’s probably not the best recipe for making your best creative collaboration.

It’s electric being in a room with someone else, working on an idea on a whiteboard in a story meeting, or reading body language without the Zoom filter. My advice would be to collaborate in person, as it generates something of a different fabric than what you get at home.

Q: What are your plans for a return to the cinema?

A: Our feature films were designed for the theatrical experience and they are beautiful to watch on the big screen. We released two Disney + films, “Soul” and “Luca,” and we were thankful that we were successful on that platform.

But deep down I prefer to release movies on the big screen for the common experience. I do hope that movies come back to theaters and more people go back to theaters because it’s a different experience than watching them at home.

Q: Do you have a favorite Pixar movie?

A: I produced “Wall-E” so I tend to say that one. But on an emotional level, there is something about “Up” that I keep coming back to. And in terms of film genius, “Ratatouille” is a film gem. These are the ones that come to mind.


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