The History of Pixar

This 2005 discussion at the Computer History Museum gathered together some of the key figures behind Pixar.

Moderated by Michael Rubin, author of Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution, it features:

  • Ed Catmull (Co-Founder and President, Pixar Animation Studios)
  • Brad Bird (Writer/Director, The Incredibles)
  • Alvy Ray Smith (Co-Founder of four centers of computer graphics excellence: Altamira, Pixar, Lucasfilm, New York Tech)
  • Andrew Stanton (Writer/ Director, Finding Nemo)
Running at 1 hour and 41 minutes, it is a great discussion about the history, ethos and working methods of the company.

These days it is perhaps easy to overlook the extraordinary developments in computer animation over the last 30 years, but listening to these guys is a reminder of the hard work and application that went into the studios work.

With all the news and commentary about Steve Jobs stepping down as Apple’s CEO, it is worth remembering how visionary he was in buying a computer graphics division of Lucasfilm and helping it become a major animation studio.

Understandably, he will always be remembered more for Apple but the history of Pixar is also a fantastic story which encompasses how the digital revolution in computing shaped how we see movies.

It is worth remembering that Jobs first became a billionaire because of Pixar, not Apple.

The roots of what would become Pixar began when George Lucas was having problems with visual effects on the original Star Wars films – for example, the opening shot of Star Wars (1977) took eight months.

Visual effects were traditionally done using methods that involved models and optical printers, but Lucas wanted to hire people who could use the power of computers to help make the process easier.

This episode of Horizon from 1985 shows how visual effects were done on the original Star Wars films:

Lucas hired Ed Catmull, who was in charge of the computer division at Lucasfilm and Alvy Ray Smith became head of the graphics project there.

In the early 1980s they worked on films which were either produced by Lucasfilm or involved the effects arm of Industrial Light & Magic, most notably Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) which both featured ground breaking use of computers in specific visual effects shots.

When Jobs purchased the company in 1986 and renamed it Pixar, he was essentially buying the most advanced computer animation research group in the world.

One of the founding members was John Lasseter and in 2009 he told me what the goal was in those early days:

“Pixar originally was not an animation studio but a computer company. But we did computer animation research and our goal was to one day do a feature film using this technology. But were were developing – inventing – much of computer animation at Pixar. So we then got a deal with Disney to develop a feature film, which turned out to be Toy Story. It was a huge hit and ushered in an age of computer animation.”

Production on the first Toy Story began in 1991, which was a landmark year for visual effects and animation as both Terminator 2 and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast both made heavy use of advances in computer technology.

Four years later when Toy Story eventually came out in 1995, it was the world’s first full-length computer 3D animated and rendered motion picture.

It began a decade of incredible critical and commercial success with films such as A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), Up (2009) and Toy Story 3 (2010).

The final Toy Story film last year became the highest-grossing animated film of all time.

Part of the genius of the company has been to match technical innovation with high standards of writing and storytelling.

In early 2006 Disney officially acquired Pixar for $7.4 billion with Steve Jobs becoming the largest single shareholder, whilst John Lasseter became Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Feature Animation.

The $10 million investment Jobs made in Pixar back in 1986 had yielded a profit of $7.3 billion, but also a priceless legacy for animated film.

> Pixar
> The Pixar Touch by David A Price at Amazon UK
> John Lasseter on the history of Pixar in 2009
> Angus MacLane on WALL-E in 2008
> Emotional story about Pixar’s Up
> CNN story from 1995 about the release of Toy Story

Animation Interesting

[the films of] Pixar Animation Studios

Kees van Dijkhuizen‘s latest instalment in his montage project showcasing the works of different directors, focuses on the films of Pixar.

Previous montages have explored single directors such as Michel Gondry, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola, but this one devoted to Pixar is a wonderful distillation of what has been an amazing run of movies since 1995.

It includes clips from the Toy Story trilogy (1995-2010), A Bug’s Life (1998), Monsters Inc (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008) and Up (2009).

> Behind the scenes post
> Pixar at Wikipedia


House from Pixar’s Up Now Exists

A working version of the floating house from Pixar’s Up has been created by the National Geographic Channel.

As part of their series “How Hard Can It Be?” engineers built a basic house structure and lifted it into the air for over an hour using 300 weather balloons.

More photos can be seen below and at My Modern Net:

[via Brainpicker and My Modern Net]

> Find out more about Up at IMDb and Wikipedia
> National Geographic Channel
> Sad but moving story about a young girl who wanted to see Up

DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Blu-ray: Toy Story 3

The third film in the Toy Story series sees Andy leaving for college and donating his beloved toys – including Woody (Tom Hanks) and Buzz (Tim Allen) – to a daycare centre, where they soon realise things aren’t what they seem.

Directed by Lee Unkrich, it was a richly deserved critical and commercial triumph for Pixar, which managed maintain the high standards of the first two films and concluded the trilogy with wit, emotion and technical brilliance.

Continuing to explore the comedic conceit of toys who come alive whilst humans aren’t looking, this film reaches into more reflective territory as characters age and start to consider mortality.

The fact that it can convincingly do this whilst laying on lots of layered gags about new toys is part of the genius of Pixar, who have become so skilled at this kind of film making that a generation of viewers probably doesn’t realise how lucky they have been to witness these films first time around.

As with previous films transferred to Blu-ray, the digital source material helps make for a highly impressive transfer, as good as those of Cars, Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up.

The colours are especially vibrant and the world of Sunnyside Daycare has been rendered with marvellous attention to detail.

Given that this is the most successful film of the year, we could expect a decent presentation from Disney and the overall image quality is absolutely pristine.

The extra features on the Blu-ray include the following:

Disc 1 – Blu-ray:

  • “Day & Night” Theatrical Short
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science Of Adventure

Disc 2 – Blu-ray:

  • Toy Story Trivia Dash – Interactive Game
  • Cine-Explore With Director Lee Unkrich & Producer Darla Anderson
  • Beginnings: Setting A Story In Motion
  • Bonnie’s Playtime – A Story Roundtable With Director Lee Unkrich
  • Roundin’ Up A Western Opening
  • Beyond The Toy Box: An Alternative Commentary Track
  • Paths To Pixar: Editorial
  • 3 Studio Stories

Disc 3 – DVD:

  • “Day & Night” Theatrical Short
  • Buzz Lightyear Mission Logs: The Science Of Adventure
  • The Gang’s All Here – A Look At Returning Voice Talent
  • 3 Studio Stories

Toy Story 3D is out now on DVD and Blu-ray from Walt Disney Home Entertainment

> Buy Toy Story 3 on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about the Toy Story series at Wikipedia

Animation Interesting

Steve Jobs and John Lasseter discuss Pixar in 1996

Back in October 1996 Steve Jobs and John Lasseter went on The Charlie Rose Show to discuss Pixar and the future of animated film.

A little bit of background: Jobs bought the animation division of ILM from George Lucas in 1986, renamed it Pixar and in 1995 their first feature length movie Toy Story began an incredible run of acclaimed animated blockbusters; Lasseter was the creative chief who directed A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999) and Cars (2006) whilst also serving as executive producer on Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo(2003) and The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007) and WALL-E (2008).

The interview is fascinating in retrospect because it was only a few months before Jobs returned to Apple (the computer company he had co-founded in 1976) and began the great renaissance that gave the world the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone.

Just a decade after the following interview was recorded, Pixar was bought by Disney in early 2006 for $7.4 billion – Jobs became the largest individual shareholder and Lasseter was appointed Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Watch it in full below: