Starting Great Ideas: Ugly Babies

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So, as part of our journey, we’ve been reading books. So far, number one on the nightstand has been the Pixar book by Ed Catmull – “Creativity, Inc.”. This book basically reads as a play by play for doing exactly what we’re trying to do – develop a creative company culture that delivers incredible results to our audience, and that helps our company creatives to achieve their highest possible goals.

We’ll talk a lot about this book in these posts, but one of my favorite things are “Ugly Babies”. Ugly babies are the first incarnation of your creative idea that you share with others. Ugly babies are not meant to be fully formed, or even partially formed, they’re simply meant to be a feeling, or a moment, that you’d like to explore further to turn into an idea for something much bigger. In Pixar’s case, this is generally a movie. For instance, Pete Doctor’s ugly baby for “Inside Out” was simply the idea of exploring inner human emotions. Completely vague right? That’s the idea. But you start there. You share it with a close group – the group is called the “Brain Trust” (but we’ll talk about that more later – and you see what kind of ideas it sparks in them. You’re not looking for critique at this point, just reflection and encouragement.

The importance of the ugly baby is just this: getting started! You need a place without too many barriers to get something good going. A big commercial can be a tremendous endeavor and the creative work behind it can initially be very threatening to good ideas. The ugly baby phase is just a chance to explore that feeling.

The ugly baby itself can come in many forms, but it has to be somewhat physical. It can be drawings, a basic treatment, an iPhone video – whatever, as long as not TOO much thought has gone into it, and as long as you feel strongly that you want to pursue this.

Probably easier to show it then to talk about it. See my example of ugly baby I shot a few years ago without even knowing that was what I was doing.

This was just meant to get across that feeling of “infinite time” that summer affords us when we’re kids. We’re just doing weird stuff like hanging out in a tent on a perfectly sunny day and chilling. I’m not sure what I want to do with this ugly baby to this day, but there it is. The point is, you’ve got to start somewhere – ugly babies allows you a chance to do just that…

At this week’s meeting I’ll be delivering my first ugly baby for an idea I have for a commercial we may shoot in January. I’ll be sure to post here, so keep your eyes out.


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We’re going for the emotions. Joy, sorrow, laughter, love - we want it all. And we want to work with people that understand that language. Partners who will challenge us to be better and push us to grow, so when we share it with the world, we've made something that matters.