AS institutions and audiences: Pixar notes


‘Art inspires technology, technology inspires art’ – this is the fundamental belief of John Lassiter, one of the Pixar founding members.

Lasssiter’s relationship with Disney has been symbiotic. Inspired by Disney films he attended the California Arts college which was supported by Disney. He learnt much about animation methods there and especially the hand drawn traditional methods. However, he was more interested in the potential of computer drawn animation.

He was awarded a job at Disney and he was given the chance to experiment with computer technology. However, he failed to convince Disney that computer technology was faster or cheaper and he was sacked.

Ed Catrell the founder of Pixar was the first person to explore curved surface anmimation and the first to produce 3D film. Pixar also created ‘Tween’ which allowed animators to draw directly onto the computer.

Catrell originally worked for Lucas Film and used edit droid to allow for greater camera movement.

John Lassiter joined Lucas Films as the first animator.

His work introduced flexibility and motion blur which was a massive step forward in animation.

The Pixar image computer was also created during time.

However, George Lucas lost interest and as a result Catrell created the company, Pixar so that he could pursue the dream of creating a feature length animation film.

The company struggled because of a lack of investment at first but Steve Jobs invested $10 million which allowed a number of projects to develop:

  • Luxor Junior – 1st animated film nominated for an Oscar
  • Advertising for Tropicana and Trident
  • CAPS was created for Disney and this was used for Beauty and the Beast
  • Renderman – this became the new standard in SFX

But…the company was losing over $1 million a year.

Disney signed a three film contract with Pixar which meant that for the first time Pixar was able to create a feature length film.

1992 – first Toy Story test

The original cut was not well received though. Disney were pushing for the film to have an “edge” and for it to be more adult but this made some of the characters unlikable.

So, Lassiter and his team changed the storyboards in the space of 3 weeks and saved the project from extinction.

Even when the film was a huge success, Pixar did not enjoy huge revenues. Disney controlled all the merchandise for example.

Pixar expanded and became a publicly listed company which raised $132 million after flotation.

Disney soon became 50% partners and the relationship continued.

Steve Jobs identified that Toy Story 2 was potentially going to suffer from 2nd product syndrome much like the Apple 3; this is because the second time around there is often a lack of naivety and creative freedom. Indeed, Disney were unhappy with the original cuts and it took John Lassiter to completely re-work the film over one weekend in order to save it from a straight to DVD release.

Toy Story 2 enjoyed a huge improvement in technology – selective focus was now possible for example.


New York Times article – notes

  • Pixar only released a film a year, this has now risen to 2 – does this signify a decline in quality?
  • The merger is notable for how well it’s faring. In an industry where corporate unions often are full of conflict, Disney and Pixar have found a way to make it work:

“Most acquisitions, particularly in the media, are value destroying as opposed to value creating, and that certainly has not turned out to be the case here” (David A Price, author of ‘The Pixar Touch: The Making of the Company’

  • Cars made $5 billion in merchandise sales. Some critics felt it lacked the storytelling and style of other Pixar films and it can be seen as an example of the negative influence of the conglomerate.
  • However, most of the Pixar films are not highly commoditised are usually critically acclaimed
  • Pixar used to resist straight to DVD releases but now they do produce these – is this a sign of greater commercialism?
  • They also outsource some of the production to India – another sign of a decline in quality?
  • Disney did agree to a specific set of guidelines for protecting Pixar’s creative culture
  • Pixar have had a big influence on the fortunes of Disney – the film Bolt was heavily reworked by Lassiter for example
  • Disney has become a film maker studio and not an executive led studio
  • Lots of Pixar creations can still be considered boundary pushing but some films such as Brave could be considered to suffer from a lack of creative freedom and corporate pressure.

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