Animating Management: Nonlinear Simulation and Management Theory at Pixar
Existing scholarship finds that early industrialized animation studios sought to emphasize the unpredictable liveliness of creativity at their studios, while also demonstrating their ability to control and manage production through industrial management techniques that promoted regulation and efficiency. This article examines how this dynamic between unpredictability and control has been negotiated by digital animation studios since the early 1980s, with a focus on the way Pixar Animation Studios represents its management theory through popular books, business journal articles, DVD extras, and behind-the-scenes promotional material.
This article highlights how computational principles for creating and managing unpredictability via nonlinear simulation inform Pixar’s promoted management theory. The principles of simulated unpredictability ground many of Pixar’s key technological advances, especially for animating fluids and materials (water, smoke, fur, and cloth), but they also ground concepts within the field of management science such as industrial dynamics and organizational resilience. This epistemic frame leads Pixar to represent creativity as the unpredictable product of carefully controlled conditions and parameters and this collapse of technology, animation, and management helps to sculpt Pixar’s own corporate image as both an animation studio and technology company. The research in this article offers contributions to the study of both post-Fordism in animation industries and algorithmic control.