At the heart of Pixar is the Braintrust, a rolling group of the studio's best creative minds which helps guide every film during development. The group's members change, but it grew out of the core team who worked on Toy Story and now make up Pixar's most acclaimed directors: Lasseter, Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo and Wall•E), Pete Docter (Monsters Inc, Up, Inside Out) and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3). (Joe Ranft, a founding member who directed Cars, died in 2005.)
"The Braintrust isn't a particular set of people. It's what we call the group that gets together to address a problem," Catmull says. It meets every 12 weeks; meetings start with a screening of the most recent cut of a film. After lunch, the Braintrust provides notes on what works, and what could be improved.
"The key thing is: no mandatory notes," says Lasseter. That foundation -- the fundamental principle of candid, constructive feedback -- goes back to Lasseter's early experiences with Disney "when it was still an executive-driven studio", where animators were given mandatory notes by high-ups.
"My note doesn't carry any more weight than an animator's. No one has individual ownership of an idea, because someone will spark something and you build upon it -- so then, at the end, what you have is this feeling that everybody has shared ownership, and being proud of the whole thing."