Launch of Creative Technology Network

Last night was the launch of the CTN here in Bristol at the Watershed. The keynote (which was fully packed out) came from Michael B Johnson from Pixar.

I’m not sure if Michael’s talk will be up on the CTN or Watershed sites as he had been told by Pixar not to allow recording (so this is from memory rather than live notes). The main points that really resonated was the instruction to ‘fail fast’ and iterate quickly towards a great movie. Josh has a great post on the ‘Fail cheap, fail fast, learn & move on‘ approach from a VC perspective. Ewan has a great cross-over post on the approach (or lack thereof) in education. Michael went in to some detail about how they used technology to allow them to creatively generate new plot nuances and stories that could then be refined, whittled, mashed, etc into the final story. Each film gets made twice, once in story and once for ‘real’. The software that Michael and his small team address pain points in the creative process and redistributed the power in intelligent ways. One example allowed the story artists to very quickly sketch directly into a time line to generate roughly edited scenes with their drawings. This got over a pain point (scanning in hand drawn sketch frames so they could be digitally edited) and sensibly redistributed power so that the artists could create a story (which they wanted to do) and the editors got much richer and complete material to refine (which they wanted), and Pixar got to a compelling story much quicker and with less tension between these key people in the process. Win-win-win; everyone’s a winner!

He also talked about the artists in developing story that had four talents;

  1. draws really well
  2. draws really fast
  3. works well with others
  4. always has another idea

There was a load more other great stuff (including footage from Ratatouille, early rushes from the Incredibles, and some interesting voice casting for Buzz Lightyear).
In Q&A someone asked about the divide between creatives and technologists and Michael pointed out that there wasn’t a divide. Great software developers (in his opinion and the general consensus during drinks afterwards) was that great coders can code/develop really well, really fast, are good in a team and always have another idea/option/suggestion. The audience was (from what I could tell) a typically Bristol mix of technology researchers from BBC, HP, Bristol & UWE, independent film & screen, digital media, entrepreneurs and social enterprises. I had a really great chat with Tom Alcott (Social Network Company) about the use of social network mapping to improve internal business operations and also about his partner Katie’s social enterprise Frank Waters.

Entrepreneurial support

Pretty much since leaving University I’ve been involved in supporting business change, either from within or as an external agent. Universities have always been pretty central to that change process (either as sources of innovation and entrepreneurial activity, or as expertise engines to support change in businesses). More recently I’ve become increasingly interested in the start-up and highly dynamic micro businesses that have so much potential.Around Bristol there is a genuine wealth of creativity and innovation around the digital media sector. There are good historical reasons for this (the BBC, HP Labs, two strong Universities, etc). There are also strong cultural aspects of Bristol that means many great companies and individuals are, or like to think of themselves, as outside the main stream.  Some of this cultural aspect was undoubtably reinforced with the music scene over the last 20 years where Bristol has produced many underground stars (some of whom went above ground for a bit e.g. Portishead).

What this has left is a highly dynamic, innovative, technology enabled city that doesn’t like (or sometimes want) to be mainstream. Which is fine until you try and build high growth start-up businesses with investment support.  There are of course lots of networking events, there is lots of investment capital, there are business clubs, there is beer; unfortunately they haven’t quite come together as positively as many (including myself) believe they could/should.

So over the next couple of months I’m going to be working with as many people as will put up with me to link up all these great attributes of the city/region.

If you’re an entrepreneur, investor, business builder, inventor, etc, drop me a comment. Lots of stuff will be happening over the coming weeks most of which I don’t know about yet but stay tuned and we’ll find out together!