Apple is renowned for being the front runner of technological innovation in computers, but not many know that Apple is directly responsible for the inception of the beloved animation studio, Pixar. Steve Jobs, at 44, was simultaneously the Pixar chairman and CEO of Apple; effectively being the head of two of the most profitable and popular ’90s American industries.
George Lucas began a computer graphics group in 1979 and made it a subsidiary of LucasFilm. In 1986, the department could not acquire funding for its projects and was neglected by the rest of LucasFilm. It was then when Apple bought the division from Lucas and the rights to all the technology made by the division for $5 million. Apple named the new company Pixar. The division first began by trying to develop software engines for animation, not actual movies. They first created the precursor to the current engine behind Pixar films (RenderMan), REYES (Renders Everything You Ever Saw). Jobs actually purchased the company during his controversial hiatus from being Apple’s CEO.
Apple and Pixar, when first united, were both trying to develop high-end computer hardware. The creative aspect to Pixar had not yet been introduced nor pursued. Pixar’s first product for public use was the Pixar Image Computer, which was sold to government agencies and the medical community. Apple appointed John Lasseter to be the creative engine behind Pixar. Lasseter was tasked with creating demonstrations to show the device’s capabilities to create animated films. Lasseter premiered his creations, such as Luxo Jr., at SIGGRAPH, the largest computer graphics industry, to great fanfare.
Apple was not only responsible for Pixar during its inception, but Jobs also stuck with its subdivision through its darkest period, when the company’s closure was inches away. Poor sales of Pixar’s computers threatened the development of the company. Despite this, Jobs invested more and more into the department to keep it alive. Soon Jobs was the principle shareholder of Pixar. In order to survive, Lasseter and his animation team developed animated commercials for products like Tropicana, Listerine and Life-Savers. Walt Disney Feature Animation realized the potential for Pixar and became a partner with the fledging company. Disney signed a contract with Pixar worth $26 million dollars to create three animated films, the first of which was Toy Story. Even after the three films, the company was still losing money. Lasseter contemplated selling, but Jobs refused.
Apple and Pixar soon went to war with Disney. Disney owned sequel and merchandising rights to all of the first feature films of Pixar, and they also charged the company a distribution fee. Jobs and Lasseter contended with Disney, ending with Jobs announcing he was seeking other distribution partners for Pixar. According to Lasseter, Disney head of animation Bob Iger discovered that Pixar was a company worth supporting during a parade in Hong Kong Disneyland where he noticed all of the floats were of Pixar characters. Disney bought the company for $7.4 billion and appointed Lasseter Chief Creative Officer of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, and granted Jobs a position on the board of directors at Disney.
Apple and Pixar, more specifically Lasseter and Jobs, stuck to their vision and it has paid off. Pixar is now one of the highest grossing film studios in the world, and habitually garners Oscars for its films. Their more recent works, like Toy Story 3, UP, and Wall-E have received Oscar nominations outside of the animation category. Jobs always maintained that he was a supporter of Pixar as it pertained to business and computing, and he gave all credit for the creativity of Pixar films to Lasseter and his team.
By Andres Loubriel