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Emeryville, a run-down area of Oakland across the bay from San Francisco, is not the place you would expect to turn for one of Hollywood’s most famous names. Yet thanks to the presence of the sprawling new Pixar studios, a centrepiece of an attempted downtown re-vival, this is set to become the unlikely focus for a reinvention of the animation empire created by movie pioneer Walt Disney.
Keeping the Pixar culture alive – and its creative team in place – could turn out to be the most important task ahead for executives of the entertainment group, say industry analysts. Both Mr Iger and Mr Jobs made a point on Tuesday of singling out Ed Catmull, Pixar’s president, and John Lasseter, its creative director, for particular praise, and both men were named to similar positions overseeing all of Disney’s animation business.
Indeed, how to preserve the Pixar culture alive inside Disney was a central part of the discussions between the two companies, said Mr Jobs. “We all know that’s the thing that will determine the success here in the long run,” he said. “I think we’ve thought it through pretty well.”
Pixar was in many ways created as the anti-Hollywood, its culture deliberately set apart from the big movie factories of southern California. Inside the company’s cavernous buildings, artists mingle in common areas, a nod to the internet culture of nearby Silicon Valley. Instead of offices, the most senior artists work in individually “themed” and extravagantly decorated huts inside the large edifice.
The laid-back style disguises a meritocracy where talent and the quality of the finished product are valued above all else, and the politics and rigid timetables of the studio system have been banished, say observers.
The pressures inside a giant entertainment combine such as Disney are likely to challenge that start-up culture. Disney is expected to make Pixar’s Emeryville headquarters the centre of its own animation business, a sign that it has no intention of damaging its new purchase.
But Pixar’s perfectionist approach to movie-making may grate with the financial demands of life inside a big company.
Holding on to the creative talents behind Pixar’s unbroken string of box-office hits will also be vital. Some analysts believe that John Lasseter, Pixar’s creative director who began his career at Disney, will ultimately be more important to the company’s future than Mr Jobs.