Relating lessons on artistic creativity to becoming a creative educator.

Following are “8 Creativity Lessons from a Pixar Animator[1]”–by Leo Babauta, syndicated from, Dec 26, 2013.  The lessons were garnered in a tour of Pixar studios provided by a Mr. Bernhard.

Creativity is not just about product, it is about process.  I believe that the lessons of creativity in art speak volumes to the successful evolution of inspiring endeavors and products for teachers and learners as well.  I will attempt to elucidate this opinion following each creativity lesson.

1) “Tenacity matters.  Bernhard told a story of a friend who did a drawing every day, for more than 3 years, and became amazingly good by the end of that stint. He shared Looney Toons legendary animator Chuck Jones’ assertion that you have to draw 100,000 bad drawings before you have a good drawing. Bernhard said you might not seem very good at something when you start out, but if you’re persistent, tenacious even, you can get amazingly good.”

Of course the stuff of good education also improves with practice and experience, and many educators are presented with the opportunity to try, try again, but I think the operative word here is tenacity.  Tenacity implies doggedly holding onto something; not giving up and not letting go of a goal or ideal.  Simply lecturing doesn’t necessarily make one a better lecturer.  Holding onto the vision of a good or inspiring lecturer and paying attention to what makes a difference and what doesn’t speaks more to the tenacity that can help an educator grow within his or her field.  Keeping an eye on the goal of providing material in a way that inspires, challenges and teaches will help keep the mind open to trying new techniques and perhaps not giving up on students who are failing despite interest and application.  There is also tenacity required in discussing options for class time use that satisfy both your employer, your students and your desire or ability to be more creative and offer deeper learning experiences in the classroom.

2) “Art is your particular telling of reality.  When we talked about letting go of preconceived ideas and drawing what you actually see, Bernhard compared it to a night out with one of his friends. While Bernhard might just recount that night by saying, “We went out and had some food and went home”, his friend might have noticed a lot of interesting details that Bernhard didn’t, and tell a story with those details in a way that’s interesting and hilarious. Same experience, different interpretation, different details.”

I think this is incredibly relevant to teaching and to teaching science in particular.  Different perspectives are not readily evaluated or presented in most science classes and yet, every person’s experience with the reality of science and scientific law is different and does offer a different perspective, even if the law or the fact doesn’t vary at all.  Allowing yourself and students to elaborate on the connections that each or you make between experience and  learning will enrich the process for everyone.  All people have some interest in their own bodies and that interest mght tapped by providing perspective and ‘stories’ about the function, process and beauty of the human body, (or any topic at all).

Use stories of life, love, tragedy, triumph and beauty to tell the story of the human body.  Anthropomorphize freely so that all the humans in the class adopt an interest in the function and discernment of their own bodies. After all, there would be far fewer stories of life, love, tragedy and beauty without them!

3) “Feed off others’ ideas.   When Pixar artists create characters, it’s not a matter of one artist sketching out how he thinks a character should look. They all sit around a table, each drawing ideas, putting them in the middle, and others taking those ideas and riffing off them.  Dozens and dozens of sketches come out from this process, until they find the one that works best. This means everyone’s creativity builds on the creativity of everyone else. This, btw, can help you even if you don’t have a bunch of other geniuses to work with — find others who are creating cool things, and riff off them, and share your riffs.”

Collaboration is a buzz word that can be creatively applied to your class room and to your faculty lounge.  Your classroom can be shaped by input from students…. You just might find that students who have input (within reason and the rules of your institution) are more engaged with the class both in and outside of your notice.  The tenacious vision of engaged participants can be facilitated by asking students for their input on this type of environment.  What do they find helpful and engaging?  Colleagues can certainly join together to share and engender new ideas for activities and methods that impact students.

Talk to your students and your colleagues about what works, what engages, and what they see as an ideal classroom experience.  What are you trying to create and how can you get there?  Students who consider that their input is important and who honestly think about, and share, what they need might be more willing to read before class because they see how that fits within the plan of the class and are interested in the more in-depth learning that can take place when one comes to class prepared.  Despite the fact that there will always be students who seem totally unwilling or uninterested, collaboration might just reach more of the students who at first seem out of reach as well as lessen your role as evil oppressive overlord.

4) “Let go of ego.   Imagine if you’ve put a great sketch into the pile, and you think it’s the one that should be used. But because so many talented artists are throwing ideas into the pile, the fact is that most ideas/sketches won’t be used. They’ll be discarded. If you want your idea to win, you’ll fight for it, but this only hurts the process. Pixar animators have to let go of their egos, and put the best interests of the project first. I think this is true of any creative project.”

I think this is true of any endeavor that involves more than one person, and there are very few of those.  Placing the ideal of a productive, engaging classroom above the personal idea or above any desire to be ‘the best,’ ‘the first,’ ‘the best-liked,’ or ‘the smartest’ helps a department reach the ideal.   Modeling the process of collaboration with colleagues is invaluable to students who will have to face the challenges of changing health care needs and provision, global warming, and an uncertain job market among other problems.  We need problem solvers, and collaboration is the most likely road to solving the problems of the present and the future.

This is also true in the classroom with students.  If a student has a great explanation for a process or idea, ask them to share it with the class.  If you don’t know the answer to a student inquiry, challenge everyone to find it in books, on devices, or for homework.  Don’t be the all-knowing expert… be the well-educated guide.

This lesson included the quote: “When ego is lost, limit is lost.  You become infinite, kind, beautiful.”  – Yogi Bhajan.

5) “Everyone should know the mission well. Some studios outsource their animation work overseas, but then the animators often don’t know what the movie is about, and don’t really care about the final process, because they’re just doing one tiny piece. But at Pixar, everyone involved is pushing forward, trying to create the best movie possible, and they take pride in this mission. That means that everyone is invested in the mission, everyone truly cares about the work they’re producing, and it shows in the final creation.”

This can be applied to education in several ways.  Obviously, it is easier for a student to succeed if he/she knows what you expect of them.  They need to know what will be covered to be fairly evaluated on assessments.  Additionally, if you have a mission for your classroom that is a little more in-depth than, “present information about anatomy & physiology”, then share it with your students.  Would you like for them to learn how to find information that they don’t know?  Would you like for them to become critical thinkers?  Would you like for them to find awe and wonder in the human body?  Would you like for the experience in your classroom to be one that helps them grow as learners, people and future providers of healthcare or any other profession?  Let them know.  They just might be touched to know that you see more in your job than presenting information.  They might also more deeply consider that a learning experience can help them grow in all the aforementioned ways and it might become their goal as well.

In addition, verbalizing these goals makes it easier to include exercises, questions, demonstrations that contribute to those goals in a creative way.  This doesn’t mean that you use all your time on goals that are not strictly linked to the official curriculum, but it might make it easier to see the value in a variety of activities, which may in turn engage more learners and more learning.

6) “Lots of hard work, tiny but amazing results. When Pixar created Brave, deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut would have made the movie 5 times as long. A ton of little visual jokes didn’t make the movie. That means that hours and hours of creative, brilliant work were thrown out, and only the best of the best of all of this creative process actually was used. That’s a lot of amazing stuff, to get very little. That means what we actually see is of incredible quality.”

Make sure that your assessments reflect your vision and goals as well.  You know you have to guide students through and assess their absorption of the curriculum, but what if those assessments offered some opportunity for students to share their perspective and achievements?  Could a few questions like “Give an example from your own life of osmosis within your body and outside of your body and compare them.” Have a place that would let students know that their deeper understanding is sought and appreciated and show both of you some beautiful results?

#7) “Surround yourself with heroes. When Bernhard was interviewed at Pixar about 6 years ago, it took all day. The list of people interviewing him was a list of his personal heroes. That’s who he works with, the best in the world. How inspiring is that? You’d jump out of bed to get to work each morning, wouldn’t you? Of course, not all of us are that lucky, but we can surround ourselves with the work of our heroes, and use them for inspiration, maybe even reach out and meet one or two of them someday. Shoot for the stars, or at least illuminate your life with their light.”

Perhaps this is not as easy a task for an educator as educators are not necessarily heralded as are people whose names appear in the credits of popular movies, but remembering that there are people who we look up to and admire can also be a reminder to strive to improve what we do.  If there are heroes in your school, seek them out.  Pick their brains.  Go to conferences and meet the folks you admire for their teaching, their research or their writing.  Most people appreciate being admired in a professional and interested way.  You never know there may be folks out there who admire you and would like some tips!  Which leads to the last tip….

#8) “Help those just starting out. Bernhard took the time out of his day to give us a tour, because a teen-age young man is interested in computer animation. That’s exceptional. His reasoning: ” I was where Justin is right now, and it’s nice to pass on what I know today. Passion and dreams are important to keep alive.” How many of us do that?”

This is of course what educators do!  Educators encourage, guide and instill passion in those who come to them for information and instruction.  It is one of the perks of the job to watch passion and interest flower; to see determination lead to success; and to watch people mature into their abilities and their minds.  I thank you for what you do as educators and hope that thinking about creativity as an asset to your process and your classroom helps keep your job fresh, exciting and productive.


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