This from comments below:
Nearly all of the the greatest artists of the industry are those who bucked the system, whether its Brad Bird storming out of Disney or Nick Park washing his hands of Katzenberg's meddling and walking out to pursue his own vision (the man has garnered more Academy Awards than the entire Dreamworks studio).
And it got me pondering. It's true that big talents sometimes rise to the top ... but it's equally true that many don't ...
So why is that the gifted, the special, and the very good don't always end up running their own studios or directing their own films or becoming the Big Cheeses (just look at the various people who are. Do all of them rate as geniuses? Half? I don't think so).
It isn't just talent and hard work that cause people to rise through the ranks of other talented hard-working creatives and reach the pinnacle of success. There's also ambition, drive and the right circumstances (otherwise known as luck).
Take for instance an artist I've blathered about before: Vance Gerry. Vance could do a lot of things well. He could storyboard, he could write, he could design. He could draw layouts with the best of them and work in color. Years back I watched him board a first story pass for The Black Cauldron that was lilting, imaginative, and funny. But little of anything he did for BC found its way into the final picture.
Most everything Vance created in those early months of development got swallowed up in a tug of war between the picture's directors and the story crew. And Vance, never one to fight, yell and scream, went off to work on personal projects outside the studio.
I've seen other examples of tall talent that didn't reach the highest crest, and it's nothing new. Mark Twain wrote about it in "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" over a century ago, when he had an angel explain the pure meritocracy for the deserving that waited up beyond the Pearly Gates:
... "That is the heavenly justice of it. They warn't rewarded according to their deserts, on earth. But here they get their rightful rank. That tailor ... from Tennessee wrote poetry that Homer and Shakespeare couldn't come up to; but nobody would print it, nobody would read it but his neighbors, an ignorant lot.
Whenever the village had a drunken frolic and a dance, they would drag him in and crown him with cabbage leaves, and pretend to bow down to him; and one night when he was sick and nearly starved to death, they had him out and crowned him and then they rode him on a rail about the village, and everybody followed along, beating tin pans and yelling.
Well, he died before morning. He wasn't ever expecting to go to heaven, much less any fuss made over him, so I reckon he was a good deal surprised when the reception broke on him."
Some talented souls -- such as Brad Bird and Joe Ranft -- reach artistic heaven on this temporal plane, but others, equally talented, often miss the Golden Door by a country mile. Maybe they're not in the right place at the right time, or maybe they don't have the bulldog tenacity or political skill to land at the top of the studio heap. Whatever the magic ingredient is, they lack it.
Planet Earth, unlike Mark Twain's Heaven, does not necessarily lift up only the pure-of-heart and deserving.