Ratatouille

Robert Genn

February 26, 2008

Dear Rodney,

Ratatouille is the latest Disney Pixar extravaganza. It's about
a country rat who finds himself in the kitchen of a high-end
Paris restaurant where he helps a floor-cleaning kid become a
gourmet cook. It seems the rat has a nose for sophisticated
flavours and, while filled with self-doubt, he's able to
engineer some amazing cookery. The film's theme, "Anybody can
cook, but it takes passion to become a great cook," is
refreshingly familiar.

Along with the DVD comes a remarkable interview with
writer-director Brad Bird and Thomas Keller, a world-class cook
who helped inspire the film. This short documentary explores
the harmonics between cooking and film animation. It has
valuable insights for all creative people.

Both Keller and Bird say you can't force creative ideas. You
build the creative environments that produce a creative state
of mind. Both cook and film director aim at spontaneity. While
the cook has half a dozen co-workers, the director has a
complex army of writers, story-boarders, animators, musicians
and sound people he must inspire on a daily basis for more than
two years. "It's a matter of coaching greatness out of people,"
says Bird.

It's all about commitment. Over and over you hear, "I love
finding and exploring new tastes," "I love copying animal
movements," "I love hitting new standards," and "I love finding
that extra something that makes it more engaging." Bird admits
he's "enthusiastically demanding." 

What makes some of us better at our work than others? The
answer lies not in over-control, or even trying to understand
the mystery of the creative process. Each and every player
needs to simply try to improve, a little bit here, a little bit
there, as it comes. The secret is "tweak." Further, in both the
professional kitchen and the animation theatre there's a sense
of urgency. "Our films are never truly finished," says Bird.
"We just get to stop at our deadline." Demanding connoisseurs
wait in the dining room--just as kids wait at their folks'
plasma TV. These two remarkable art forms, one ancient, one new
and beautifully revolutionary, both derive their energy from a
sense of urgency. Painters can profit from Ratatouille. 

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "I love my medium." (Brad Bird)  

Esoterica: Greatest of all is the principle of the outtake.
Both filmmaker and cook constantly sample work in progress and
remove to the cutting-room floor or the soup. Repetitious, no
point of view, no advancement of plot, boring, tasteless,
"doesn't do anything for me," and "not quite good enough" are a
few of the reasons for losing stuff. Great creators get excited
about deletion. "It's not about perfection; it's about the joy
of striving." (Thomas Keller)