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PCI Book Club: Creativity, Inc.

It’s the story, stupid.

I’ve been repeating that over and over since reading "Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration" by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation.

The early part of the book – the latest selection in PCI’s office book club – focuses on Catmull’s dream. A dream so aspirational and technologically complex that it would have likely astounded Walt Disney: Create the world’s first feature film completely animated by computer.

In 1972 as a graduate student at the University of Utah, Catmull created a computer program that digitally animated a human hand. Computer-generated imagery is now part of our daily lives, but it’s hard to overstate how revolutionary this was back then. In 2011, Catmull’s short film was added to the National Film Registry so it could be preserved for future generations.

From that first experiment in computer animation, it took nearly a quarter century for some of the brightest and most driven minds in computer science to finally make Catmull’s dream a reality. Pixar’s “Toy Story” opened in 1995 and, according to a review by the late Roger Ebert, the movie required 300 Sun Microprocessors and took about 800,000 hours of computing time to complete.

This makes it all the more striking that instead of putting their technology blinders on, Catmull, director John Lasseter and the entire Pixar team knew that what ultimately mattered was getting the story right.

Andrew Stanton, a writer and animator for “Toy Story,” explained why in a Time Magazine article. He said the reason films such as “Snow White,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Star Wars” enjoy enduring popularity is not because of the historic technology – which is now outdated – but because the story is timeless. “We said that anything that we break ground with, computer-graphics-wise, will be subservient to getting the story right, because that’s what history has shown wins,” he said.

In our business, telling stories is at the core of what we do. Good stories, not message points, are what connect with people; it’s what they remember.

While “Toy Story” changed the future of animated movies, the subsequent explosion of the internet and social media were just as revolutionary for PR and communications.

Livestreaming, 360 video, chatbots, augmented reality apps and Snapchat filters are all great tools to have at our disposal. But without compelling stories, they fall flat. What makes a client’s website or Facebook page successful is ultimately the quality of the content – not the technology it utilizes.

No one knows what the next big thing in social media will be, but whatever it is, the Pixar principles of effective storytelling will remain as important as ever.

Speaking of which, mark your calendar for June 21, 2019 as we eagerly anticipate the latest adventures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear in “Toy Story 4.”

The story continues.

Bob Gosman is a Senior Account Supervisor at Public Communications Inc. A former newspaper reporter, he now works with clients on a variety of topics from nature to education and healthcare, helping them tell better stories.