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Pixar President Catmull: Technology makes better art

At D10 conference, president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation talks about why you need new tools that you don't know how to use.

A clip from Pixar's upcoming film, "Brave." Pixar / Screenshot by Rafe Needleman

PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Walt Disney Animation Studios, said at the D10 conference today that technology can lead to better art.

He was quick to say, "Technology is not a goal. It really is to make a great movie."

But the point he was making is that adapting new tools forces artists to rethink everything about their work; that getting people out of their comfort zones leads to better art.

Referring to the first animated film, "Bertie the Dinosaur," he says, "Years later, we don't look back on this film and think it's a technological revolution. We think it's art."

Pixar has recently updated its software suite. The new Pixar film, "Brave," was made with it. Because of that, it's a more expensive film than the ones before it, which, Catmull says, have each cost less than the first Pixar release, "Toy Story."

"It was a massive effort. We didn't have to do it." In fact, he says, "most companies that try to upgrade their software fail. But you need to do stuff that is just out there. It gets your head to a different place."

Pixar President Ed Catmull Rafe Needleman/CNET

Obviously not a proponent of complacency, he adds, "If you get settled, the goal is to get the process right. And the process subverts your more radical nature."

He tells the audience that most films in Hollywood have to do well in the "elevator test," a concept familiar to entrepreneurs. Films, he said, have to do well in the elevator pitch to get funded. But, he says, "If we pass the elevator test, we don't want to make the movie."

What's next for Pixar? Catmull doesn't know. He hopes for "new kinds of looks. I don't know what they are."

He refers back to technology as an artistic stimulus: "Much of the technological push is to allow new imagery into the screen, to stimulate the imaginative process. Integration of technology into a story enriches both."