The story behind the animation giant Pixar

The story behind the animation giant Pixar

For years, Pixar has been synonymous with quality. His films can enchant adults and children alike. All their productions are accompanied by an original idea, a message to reflect on, and impressive technical quality. Their stories and characters are known by millions of people around the world. In addition to this, working at Pixar has become the biggest dream of many filmmakers, screenwriters, animators, and artists around the world. Its excellent work environment and its creative way of approaching each idea it develops have made it one of the best companies to work for in the world.

However, few know the history behind this magical company. A story that is full of failures and successes, but especially dreams. The dream of some young people to develop the first fully computer-animated feature film…

Pixar, the company that revolutionized the animation industry

The year was 1974 when Edwin Catmull and Alvy Ray, two young technology enthusiasts, began working at the newly founded computer graphics laboratory in New York City. The research group developed the basis of computer graphics for a couple of years and produced an experimental film called “The Works”. This group had a clear goal: to create the first computer-generated feature film in history; a task that, at that time, was impossible due to the technology of the time.

Little by little, the laboratory began to run out of resources and the young people realized that to fulfill their dream, they had to go to work in a film studio. It was then that George Lucas met Alvy Ray and, together with Francis Ford Coppola, they had a talk about the future of the film industry and its integration with the digital world. Thus, Lucas Films, George’s company, decided to offer jobs to 6 of the members of the computer graphics laboratory. These became part of the company and founded a small division called “The Graphics Group”, which was responsible for developing the technology for the special effects of the successful Star Wars films.

Innovations such as the alpha channel and particle effects were born from the work of those people. For years they worked on the development of a technology to produce graphics, textures, and lights with a computer, which would later become the “Renderman” rendering software.

In 1983, a young man named John Lasseter joined the company, who also particularly dreamed of working on the first computer-animated feature film, but things at Lucas Films were not very good because George had recently divorced and Lucas’s last film “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” had not had such a good reception. Lucas then encouraged the team of 40 employees to find an independent studio to pursue the idea of ​​producing the feature film they had long dreamed of.

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For years they were considering the idea, but, due to the technological limitations of the time, it was still impossible to achieve such an ambitious dream. Furthermore, to produce a feature film, they would need money and that would only be achieved with a high cash flow.

In 1986Edwin Catmull and Alvy Ray decided to take the leap and become independent and founded the company Pixar with the help of George Lucas, but, before focusing on computer animation, they decided to create computers capable of performing complex calculations to produce images. The computers were called “Pixar Image Computers” and were aimed at the medical and government sectors. On the other hand, its founders were constantly searching for capital but were rejected more than 45 times by investors and companies of all kinds.

The solution to this financing problem would come from unexpected hands…

Steve Jobs, the visionary who saved Pixar

Steve Jobs, who had recently been fired from his company Apple, showed interest in purchasing the company. On February 3, 1986, he paid the sum of 5 million dollars to George Lucas to acquire Pixar and invested another 5 million dollars so that the company had the capital to develop its projects, in this way he directly entered the board of directors of the company. company.

Jobs got Walt Disney Studios interested in the computers that Pixar produced. They would use these in conjunction with software created by Pixar to automate the coloring process of their 2-dimensional animations, which generated a good flow of income for the company. Steve then decided to have the computers sold to the general public; However, these were not very well received, since common users did not know how to take advantage of the power of the Pixar Image Computer, so only around 300 units were sold.

Meanwhile, John Lasseter worked day and night producing 3D animated short films that showed the power of Pixar’s computer. One of those short films, called ”Luxo Jr.”, was presented at a computer graphics convention and generated a high impact, in addition to receiving an Oscar nomination in the category of best animated short. The company ended up hosting the main character of its short film as a mascot, it was a small lamp that, to this day, appears together with the company logo in all its films.

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Lasseter continued working on several short films, until he developed one called “Tin Toy,” about a living toy that escapes from a baby. The short won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film in 1988.

Steve Jobs, upon seeing the success of the company’s short films and realizing that computers were not having a good reception in the market, decided to sell Pixar’s Hardware division and had the company begin working on television commercials. for famous brands such as Trident, Life Savers, Listerine, and Coca-Cola.

Toy Story, the first fully computer-animated feature film

In 1990 Disney’s animation division was interested in making an animated feature film based on the successful short Tin Toy. After a year of negotiations, Steve Jobs closed an agreement with Disney to produce 3 computer-animated films worth 26 million dollars. In addition, the agreement stipulated that Disney would be responsible for providing the necessary resources for their production, promotion, and distribution, receiving in exchange the rights to the characters and most of the box office revenue and merchandise that they could. sell. Pixar, for its part, would only obtain a small percentage of the box office revenue from sales of video formats.

For the creation of its first feature film, Pixar implemented a system called BrainTrust, in which, unlike a conventional film production where the director is the one who makes the decisions and has the last word at all times, at Pixar they made a series of plenary sessions between the director, scriptwriters, and production team to provide ideas and suggestions regarding the development of the plot, characters, situations, and settings of the film. In this way, everyone contributed to the development of the story, and thus the final result would be full of creative ideas. This process is used to this day in each production of a company film, which means that its workers enjoy a favorable work environment, where everyone feels part of the company and the films that are made.

After 5 years of tireless work, Pixar managed to finish “Toy Story”, the first computer-animated feature film in history. It was released in theaters in December 1995 and was a tremendous success at the box office, grossing more than $361 million. Critics praised the work and the technological revolution of the film, and this one received 3 Oscar nominations. This success allowed the company to build its own offices in Emeryville, California.

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The fact turned out to be a surprise for Steve Jobs, who had thought about selling the company a year ago because it only represented losses for him. He negotiated for a time with Microsoft and Oracle, but in the end, after seeing a review of Toy Story in the New York Times that predicted that the film would be a complete success at the box office, he decided to stay with the company.

The millionaire figures behind Pixar

The successes of Pixar were just beginning; With each new film, they generated a great impact at the box office and with critics. However, while production on “Toy Story 2” was underway in 1999, Pixar began to realize that its agreement with Disney was not fair since the company was in charge of the entire creative process behind the film and they only obtained a small percentage of the box office for that work, in addition to losing the rights to their characters; while Disney was only in charge of distribution and marketing and kept a large part of the profits. For several years, they negotiated different agreements to distribute the profits and responsibilities of the production of more than 8 films, but they could not reach an agreement, putting the contract between both parties at risk.

Finally, in 2006, Disney decided to acquire Pixar for 7.4 billion dollars, a purchase that was made through a share exchange, thus making Steve Jobs Disney’s largest shareholder at that time. With the purchase, the two companies did not merge, allowing Pixar to continue to have creative freedom and work with some independence; something that was a complete success, since the internal culture of the company and its policies were what guaranteed the success of the productions they created.

To date, Pixar has produced a total of 21 animated films. His productions have grossed more than $14 billion at the box office around the world. His films have received a total of 20 Oscars, 10 of them for best animated feature film. Their stories and characters are part of popular culture. And, with each new delivery, the company seems to reinvent itself and exploit its creativity to the fullest.

Thus we conclude the inspiring story of the computer animation giant Pixar, a company that was born as an ambitious dream and that today is one of the most emblematic, remembered, and admired in the world.


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