The Short Films That Saved Pixar

When Steve Jobs became the major­i­ty investor in Pixar in Jan­u­ary 1986, the com­pa­ny looked noth­ing like it does today. Back then, Pixar was main­ly a tech­nol­o­gy play. It sold expen­sive Image Com­put­ers to gov­ern­ment agen­cies and med­ical insti­tu­tions along with ren­der­ing soft­ware. That strat­e­gy did­n’t pay off par­tic­u­lar­ly well. The com­pa­ny hem­or­rhaged cash; lay­offs ensued; and things were gen­er­al­ly look­ing bleak for the young com­pa­ny.

Pixar’s for­tunes changed, how­ev­er, when it tapped into the tal­ents of a young ani­ma­tor named John Las­seter. Dur­ing Pixar’s ear­ly days, Steve Jobs and co-founder Ed Cat­mull asked Las­seter to devel­op a short ani­mat­ed film to help show off the capa­bil­i­ties of Pixar’s hard­ware and soft­ware. He came up with Luxo Jr. (above), which turned two lov­able lamps into movie stars. The short film won first prize at SIGGRAPH, the annu­al com­put­er graph­ics con­fer­ence held in 1986. Lat­er Luxo Jr. was nom­i­nat­ed for an Acad­e­my Award.

In 1988, Pixar was still hang­ing on by a thread. But Jobs con­tin­ued to nur­ture Las­seter’s work and direct­ed pre­cious resources towards anoth­er short film. When giv­ing Las­seter funds ($300,000), Jobs said to the ani­ma­tor, “All I ask of you, John, is to make it great.” And that he did. The result, Tin Toy (above), won the ’88 Acad­e­my Award for ani­mat­ed short film, the first com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed film to win the award.

Tin Toy caught Dis­ney’s atten­tion, and they began to pur­sue Las­seter. But Las­seter stayed loy­al to Pixar, and before too long, Pixar and Dis­ney decid­ed to part­ner on the pro­duc­tion of Toy Sto­ry, which net­ted a prof­it of $330 mil­lion. Pixar dumped its hardware/software busi­ness and focused on mak­ing ani­mat­ed films from then on, before Dis­ney even­tu­al­ly pur­chased Pixar for $7.4 bil­lion in 2006.

If you’re look­ing for a lit­tle more ani­ma­tion, don’t miss The Adven­tures of André and Wal­ly B., the 1984 short film made by Las­seter at the Graph­ics Group, the unit with­in Lucas­Film that was even­tu­al­ly spun into Pixar. Also here we have the First 3D Dig­i­tal Film, which hap­pened to be cre­at­ed by Ed Cat­mull (1970). He co-found­ed Pixar and is now pres­i­dent of Walt Dis­ney Ani­ma­tion Stu­dios and Pixar Ani­ma­tion Stu­dios.

You can find all films list­ed above in our col­lec­tion of Free Movies Online.

Source for this post: Wal­ter Isaac­son’s biog­ra­phy of Steve Jobs. Find out how to snag a free audio copy here.

More Relat­ed Pixar Con­tent:

A Rare Look Inside Pixar Stu­dios

The Beau­ty of Pixar: 500 Scenes from 17 Films

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.