This exclusive session (and one I thoroughly enjoyed) was with Andrew Millstein (Head of Disney Global Animation Studios) introduced by Trisha Wilbur (European CEO for EU, ME & Africa Walt Disney) and hosted by Jo Whiley (Broadcaster and host
Andrew has been responsible for many award-winning titles like Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, Big Hero 6 and Tangled to name a few.
How do you achieve such success?
We draw our inspiration from the animation division. It goes back 90 years. We look at our legacy as a starting point not an end point. "We look backwards instead of looking forwards". We are 9 years from 100 years of Disney and Big Hero 6 is 53rd film.
Post Lion King in the mid 90's there was a dip in the company. In 2006, Bob Iger had the wisdom of acquiring Pixar with a wonderful approach to what is it that allows you to support, maintain and sustain a creative advantage. Tried to learn about elements of success for Pixar and weave into Disney. Closing Disney animation was even on the table for an extended moment. After the Pixar acquisition, the decision was to keep the animation studio side by side with Pixar. They decided that creative diversity was a good thing for the company provided they could turn it around. In theory makes sense but was very hard in practice.
The new method for Success post-Pixar
There is shared ownership for all films raising collective ownership of the films. They had to change their behaviour and thinking. There were talented gifted artists who weren't making relevant films. People had to embrace day in and day out about giving complicated feedback on each other's films. The story trust or brain trust is the directors and writers who are committed to giving each other feedback. Film screened 8-10 x before finish and it's like the movie being put on the operating table. You have to sit back and be completely receptive while putting ego aside without justifying the choices you make. Sometimes in the creative process you lose your way. This happens constantly. We have a 200 seat theatre and invite a cross section of 900 employees at Disney animation who attend. Everyone sends notes in and after a screening they break down into a smaller room with face to face feedback for 2-3 hours when the notes are given. Now we try to have a creative off-site for 1-2 days depending how bad the movie is. You deconstruct the film and try to rebuild every single time. The filmmaker's job is to listen, synthesise and apply. This happens every 12 weeks.
With Big Hero 6 there were 5-6 screenings in to a 10 screening process and we weren't happy with the way Baymax is introduced. Felt that it didn't resonate on a deep emotional level. So we ended up changing it. With Frozen, Elsa was originally more evil wearing fur etc. See below for some of the original depictions of 'evil' Elsa.
Ultimately we want a continual creative machine that replicates itself.
What is your favourite movie? They all resonate in different ways. As a child loved Dumbo.
What's your favourite non-Disney favourite? Toy Story 2, Up, with deep human emotional resonance in loss of a loved one which set up where the film went. It's important to find emotional truth.