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:

Amusing Animation Behind The Scenes

Lee Unkrich editing Toy Story 3 at 36,000 feet

Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich recently tweeted that he was editing the new Pixar film at 36,000 feet.

He then posted the following picture to prove it.

Tech savvy readers might like to note that he appears to be using Avid Media Composer on a MacBook Pro.

[Via Matt]

blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

DVD & Blu-ray: Up

Up (Disney): The latest animated film from Pixar continues their extraordinary run of success with a superbly crafted odd-couple adventure which deservedly reaped huge critical acclaim and box office success.

Carl Fredricksen (Ed Asner) is a widowed ex-balloon salesman who, at the age of 78 and threatened with eviction, decides to go on an adventure by tying hundreds of balloons to his house and flying off to South America.

When he discovers mid-flight that a persistent young Junior Wilderness Explorer named Russell (Jordan Nagai) is on board, they embark on a journey which takes them to the jungle, where they encounter various creatures and a mysterious explorer (Christopher Plummer) from the past.

Pixar have become so good at feature length animation that it’s easy to take their brilliance for granted: the visuals are vibrant, imaginative and beautifully rendered; the characters are wonderfully crafted – from the contrasting leads to the supporting cast of exotic birds and talking dogs – and the expert pacing makes the 89-minute running time fly by.

Directed by Pete Docter, who was also behind ‘Monsters, Inc.’ (2001) as well as co-writing ‘Toy Story’ (1995) and ‘WALL-E’ (2008), it is the second highest grossing Pixar film (after Finding Nemo).

Much of the appeal was almost certainly cross-generational, with much of the comedy coming from the clash between grumpy old Carl and the naively innocent Russell.

The use of colour, from the balloons to the creatures and plants in the jungle, is as good as any Pixar film and gave it a captivating quality well suited both to 3D in the cinema and Blu-ray in the home.

The physical comedy, especially scenes involving a bird named Kevin and a talking golden retriever called Dug, is also a real treat, providing a lot of laughs and charm.

There is also a wordless sequence near the beginning which is among the most perfect I’ve ever seen in a mainstream film: over just five minutes, a whole marriage is portrayed with incredible economy and deep reserves of emotion.

Michael Giacchino’s score is his best yet for Pixar, with the melodies and instrumentation managing to complement the energetic set pieces and quieter moments with considerable skill and class.

If I had one complaint, it would be that when the film enters into the final act, it evokes a feeling of deja vu with the action seeming a little formulaic (e.g. characters fighting, getting out of scrapes in the nick of time).

The transfer for the Blu-ray is also a marvel to behold. Animated films benefit from coming from a digital source, which means unlike some of their celluloid counterparts, there is no digital noise, grain or flaws to speak of.

Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver has posted some screen grabs here.

Disney are releasing it on DVD and Blu-ray in the following packages:

DVD Deluxe

  • Theatrical Short, Partly Cloudy
  • Exclusive Short, Dug’s Special Mission
  • Home Theatre Maximizer
  • Director Commentary w/ Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
  • Feature Documentary, Adventure is Out There
  • Alternate Scene, The Many Endings of Muntz
  • Learn How to Take Your Favourite Movies on the Go

Blu-ray Disc One

  • Cine-Explore
  • Easter Egg, The Egg

Blu-ray Disc Two

  • Global Guardian Badge Game
  • Documentaries:
  • Geriatric Hero
  • Canine Companions
  • Russell: Wilderness Explorer
  • Our Giant Flightless Friend, Kevin
  • Homemakers of PIXAR
  • Balloons & Flight
  • Composing for Characters
  • Alternate Scene, Married Life
  • Promo Montage
  • Trailer #2
  • Trailer #3

> Buy Up at Amazon UK on DVD or Blu-ray
> IMDb Entry

Amusing Random

The Real Life Russell from Up

The real life Russell from Up

Apparently this is the real life inspiration for the character of Russell – the young kid in Pixar’s Up.

(Another picture can be found here)


[Link via Buzzfeed]


Up balloon flies under Tower Bridge


Disney and Pixar have flown a balloon under Tower Bridge in London ahead of the release of Up, which is out at UK cinemas next Friday.


Pixar let dying girl see ‘Up’ at home

Pixar Special Up Screening

Pixar recently arranged a home screening of their latest film Up for a 10 year old girl dying of a terminal illness.

Back in 2005, Colby Curtin was diagnosed with vascular cancer and her condition had worsened in recent months to the point that she only had days to live.

After seeing a preview at a cinema back in April, she was keen to see Up, which is about an old man who flies to South America in a floating house suspended from helium balloons.

However, by early June her condition had deteriorated to such an extent that she couldn’t leave the house.

Her mother Lisa feared that she would never get to see the film and it was at this point that a family friend named Terrell Orum started cold calling Pixar and Disney to see if anyone could help them.

After eventually getting through to Pixar, the company agreed to send an employee to Colby’s house the next day with a special DVD of ‘Up’.

When he arrived, the group gathered around for a special screening, although because of Colby’s condition her mother had to describe the events on the screen.

The employee left after the film had finished, taking the DVD with him.

Colby passed away later that evening at 9:20 p.m, just seven hours after seeing the film.

The Orange County Register reported on how thankful Colby’s mother was about the special screening:

With her daughter’s vigil planned for Friday, Lisa Curtin reflected about how grateful she is that Pixar – and “Up” – were a part of her only child’s last day.
“When I watched it, I had really no idea about the content of the theme of the movie,” said Curtin, 46. “I just know that word ‘Up’ and all of the balloons and I swear to you, for me it meant that (Colby) was going to go up. Up to heaven.”
Pixar officials declined to comment on the story or name the employees involved

With her daughter’s vigil planned for Friday, Lisa Curtin reflected about how grateful she is that Pixar – and “Up” – were a part of her only child’s last day.

“When I watched it, I had really no idea about the content of the theme of the movie,” said Curtin, 46. “I just know that word ‘Up’ and all of the balloons and I swear to you, for me it meant that (Colby) was going to go up. Up to heaven.”

Pixar officials declined to comment on the story or name the employees involved.

A remarkable story, which shows what a class act Pixar are, on a personal and professional level.

> Read the full story at the Orange County Register
> Find out more about Pixar and Up at Wikipedia


Trailer: Up

The latest trailer for Pixar‘s new film Up.

It is released in the US on May 29th and in the UK on October 16th.

> Official site for Up
> Listen to our recent interview with Pixar chief John Lasseter

Animation Cinema Interviews Podcast

Interview: John Lasseter on Bolt


He initially worked as an animator at Disney in the late 70s before going on to join the computer animation division of Lucasfilm‘s Industrial Light and Magic.

In 1986 the department was purchased by Apple founder Steve Jobs who renamed the new company Pixar (a fake Spanish word meaning ‘to make pixels’) and gave Lasseter the freedom to direct, produce and create models for a variety of projects, many of which were television commercials.

In the late 1980s Lasseter made several award winning shorts before going on to direct the groundbreaking Toy Story in 1995, the first feature-length computer animated film.

As the chief of Pixar’s creative department, Lasseter became the key figure behind an extraordinary run of critically acclaimed, blockbuster animated films.

He 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).

If the success of Pixar was not enough, his career reached a new plateau in early 2006 when Disney officially acquired Pixar, and promoted Lasseter to Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Feature Animation.

The first movie he has overseen for Disney is Bolt, the tale of a small white dog who, having spent his entire life acting in a TV series, thinks that he has super powers.

Directed by Chris Williams and Byron Howard, it was produced by Lasseter and I spoke to him in London recently about his career and the new film.

You can listen to the interview here:

You can also stream it here:


You can download it as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here

Bolt is out at UK cinemas on Friday 6th February

Download this interview as an MP3 file
John Lasseter at the IMDb
> Official UK site for Bolt
> Official Pixar site

Animation In Production Interesting

First video from Pixar’s next film ‘Up’

Here is the first footage of Pixar’s next film Up.

Original Video– More videos at TinyPic

The story is about an older man (voiced by Edward Asner) who finally fulfils his lifelong dream of exploring the world.

Up is released in the US in May 2009.

> Up at the IMDb
> Official site for the film
> More on the film at Pixar’s blog

[Link via The Animation Blog]

Cinema Podcast Reviews

The Cinema Review: WALL-E

In an early review we take a look at the latest Pixar film WALL-E.

Listen to the podcast here:


Download and subscribe to the review podcast via iTunes by clicking here

> Download this review as an MP3 file
> Official site for WALL-E
> WALL-E at the IMDb
> Reviews for WALL-E at Metacritic
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies

Cinema Thoughts

WALL-E is another landmark film for Pixar

After seeing WALL-E at the weekend I have to once again salute the geniuses at Pixar for creating another extraordinary animated film.

WALL-E eyes

Set in a dystopian future circa 2815, it is about a waste disposal robot named WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) who meets another robot named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator) and gets involved in an unlikely romance, as well as the future of the human race.

Directed by Andrew Stanton, it is probably the most visually impressive work Pixar have yet committed to film (and that is saying a lot) but at the same time it also resonates emotionally as a suprisingly touching love story.

Robots haven’t been this endearing since Silent Running and the two central characters are joy to watch – the boxy old school charm of WALL-E contrasting beautifully with the cool, sleek beauty of EVE.

Although I would never thought I would ever compare a Pixar movie to There Will Be Blood – both have startling opening sequences with little or no dialogue.

One of the clever aspects of the film is the casting of sound designer Ben Burtt as the central character – for those unfamilar with his work he was the pioneering sound editor on the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films.

Along with the animators, Burtt has helped create a character who is extremely expressive without using conventional language.

The same is true for EVE, so it is even more impressive that the filmmakers have managed to craft a compelling relationship between them.

The visual landcaspes are equally impressive, full of rich detail and nods to other sci-fi films.

I’ll review it in full in couple of weeks on the podcast, but for the time being this is another glorious home run for the Pixar team.

WALL-E is out now in the US and in the UK on 11th July

> Official site for WALL-E
> Read reviews for WALL-E at Metacritic (it is currently at 93 which is a very impressive score for a mainstream film)
> Find out more about Pixar at Wikipedia