Failing Fast at Pixar

Peter Merholz interviews Michael B. Johnson from Pixar and there are some nuggets in there that need to be shared.

The important take-home point, though, is that Pixar loves their films so much, we make them twice :-). Compared to the final product, the first time we make it is sketchy and rough – but the most important thing is that it’s still a film. To be clear – our prototype exists in the same medium as our final product. This allows us to judge it by the same standards that the final film will be judged.

I think this is an important lesson for a User Experience Designer to understand – paper prototypes and ethnographic research are great, but if you’re trying to build a prototype that you want use as a blueprint, it should exist in the same medium as the final product. My group (which does lots of ethnographic research and Photoshop/OmniGraffle prototypes) firmly believes in this, and practices it daily.

Actually, it more than makes up for the cost. We know we’ll fail a lot; if you don’t fail you’re not doing anything new :-).

We’d much rather fail with a bunch of sketches that we did (relatively) quickly and cheaply, than once we’ve modeled, rigged, shaded, animated, and lit the film. “Fail fast,” that’s the mantra. With a team of 10-20 people (director, story artists, editorial staff, production designer and artists, and skeleton production management) you can make, remake, and remake again a movie that once it hits 3D will take an order of magnitude more people to execute. The complexity of the task does not ramp up linearly.

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