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Toon Tuesday : Why Steve Jobs wants WDFA to Get Smart

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Toon Tuesday : Why Steve Jobs wants WDFA to Get Smart

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We got any "Get Smart" fans out there?

If so, how many of you remember the Cone of Silence? The weird Plexiglas thingy that Agent 86 would insist on having lowered whenever he had something super-secret to share with the Chief of CONTROL? Which was then supposed to shield the outside world from hearing Maxwell Smart & the Chief's private conversation?

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Well, these past few months, it's like a giant Cone of Silence has been lowered over Burbank's Feature Animation building. Where once Disney artists used to brag and/or bitch & moan about the animated feature that they had been assigned to work on, now a lot of these employees have grown strangely mute.

"And why are these formerly talkative cast members now holding their tongues?," you ask. The way I understand it, the main reason that most of these talented folks are now keeping their mouths closed is that they'd like to keep their jobs. You see, under the leadership of John Lasseter & Ed Catmull, a slip of the lip can lead to a pink slip.

"And why are Lasseter & Catmull now taking this newly punitive attitude toward WDFA information leakers?," you query. Well, to be honest, this secretive stance is something that John & Ed brought with them from Emeryville. Where Pixar Animation Studios is renown for its ability to keep a secret.

Of course, a lot of that supposedly has to do with Pixar CEO Steve Jobs. Who -- now that he's the Walt Disney Company's largest individual shareholder as well as the newest member of its board of directors -- has considerable sway over the way the Mouse House conducts its business.

And Steve? As anyone who's familiar with Jobs' tenure at the Big Cheese at Apple will attest, Steve is a guy who really loves his secrets. He's a man who always tries to keep things under wraps until the most opportune time arrives. 'Til the properly teased release of a new product will then garner the largest possible amount of free publicity.

And Jobs insisted that Apple's secretive attitude toward its products be carried over to Pixar. Which is why all new films that this animation studio has been working on have been kept under wraps for as long as possible. With the hope this practice would then build up audience anticipation for the finished release.

This is why (during the mid-to-late 1990s) "Monsters, Inc." moved through its entire pre-production phase under the code name / working title of "Hidden City." Which is actually the name of a Point Richmond café that Pete Doctor and the rest of his Pixar production team used to frequent while working on this project.

And Lasseter, Catmull & Jobs are now looking for WDFA employees to adopt Pixar's hush-hush attitude when it comes to discussing any projects that are still in their pre-production phase. As one Emeryville exile recently told me:

"Pixar has this reputation of being a worker's paradise. That people up there just loving working for that company. Which is why you never ever hear a bad word coming off of that campus.

The truth of the matter is people who work at Pixar can be pretty paranoid. And for good reason. After all, it's been hammered into their heads that anyone who reveals proprietary information about projects that are still in production will immediately lose their jobs. No questions asked. Which is why everybody up north is now used to keeping their mouth shut.

Of course, what's kind of ironic about all this is that -- when advance information did leak out of upcoming Pixar films -- it was usually the people at Disney who did the leaking. Our guys would travel down to Burbank to screen a new work-in-progress version of one of our pictures. And invariably a few days later, all of these details about that screening would then wind up being posted on Ain't It Cool News. All because some Disney studio employee couldn't wait to blab to Harry about how cool the new Pixar movie was.

So now that John, Ed & Steve are calling the shots at Disney, look for all of the leaks to stop. At Pixar. At Disney Feature Animation. From here on in, it's all going to be about building the audience's anticipation for the next production. Keeping these films under wraps for as long as possible."

And as quiet as things have been lately, look for things to get even quieter in late 2008 / early 2009. When Feature Animation finally moves into its new digs in Disney's Glendale campus.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Of course, if you were to ask a Mouse House exec to explain why Disney's animators will be soon be vacating the Sorcerer's Hat building (Which -- given that it opened back in November of 1994 -- is less than 13 years old), they'd tell you that the real reason that the company is building a new animation studio on the Glendale campus was because they want to make life easier for John Lasseter. So that -- rather than having to drive up Riverside Drive every time John has to go from a meeting at Imagineering to a meeting at Feature Animation -- Lasseter can then just take a quick stroll across the quad.

But the very fact that Walt Disney Imagineering is a division of the company that's pretty good about keeping its secrets (I mean, how many people outside of WDI upper management know about that super-secret meeting that Disney execs had with members of the Anaheim City Council earlier this month? Where -- after signing a raft of non-disclosure agreements -- these Anaheim officials were then shown Disney's ambitious new expansion plans for the Disneyland Resort?) ... Well, maybe Lasseter, Catmull & Jobs are hoping that WDFA's new proximity to WDI will eventually result in the studio's animators adopting the Imagineers' tight-lipped attitude.

So I hope that you folks enjoy that brief burst of information that you got last month. Where all sorts of information leaked out about "Wall * E," "American Dog" & "The Frog Princess." Because now that the Cone of Silence has descended over Disney Feature Animation, it could be quite a while before a story like that leaks out again.

Your thoughts?

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  • I love the reference to the Cone of Silence.

    So not to point out the obvious--but on Get Smart, the cone of silence never worked.  the joke was: only people on the outside could hear the conversation, but Max liked to use it because it was 10 degrees cooler inside the cone.

  • Hmmm.  A very interesting (and conical) article.  Makes sense that Disney would want to guard against the evils of what Evelyn Davis refers to "The Internets" (and I think you know who you are).  And speaking of evil, dropping "Disney's ambitious new expansion plans for the Disneyland Resort" without telling us a thing?  What a cruel tease!  I can't wait for THAT article!

  • So WDFA's moving out of the Hat Building? Interesting.  Wonder what the Company will be doing with it once WDFA moves to Glendale?

    Based on the comments I've heard about the building, it doesn't sound like the animators will miss it much anyway; even Roy Disney's office over there was supposedly more for show, and he did his real work over in an office (either Walt's old office or his father's) in the original Animation Building...

  • If it's WDI is so secretive then how come Jim knows about these expansion plans?

    I would love to see Jim try to get some info on the latest apple product. I am guessing he would have a bit of a more of a difficult time. WDI is secretive, but there just not up to Steve Jobs standards.

    I am also guessing this might change as Lasseter has more involvement with feature animation and WDI, so count your blessings while we still have information on future projects.

  • Hmm.  Looks like Jim's main source left the studio...  


  • I play with the kids on VMK, after being a Beta tester I just kept on.  Without quashing the child play that goes on, I try to instill some adult sensibilities to the kids.  One of them is about secrets and the element of surprise.  I tell them that 'surprise is magic', and urge them to not be so aggressive in 'spoiling' the news of new items and games that the Staff prepares for the game.

    I enjoy the talk and rumors that Jim puts here on his site.  But I do understand the philosophy of keeping a secret.  As a journalist, Jim has every right to ferret out information and present it in his column.  But the company has every right to determine what information is released to the public and when.  This is their way of sharing the surprise of discovering a new feature, ride, or event with us.   And 'surpise is magic'!

  • "the real reason that the company is building a new animation studio on the Glendale campus was because they want to make life easier for John Lasseter."

    So, they're moving hundreds of animators to make life easier for one man.  Does he know how much money he's wasting having construction taking place on a new bulding (please correct me if I'm wrong)?  But, will they put putting traditional animators and their tools in the new building (which only makes sense since Disney will be doing more traditionally animated films from now on)?  If so, then that's more okay.  They better make the new bulding 2D-ready...why say "Disney" is going to make more 2D movies, if really "Studio X" will be getting the outsourced work?

    Does this Cone of Silence mean that employees can't come home to their husbands/wives/children and tell them what they did at work that day?  I'm very curious about that.  I'm sure that things still will get leaked...and Jim will fill us in.

  • Anybody besides me find the entire tone of this article somewhat odd? I mean first off, it comes on the heels of a week's worth of pretty detailed stories about ALL the upcoming films for both Pixar and WDFA. Lasseter and Catmull have been there for what? A year now? Why all of a sudden did "the Cone of Silence" descend now, when it's obviously been in place for the last 12 months?

    Also, the article talks about how secret everything has become, including this "super secret Disneyland expansion meeting" that Jim obviously knows about. If that's the case, how secret could it be??

    Very odd ... this whole article ... I think blueohanaterror is on to something ...

  • Well, if things are really going to get so secretive, then I'm dying.  One of my joys is getting to know the latest news tidbit on an in production WDFA project.  If I'm going to spend the next four years not even knowing whether Rapunzel is progressing well or not...I will die of Jobsophobia.  Lasseter says he wants to build public interest in a film by not revealing any info about it.  In my case, pictures and news whet my appetite for a picture.  On the other hand, lack of knowledge will make me indifferent toward it.

    Seems like JHM is gonna be pretty dull then.  Guys, prepare yourselves for some more ScroogeU articles, cos there's not gonna be any WDFA stuff to fill the site up. :'(

  • WDFA has the right to keep their development of new projects under wraps, same for WDI, and the Company in general. Most companies will keep R&D secret until the new product is launched.

    I always like the way Apple has managed to "wow" the marketplace when something is announced. IT does build suspense, excitement, and a driver for the market.

    It can also keep expectations down so new products aren't a disappointment, based on all the rumors that make something seem more than it really ever was intended to be.

  • Perhaps WDFA would like to stanch the flow of gossip, innuendo, and downright untruth that constitutes the dialogue about their work so many blogs?

    Maybe give projects a chance to live or die on their own merits rather than on the anonymously-posted rants of some PA who was fired from a film?

    Or allow the discourse, good or bad, to happen where it belongs--when the product is completed and ready for a public showing?

    I don't know, just a guess.

  • I don't think that keeping something under wraps builds excitement.  In the watch shop at Disney-MGM Studios, there's a marker board with a mini-press release for "The Frog Princess".  We know that this movie won't come out for 2 more years.  We've seen the concept art, and some even heard a song from the film.  That's what gets me excited about a movie.  Not so much the initial trailer...but what I learn about the film while it's in its various stages.

  • As I posted on my blog yesterday (click my name to read the post), the Anaheim Garden Walk project web site has revealed exactly what they talked with Disney about.

    They have, on their web site, a mention of “Disney’s newly announced Third Park” as well as a map showing “Disney’s Proposed Third Gate”.  Obviously nothing is set in stone, but I think this gives you a good idea of what's to come.

    Obviously the Anaheim folks didn't realize they weren't supposed to talk about it.

  • I'm surprised there's been no mention here of the new Pirates trailer.  It looks freaking amazing, I'll bet it's the biggest movie this summer and even does better than the last one.

  • They're moving WDFA away from the Sorcerer's Hat in Burbank?!?! Why!!! I don't like that, moving to Glendale. What do they think WDFA is.. Pixar?! It's not. (Thank God for that.) My Lasseter-irritation-mood is coming up again.....

    Secrecy is okay, but it can work the other way too. We're all excited about Rapunzel, and have been teased for ages. On forehand there are a lot (a lot) of people who just want to see the movie because of the great production art. If they released that just a year before the movie came to theaters, I wouldn't have been so excited about it.

    blackcauldron 85 said:

    "...but what I learn about the film while it's in its various stages."

    True. When you get to follow the film from pre-production to release, the excitement is the greatest. (That's how it works for me.)

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