Upstairs in the headquarters is a gallery of often stunning drawings and sculptures that have come out of these various explorations. On one wall is a host of renderings of Woody, the cowboy in Toy Story. In some of the drawings he looks a little depressed and sad, in others he appears somewhat hard-edged. None of these concepts became Woody, of course, but all were vital in the process, a process that would be impossible unless people felt comfortable taking risks.
Another important innovation tool Pixar has in its arsenal is the short film. Pixar's first movies were, in fact, shorts, including the precursor to Toy Story. You might think Pixar would ditch short films now that they're focused on features. You'd be wrong. Shorts, as Catmull explains, provide yet another opportunity to push the envelope with technology and story; it's another way to take risks without the worry that a mistake will cost the company big at the box office. Sometimes, as in the case with the short Geri's Game, the company will discover something that can immediately be applied in a feature. "We tried a new thing for cloth and for surfaces. And the surface technology worked out so well that we immediately moved it into a feature, on A Bug's Life. This stuff never gets easy. If you think it's easy, you're not doing it right," says Catmull. "We're constantly figuring it out. We don't have all the answers."
In many ways, Brad Bird, the director of The Incredibles, was a natural choice to become the first outsider to direct a Pixar film. Before Bird, the company had always relied on in-house talent, like the company's creative director John Lasseter, who directed the Toy Story films. But Bird, who came to Pixar in 2000, was clearly a wildly talented filmmaker. At age 14, he got a job in animation at Disney and was mentored by Milt Kahl, a legend in animation who helped make Bambi and 101 Dalmatians; Bird also was an executive consultant on The Simpsons and King of the Hill and directed the widely acclaimed animated movie, The Iron Giant.