Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Between Books - Bloodline

I was a big fan of Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Lost Stars. I was impressed with the character building and Gray’s ability to keep my attention in both the big and small the moments. So seeing that she wrote the latest Princess Leia book, Bloodline, I was pretty excited. But would my excitement linger?

In Bloodline, readers discover Princess Leia’s life between the Battle of Endor and the foundation of the Resistance. Princess Leia Organa is a distinguished and somewhat older member of the New Republic’s Senate. But much like our universe, politics is division. The Senate has been split into two factions; Populists who wish to have local authority make decisions and Centrists who believe in a strong galactic central government. As Leia considers her continued role in this politically tense situation, she agrees to investigate a criminal ring as perhaps one last adventure. Leia, a Populist, is paired with Centrist Senator Ranslom Casterfo who admires the Empire’s efficiency but holds deep anger towards the late Emperor and his henchman Darth Vader. The book follows the relationship of these two different personalities as they attempt to dig deeper into a well-connected criminal underworld that could be a threat to galactic peace. And Leia’s effectiveness and loyalty is questioned as deeply held secrets of her parentage become public.

Let me cut to the chase. I am sad to say I did not enjoy Bloodline. I found that it dragged and failed to keep my interest. Like complaints that many have of the Prequels, this book simply had too much politics. And sadly it was not escapist enough for me since the political nature of the Senate seemed ripped from today’s headlines. Yes, I did enjoy this book linking original trilogy characters to Star Wars: The Force Awakens figures. And I loved the idea of finding out details of both Han Solo’ and Leia’s marriage and Han’s post Rebellion vocation. But these glimpses, regardless of how interesting a new character like Ranslom Casterfo was, just did not keep my general interest.

Star Wars fans will want to read Bloodline as it provides the rest of the story. But to me this is a borrow not a buy book. I kept reading due to the fact it is canon. It does provide more backstory to Princess Leia’s decision to become part of the Resistance and why she was outside of the Senate when the Force awakened. But the story itself is simply not my cup of tea (which they apparently drink in many forms in a Galaxy Far Far Away).

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Between Books - Creativity, Inc.

Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace provides Catmull's insights into management and animation history.  Many readers may assume that Creativity Inc. is either an autobiography or a personal history of Pixar.  And while there are elements of both, the text is really Catmull's reflections on both innovation and management.  Catmull uses history and personal narrative to provide other managers and innovators insight into his own career.  The episodes reflected on include his own early education and steps into animation, the establishment and then sale of Pixar, success under the ownership of Steve Jobs and later its purchase by Disney including expanded roles at Disney.  His review of history includes his relationship with the at times mercurial Jobs, the Pixar Brain Trust and it's function, and how Catmull and John Lasseter transitioned from Pixar to Disney leadership.

Creativity Inc. is a really good book!  Honestly it is something that managers and innovates need on their bookshelf not just Disney fans.  Catmull is largely honest about his mistakes and missteps that Pixar took under his direction.  Not everything Catmull attempted was a success, including attempts to revolutionize production.  And he shows us how a company losing its vision and edge can at falter after early overwhelming success.  

One of the chief themes in Catmull's leadership is candor.  Catmull and John Lasseter require it.  They make it clear what candor is and is not.  And how candor can be squashed by a inappropriate tone.  One of the examples used throughout the book is the famed Pixar Brain Trust.  Catmull describes its rules including that Pixar directors can and do ignore its advice.  And he explains that everyone is able to provide guidance.  These sessions are meant to hone the director's vision and improve the story.  And largely they do help Pixar to make some of the best animated features in the world.  If I was to criticize Catmull for anything it would be that he does not address claims that the candor of these meetings is not as described, with some not always feeling like they are able to share.  Also, I would say that Catmull does ignore some negative elements of Pixar history like the removal of Alvy Ray Smith, a Pixar co-founder.  In short he is not always candid.    

One of the things that I found fascinating is that Catmull made sure with his transition to Disney leadership that he kept the two animation units separate with clear separate structures.  The two would not mix or help each other.  That way they each could retain separate and clear identities, goals and projects.  Additionally, they chose to retain the one Disney animation executive everyone thought Catmull and Lasseter would remove, Andrew Millstein the head of Circle 7 Productions which produced sequels.  An early goal for the new leaders was no more cheap sequels.  Instead they made him general manager of the studio as he caught their vision.  Still there missteps as Catmull and Lasseter worked to overcome Pixar concerns they had lessened their attention on Pixar.  

Creativity Inc. is a great management and innovation book.  I could easily see reading it on a regular basis with using it for occasional innovation advice.  The book helps reinforce, in his own words, Catmull as a leadership and innovation leader.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cap's Comics - Haunted Mansion #1

For Disney Kingdoms it all started Haunted Mansion adjacent with Disney Kingdoms Seekers of the Weird.  So it is only fitting that we officially go into the mansion with Disney Parks’ and Marvel’s latest installment in the line, The Haunted Mansion.   But will going through the doors live up to expectations for Disney Parks fans.

Disney Parks Variant

Danny seems to be a good kid.  He loves his Grandpa and sending time with him.  But despite their bond they are two different sorts of souls.  Grandpa is an adventurer.  Danny is a coward!  Danny and his Grandpa talked about going into the local Haunted Mansion someday, but a mishap kept Grandpa from entering the mansion in a physical way.  So Danny is shocked when he is summoned by the spirits of the mansion to save them and his grandfather.  Will Danny have the courage to meet and fight for the 999 spirits of the Haunted Mansion?

Brian Crosby Variant

I would say overall that author Joshua Williamson and artist Jorge Coelho provide the reader what they expect.  They offer a story that provides the right visuals to the Disney fan who bought the issue because of the parks connection.  And the story itself is a fine all-ages story, maybe not up to the level of Figment but entertaining for me and the Between Kid.  With the first issue premiering at 66 in the sales chart, it does feel like the title is preforming where a  #1 in this line should be.  I will say story wise with Danny as our main character, other than Dreamfinder this could really be our first boy led story, since the Seeker’s tale was siblings.

Skottie Young Variant

Haunted Mansion #1 led me to want to read more.  And that is really all you can ask from a first issue.  In fact, I am traditionally really hard on first issues but I found this one interesting.  I look forward to Danny’s story and my expectation that he will become braver! 

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Variant 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Between Books - Walt's People Volume 6

At a certain point you cannot ignore the impact that the Walt’s People series has in capturing and distributing Disney history in an accessible and portable form.  In the end, I can only continue to compliment editor Didier Ghez’s work and inspiration to countless amateur and professional Disney historians.

Walt’s People Volume 6: Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him captures interviews with over 20 Disney artists and figures of interest.  The interviews range from a few pages to long form interviews of 25 plus pages.  The two categories, that I self-created, that really stood out to me in this volume are animation and the Disney family.  For animation, interviews and segments range from the golden age with Michael Barrier interviewing Carl Stalling about early Disney shorts and his musical contributions, Wilfred Jackson and other animators discussing features like Pinnochio, and the 1980s and story development with Steve Hulett.  The Disney family is very well represented with interviews including Lillian Disney, Roy O. Disney, Edna Disney, Sharon Disney, Diane Disney Miller and Ron Miller.  The volume literally includes thoughts from those closest to Walt Disney and saw him at home as a father and husband not just an entertainment giant.  Along with the interviews there are articles and profiles that are reprinted from earlier out of print animation magazines. 

I really enjoyed Walt’s People Volume 6: Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him.  It may have been one of my favorite volumes as it contained a mix of new animation personalities to me while also offering voices, like Roy O. Disney, that I really wanted to hear from.  I found at times I was frustrated because I had to put the volume down or that the interview was over.  I found myself shopping for another volume even before I finished this collection.  And yet again, I can only strongly recommend these books to Disney history fans.  

Monday, July 4, 2016

Cap's Comics - Figment 2 #5

Figment 2 # 5 “The Legacy of Imagination Part Five: Big Dreams” by Jim Zub and Ramon Bachs brings the latest chapter of Figment and Dreamfinder to a conclusion.  The Academy Scientifica-Ludicus is overrun by doubt thanks to Doubtfinder’s fear gas.  And Doubtfinder is able to battle Dreamfinder by pointing out the fear and doubt in all of Dreamfinder’s dreams.  Can Capri and Dreamfinder’s friends defeat the villain?  And most of all can there be a payoff for the cover and its mosaic of imagination creations?  The story does wrap up this chapter of Dreamfinder’s life, but Zub does not answer all questions and the next chapter is foreshadowed as Dreamfinder steps into his next adventure.

I will admit I liked Figment a little better than the sequel.  The prior story was more fantasy while this is more allegory and internal struggle to me.  I worry that this struggle was lost at times on the Between Kid.  But the Kid did ask to have me finish the tale and was eager to have it read.  And while not my favorite overall arc I did enjoy Figment 2 and find myself hungry for the next edition.

John Tyler Christopher Action Figure Variant Cove

But the big question is will these adventures continue.  The first issue for this series initially sold 20,551 copies according to the Comichron and debuted at 109.  But with this final issue only 7, 291 issues were sold with a ranking at 202.  I do feel some comfort that it was barely beaten by the 224th issue of G.I. Joe A Real American Hero while also beating out the very strong title X-O Manowar, a title I creatively enjoy.  Basically this final single issue sales does not tell the full story since this ranking zone does have strong titles.  But I do assume that much of the excitement over this title is direct single issue sales.  But in the end it may be trades that get Dreamfinder to share his next chapter.  On Amazon, the first trade is 235th amongst Marvel comics and Graphic Novels in sales.  And with it being a title you can sell in the parks and other Disney locations…well I have hope.  Because the story really does warrant a continuation of this Disney Kingdoms mainstay, so I hope. 

Figment 2 was a satisfying all ages story that the family enjoyed.  And yes I want these titles to continue!  They really do help me get my Disney fix as my visits to the park get further and further apart.  And it amazes me the Between Kid loves Figment, despite never enjoying his Epcot attraction! 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Between Books - The Art of Star Wars The Force Awakens

Yep, Disney fan makes me a Star Wars fan...actually I was that years before Disney bought LucasFilm.  After enjoying some of the other Disney and Marvel Art of books, I had to add The Art of Star Wars The Force Awakens to my Between Books collection.

The Art of Star Wars The Force Awakens by Phil Szostak guides readers through the development of Star Wars The Force Awakens.  The book is a visual guide to the creation of the film from pre-production, into filming and finally post-production.  Readers will discover a very different story as early versions of the film focused on Kira and Sam, not Rey and Finn, with Jedi Killer in the place of Kylo Ren.  While Szostak provides text that describes the formation of the film it is really the pictures that highlight the story of film production.  Readers can spend hours exploring the pictures, contemplating the ideas that did and did not become part of the finalized film.

The Art of Star Wars The Force Awakens is truly an enjoyable and fun read.  I read it twice.  One read was with the Between Kid, as we mostly focused on the pictures and discussed images and ideas that moved forward.  For my second read, I slowed down reading the text which really discussed how ideas evolved.  Readers come to understand how loose the production of a film can be.  LucasFilm unleashed a team of visual artists to create concepts, many of them strikingly beautiful but unused.  And these images helped to progress the story, not just Disney's and J.J. Abrams revisions to the original George Lucas script.  Many of the visuals are literally what if ideas, ones that would be fantastic to see in the future.  It also becomes clear how Ralph McQuarrie, the original Star Wars visual designer inspired a new generation of artists in both how they dreamed and how they copied much of his own work.

Star Wars fans need to read The Art of Star Wars The Force Awakens.  It is a fantastic look into film making and the creation of 2015's biggest film.  It is personally a must have for Disney/Star Wars fans who want to know more about how the new Star Wars films are created.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Between Books - The Disney Way Interview

After reading The Disney Way Third Edition, author Bill Capodagli agreed to take a few questions about the book and Disney management that were inspired by the book.

Between Disney:  I have read a lot of Disney management/business books, but this one really seems relevant to the non-Disney fan.  For the non-Disney fan who might think of Disney as a Mickey Mouse affair.   Why should the non-fan care about the Disney Way?

Capodagli:  The Walt Disney Company is more than just a benchmark for the entertainment and hospitality industries.  Walt Disney World has the fifth largest laundry in the world, the largest in the US. It is a production facility that processes thousands of costumes, bedding, towels and linens every single day.  Cast members work hard in the heat, and they are paid a little bit more than minimum wage. Yet, there is less than 5 percent turnover in that facility.  Disney also has world-class maintenance facilities; they maintain hundreds of miles of roads on their properties; and they staff departments such as Horticulture and the Living Seas with experts in their fields. Pick any process...Disney has likely mastered it; any organization can learn from Disney’s example beyond the world of “Mickey Mouse.”

Between DisneyI really resonate to the partnership materials in the book.  Disney really seems to operate best when a strong partnership is in place with Walt/Roy, Eisner/Wells Lasseter/Catmull.  How can we foster this type of relationship building in our own workplaces?

Capodagli: Within organizations, relationship building requires two important factors, the first of which is clarifying individual accountabilities.  Employees need to clearly understand their individual roles, and secondarily, they need to understand how their roles complement those of others to produce what Disney calls the “good show” experience.  However, there is one more factor that is critical to long-lasting successful relationships – mutual respect and trust.  One great example is the “loving kindness” culture of Acts Retirement-Life Communities, a FEATURED ORGANIZATION in the 3rd edition of The Disney Way.  All the best partnerships in history – from Walt and Roy Disney to John Lasseter and Ed Catmull – were based upon mutual respect and trust and “loving kindness.”

Between Disney:  I recently storyboarded to get ideas.  I was struck by the power of this tool.  But what I am really wondering what common qualities do you see in leaders willing to open themselves up to a leadership storyboard?
Capodagli: Leadership storyboards are beneficial when a leader is open to changing his or her ineffective behaviors based upon team feedback.

Between Disney: I work in a volunteer position where I provide leadership and a clear vision.  But sometimes the vision gets lost to the work.  How can I reinforce the dream, especially with a non-paid and low-paid staff?
Capodagli: Any leader who is responsible for a team needs to continually reinforce the vision, “dream”, or story at every opportunity including team meetings and company events. These critical cultural elements must be included in an organization’s hiring process as well as communicated to vendors, stockholders and other stakeholders.

Between Disney:  You focus on start-ups in your examples of using the Disney Way throughout the book.  What about the culture of a start up opens them to using this model?
 Capodagli: The beauty of a start-up organization is that they have a “blank sheet of paper” for creating a culture.  When an organization has been in existence for years or decades, asking employees to embrace a new set of values can be challenging.  So, establishing the core values at the outset is the best scenario to achieve long-term success.

 Thank you very for your time and your additional insights into The Disney Way and how we can Dream, Believe, Dare, Do in our own business and personal lives.