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December 24

December 24, 1960 – Animator Glenn McQueen is Born

“Glenn is not gone from us. He’s still alive in all of us.”

On December 24, 1960, Glenn John McQueen was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After graduating from Sheridan College in 1985, McQueen scored a scholarship to the New York Institute of Technology Computer Graphics Lab; this lab is notable for being the top computer lab for the development of computer animated films, with several future Pixar employees having studied there. McQueen himself would become a Pixar employee in 1994, where he became an animation supervisor for the films Toy Story; A Bug’s Life; Toy Story 2; and Monsters, Inc. He was noted for his brilliance in the field of animation, with John Lasseter calling him the “heart and soul” of the animation department. Unforutnately, McQueen passed away in 2002 during the development of Finding Nemo; the film was dedicated to his memory, as was the character of Lightning McQueen from the Cars franchise. When Pixar Canada opened, it was named the Glenn McQueen Pixar Animation Center in his honor.

January 22

January 22, 2008 – Pixar’s Ratatouille Receives Five Academy Award Nominations

“Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.”

On January 22, 2008, the nominations for the 80th Academy Awards were announced. Pixar’s eighth animated feature Ratatouille wound up with five nominations: Best Original Score, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Animated feature. With these five nominations, Ratatouille held the record for most nominations for a computer animated feature film; this record would be surpassed later in 2008 by WALL-E, earning six nominations. In the end, Ratatouille would go on to win only one Academy Award: Best Animated Feature.

March 25

March 25, 1996 – John Lasseter is Awarded a Special Academy Award for Toy Story

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“Now we take you to the world of computer animation, where director John Lasseter has proved that a boy with a hard drive can go a long way.” – Presenter Robin Williams

On March 25, 1996, the 68th Academy Awards were held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California. At this ceremony, John Lasseter was awarded a special Academy Award for the creation of the first fully computer-animated feature film, Toy Story, calling its creation a milestone in the achievement of motion pictures. The film had been a long time in the making, going back to Lasseter’s aspirations after starting at Disney decades earlier. Lasseter showed up on stage to receive the award, bringing with him a Woody and a Buzz Lightyear toy. Lasseter thanked the Academy for its longtime support of student filmmakers, as well as everyone at Pixar and Disney for their support and effort into making the film.

May 12

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May 12, 2007 – The Computer Animated Series My Friends Tigger and Pooh Premieres on Disney Channel

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“My friends Tigger and Pooh, we’re always there for each other.”

On May 12, 2007, the computer animated series My Friends Tigger and Pooh premiered on the Disney Channel’s Playhouse Disney programming block. Based on the hit Winnie the Pooh series by A.A. Milne and popularized in film by Disney, the show features 6-year-old Darby and her dog Buster spending time with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger in the Hundred Acre Wood. The series ran for three seasons with 87 episodes, along with three direct-to-video films. The series was created by Bobs Gannaway, and starred Chloe Grace Moretz as Darby, Dee Bradley Baker as Buster, Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, Travis Oates as Piglet, Peter Cullen as Eeyore, Ken Sansom as Rabbit, Kath Soucie as Kanga, Max Burkholder as Roo, and Oliver Dillon as Lumpy.

March 22

March 22, 2009 – The Short Film Super Rhino is Released

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“My ancestry isn’t all hamster, I’m one-sixteenth wolf with a little wolverine…”

On March 22, 2009, the special short film Super Rhino was released on the DVD release of the Disney animated feature film Bolt. It was written and directed by Nathan Greno, and stars Mark Walton as Rhino, Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Calico, Miley Cyrus as Penny, and Susie Essman as Mittens.

The short begins with Calico already touting his success as an evil villain, as he has caught Penny and Bolt and has them suspended over a large pit of lava. Through a camera in Bolt’s collar, Penny’s father is able to see their capture, and although he can’t save her, he knows who can: Rhino the hamster. Penny’s father uses his scientific contraptions to create a super hamster, and Rhino is soon sent to save the pair. He attacks all the guards outside, and makes his way into Calico’s fortress, exclaiming that he created a door with lasers from his eyes. Calico looks dumbfounded as he sees a hamster standing before him. Every guard shoots everything they can at Rhino, but the newly super Rhino is able to avoid the shot and rides a missile, using it to cut down Penny and Bolt, and safely catches them as they fall. Calico starts proclaiming that he will win next time, but Rhino interrupts him and, using his own version of the “super bark,” sends a wave of lava flying over Calico, burning him and his cat. Penny and Bolt thank Rhino, who calls the two “cute,” before proclaiming he has an urgent matter to attend to. He is then seen at a concert, where he starts singing Hannah Montana’s song “Best of Both Worlds” to an adoring crowd. It is then revealed that he has been dreaming, and has woken up Mittens, who is not a fan of his singing. He rolls over and goes back to sleep, dreaming once again that he’s going to save the world after answering a call from the President of the United States.

March 14

March 14, 1948 – Actor, Writer, Producer, Comedian, Director, and Disney Legend Billy Crystal is Born

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“When we thought of Billy Crystal, we thought, this was going to be great. Of course, he just added his own unique spin to it.” – Pete Docter, Director of Monsters, Inc.

On March 14, 1948, William Edward Crystal was born in New York City. His father was a music promoter, and his uncle was Milton Gabler, a legendary music producer. Displaying a love of performing at an early age, Crystal and his older brothers would perform their own variety show for family members and at local events. After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1970, Crystal began his career in improv comedy, leading to a sketch on the first season of Saturday Night Live!. His breakout role was as Jodie Dallas on the sitcom Soap, which he played from 1977 through 1981. He rejoined Saturday Night Live! as a cast member during the 1984 – 1985 season, and then had an appearance in the series All in the Family, where he would meet actor and director Rob Reiner. Reiner hired Crystal for small parts in two films, This is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride, which led to his being cast as the lead in When Harry Met Sally…. This film gave Crystal his first Golden Globe nomination for best actor.

Crystal was asked to be the voice of Buzz Lightyear in Pixar’s first full-length computer animated feature Toy Story, but he passed on the role, calling it one of the biggest regrets of his career. When he was offered the role of Mike Wazowski in Monsters, Inc., he jumped at the chance. He has since reprised the role in a short film, a cameo in Cars, and the prequel film Monsters University. Crystal also voiced the character Calcifer in the film Howl’s Moving Castle. Crystal continues to be active in entertainment, hosting the Academy Awards nine times, directing a made-for-television movie, and writing and starring in a one-man play called 700 Sundays. Crystal was named a Disney Legend in 2013.

February 3

February 3, 1986 – Pixar Animation Studios is Founded

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“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.

March 31

March 31, 1945 – Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is Born

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“I drew a lot; I wanted to be an animator. I wanted to be an artist. But at the same time, I believed that I wasn’t good enough to be an animator, so I switched over to physics and computer science. As soon as I took the first class, I just fell in love with it, it just blew everything else away.”

On March 31, Edwin Earl Catmull was born on March 31, 1945, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Although he loved to draw from an early age and dreamed of becoming an animator, he believed early on that he didn’t have the talent necessary, and decided to study physics and computer science at the University of Utah. Around the country at that time, funding was given to select universities to pursue computer science, and Catmull participated in one of the first labs in computer graphics. In this lab, Camtull created a short computer-animated film of his own left hand, which ultimately helped in the development in creating curved surfaces and eliminating jagged edges. This film was inducted into the National Archives in December, 2011 as a ground-breaking work. In 1974, Catmull graduated with his PhD. Soon after graduation, Alexander Schure, founder of the New York Institute of Technology, hired Catmull as the head of the computer graphics department in the hopes of creating new tools and products to create computer animation. There, Catmull met Alvy Ray Smith, who became a close collaborator and friend for many years. At NYIT, Catmull and his research group developed several tools that would allow animators to draw and paint directly into the computer, including Tween, Paint, and SoftCel.

The work being done by Catmull and his team was noticed by George Lucas, who hired Catmull to form a new computer division at Lucasfilm. Catmull accepted the offer, and in 1979, he became the Vice President of the computer graphics division. Catmull and Smith, however, were still working toward the goal of a completely computer animated full-length film. Tom Porter, technical director at Pixar noted that, “…Ed and Alvy realized, in order to get in the game, we’ve got to put characters up on the screen, and that meant character animation, and that changed everything right there.” As luck would have it, Catmull ran into John Lasseter at a conference, and Catmull jumped at the chance to bring a real animator to Lucasfilm to help realize the dream of a computer animated film. With Lasseter, the group created the short film The Adventures of Andre and Wally B., along with new software to replicate the squash and stretch movements of traditional animation, which was well received at the 1984 SIGGRAPH conference. Catmull and the team also developed the most powerful graphics computer of the time: the Pixar Image Computer. However, sales of this computer were stagnant, as the software was only sold in limited markets. Catmull and Smith, with Lucas’ blessing, spun off the computer division as Pixar, and struggled to find an investor.

Catmull (L) with the rest of the Pixar team from Lucasfilm

Catmull (L) with the rest of the Pixar team from Lucasfilm

In 1986, their prayers were answered when Steve Jobs heard of Pixar. “That was the first time I met Ed [Catmull], and he shared with me his dream to make the world’s first computer-animated film. And I, in the end, ended up buying into that dream, both spiritually and financially,” Jobs shared in an interview. He launched Pixar, and Catmull was named as Chief Technical Officer. He also helped develop the RenderMan system used in Toy Story and Finding Nemo. In 2006, when Disney acquired Pixar, Catmull was then named the President of Pixar and Disney Animation, and with Lasseter, the two were put in the prime position of bringing the art of 2-D animation back to life. “Everybody at Pixar loves 3-D animation, you know, we helped develop it. But we also love 2-D animation, and to think that 2-D was shut down, and that [Pixar was] used as an excuse to shut it down was awful,” Catmull said about the decision of most animation studios shutting down their traditional animation studios. “We saw this art form being thrown away, so for us, it was just, it was a tragic time.” Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Studios, wanted to take the studio back to the glory days of animation, and knew that Pixar had the right people to do that. “While we will make 3-D movies, we’re also going to make 2-D movies, cause it’s part of this wonderful heritage that we’ve got here, and it’s a beautiful art form,” says Catmull. “It feels like this [partnership between Disney and Pixar] is the true culmination of the building of Pixar and this amazing company into something which will continue on and continue to make waves in the future.”

December 28

December 28, 2011 – Bambi and A Computer Animated Hand are Inducted Into the National Film Registry

Image credit: wikipedia

Image credit: wikipedia

“…culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

On December 28, 2011, the new inductees into the National Film Registry were announced, which included the 1942 Disney animated feature Bambi and one of the earliest examples of computer animation by Ed Catmull (now co-founder of Pixar and President of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios), A Computer Animated Hand. Bambi was recognized not only as one of Walt Disney’s favorites, but also for its “eloquent message of nature conservation.” A Computer Animated Film has been considered revolutionary in combining the science of the computer and the art of animation, showing the potential of both. The film, and Catmull especially, were recognized for working out “the concepts that become the foundation for computer graphics that followed.”

September 8

September 8, 1943 – Pixar Co-Founder Alvy Ray Smith is Born

“Our group was in love with animation, and we knew a lot about animation. We couldn’t animate very well, but we understood it.”

On September 8, 1943, engineer and Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith was born in Texas. While attending New Mexico State University, Smith took a course in computer programming, and went on to get his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford University. Smith’s life-long love of painting continued while at Stanford, and his paintings were shown at the Stanford Coffee House. After graduating, Smith went on to New York University to teach classes in cellular automata, a branch of computer science on which he had written his thesis. After a skiing accident in 1973, which left him in the hospital in a full-body cast for three months, Smith decided to change the direction his life was going, and moved back to California with no real plan.

Smith soon got a job at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in a roundabout way (being brought on via purchase order) by his friend Dick Shoup, who was playing with a new painting-software project known as SuperPaint, to which Smith provided the HSV (hue, saturation, and value) color space. Unfortunately, Xerox took away the machine, leaving Smith and his new coworker David DiFrancesco without their important frame buffer. In 1975, Smith went to work at the New York Institute of Technology, the only place in the country willing to put millions of dollars into this new technology. There he met Ed Catmull, who gave Alvy a new direction: make an animated film using the computer.

After being hired by George Lucas, Catmull and Smith founded a new computer division at Lucasfilm, which developed a new digital editing system, a digital sound system, a laser scanner, and a new graphics computer. Smith was instrumental in helping create a realistic shot in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic division was unable to get the shot conventionally. In 1986, Smith helped co-found Pixar with Catmull, and the two worked hard to hire the best animators to help build their dream of a completely computer-animated film. In 1991, Smith left Pixar and founded the Altamira Software Corporation, which was acquired by Microsoft in 1994. Smith resigned in 1999, and is currently the founder and president of Ars Longa, a digital photography company.