February 3, 1986 – Pixar Animation Studios is Founded
“The best scientists and engineers are just as creative as the best storytellers.” – Steve Jobs
On February 3, 1986, the Pixar Animation Studios was founded by Ed Catmull, Alvy Ray Smith, and Steve Jobs. Its history goes back to 1979, when Ed Catmull was recruited by George Lucas to head Lucasfilm’s new Computer Division. In 1983, after being fired by Disney, Jon Lasseter was brought on to the graphics group of the Computer Division as an “interface designer,” with the goal of having Lasseter bring the group one step closer to the dream of creating a computer animated film. Working together, the group created the short film The Adventures of Andre & Wally B, which was shown at the computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH to critical acclaim for its groundbreaking software developed to create the squash-and-stretch and motion blur techniques. The group also created the Pixar Image Computer, used mostly in government and medical communities (although Disney purchased a number of computers for what would later become the Computer Animation Production System, or CAPS). However, although this software and computer were the most powerful and impressive of their day, Lucas’ interest in the company waned, as he didn’t want to run a company selling software. Catmull and Smith gained Lucas’ blessing to spin off the company and call it Pixar, and found an investor in entrepreneur Steve Jobs, who invested $10 million into the struggling group.
In 1987, Pixar’s short film Luxo Jr. became the first 3D computer animated short film to be nominated for an Academy Award, and the lamp became the symbol of the company; in 1989, Pixar would win an Academy Award for their short film Tin Toy. To keep the company afloat while still working toward their dream, Pixar did commercial work for companies like Tropicana and Trident Gum. Pixar was then able to work on a collaborative effort with Walt Disney Studios, helping develop CAPS further, and Pixar also developed RenderMan, which became an industry standard in computer graphics. Despite all these technical advancements, the company was not able to make a profit, and Jobs contemplated selling it, with Microsoft being one of the potential buyers. Lasseter pitched an idea to the Walt Disney Studios about Pixar creating a 30 minute holiday special based on the award winning short Tin Toy; Disney thought that the short had a potential of being a full-length feature film, and gave Pixar the chance of reaching their dream. The film, Toy Story, became a spectacular success, grossing over $360 million at the box office. Since then, Pixar founded their studio in Emeryville, California, in 2000, and in 2006, was purchased by Disney. Pixar has had an unprecedented string of hits unlike any studio in history, with hit films including a bug’s life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, and Brave.