Thirty years ago today, Feb 4, 1986, one of the greatest animation studios was founded. Known for brilliant storytelling, jaw-dropping scenery, and relateable characters this studio is of course Pixar! The history of Pixar is full of intrigue with each staff having their own story. In my opinion the founding of Pixar is down to 4 men, men who were each good in their own fields…
Ed Catmull (Technical Whizz)
Way back in 1974, Ed completed his doctorate in computer science to then be employed by a gentleman named Alexander Schure to help him with the new Computer Graphics Lab at the New York Institute of Technology. Ed had already been recognised as a leader in the industry by discovering and inventing various subtleties and techniques in computer graphics. His first bit of animation, which he made of his left hand, appeared in the film Futureword, making it the first computer generated graphics in a feature film. It was while at NYIT, that Ed created different bits of software to help people create computer animations. His most notable was simple named “Paint”; this eventually became the computer animation system CAPS that Disney would use for their 2D animation work. With his obvious expertise, Hollywood beckoned. And who could be more Hollywood than George Lucas? George hired Ed to work on a new computer graphics department of Lucasfilm in 1979, named Industrial Lights & Magic.In that same year he was made Vice President of the department. In 1986 Steve Jobs invested in ILM and turned it into Pixar. Ed then created Pixar’s landmark 3D animation software, Renderman. The same software they have made every film from since.
George Lucas (Visionary)
As a man who made money from creating live action films, it makes you wonder why George Lucas was so keen on computer animation. Before he set the Pixar ball rolling, he had already created Star Wars. Remember that the first Star Wars used old-school effects like stop motion and compositing. To Lucas, the initial outlay for computer graphics could make a lot more money in the long run. This is why in 1979, he hired Ed Catmull and John Lasseter to help him create 3D effects for films under the Industrial Lights & Magic department. Lucas could see the potential of 3D graphics and really wanted to make a full feature film, but as he was losing money from his divorce and the drop-off in Star Wars merchandise sales he had to sell up to Steve Jobs.
John Lasseter (Artist and Animator)
John had had a hard run while working for Disney as an animator. He was fed up with doing 2D animations and wanted to try out 3D. Him and some colleagues tried out a 3D short with a 2D animation over the top based on the book Where the Wild Thing Are. Pleased with the results, John wanted to create a full 3D feature film. He pitched idea of the Brave Little Toaster as a 3D film. Disney did not like the idea as they felt it would be too expensive, and sacked John from their animation department. This meant John was a free agent, and a perfect target for Ed Catmull. Industrial Lights & Magic needed an animator and John fit the bill. They couldn’t call him an animator as Ed was told he wasn’t to hire any. John worked freelance with Lucasfilm where he created the first ever fully 3D animated short, The Adventures of Andre and Wally B. After finding the funding for Brave Little Toaster was gone, he was offered a job by Ed and went to work full-time at ILM. This partnership between Ed and John eventually led to the creation of Toy Story.
Steve Jobs (Money and Direction)
In 1986 Pixar were a company mainly focused at selling computers and software while animating in their spare time. George Lucas didn’t want to run a computer business, and added to his personal finances, he decided to find investors. In walks Steve Jobs. After recently being fired from Apple, Steve needed something to work on. So in 1986 he bought the Pixar technology and Pixar company for $5 million each. The $5 million for the company was used as an investment in the company, while the other $5 mil was for the rights for the software. Steve knew the company needed money, and selling the computers was not going to pay the bills. Steve suggested doing animated adverts while they worked on the feature films.
These four men created one of the best animation studios that created some the most highly acclaimed films ever. Each man had a part to play, and had a piece to pplace in the Pixar jigsaw. They each had a skill they brought to the table. If you were to take out one of these men Pixar would not be the company it is today; financially or creatively. They are part of the history of Pixar. I can’t believe its been 30 years Pixar, here’s to another 30!